Across two million square kilometres of the Pacific Ocean, between New Zealand and Hawaii, lie the volcanic islands and atolls of the Cook Islands. Offering unrivalled natural beauty and the adventure of a lifetime, here you can discover incredible ancient burial caves. Adventure travellers will also want to hike through the stunning terrain, admire the marine life on a snorkelling expedition, sail on the beautiful waters and enjoy some deep sea fishing - all in Polynesian paradise.
Here are our top five adventure activities in the Cook Islands.
A small, mountainous island, Rarotonga offers some challenging treks, the best of which include a steep scramble to reach the highest summit on the island, Te Manga, and a three-hour Cross Island Trek to the Needle, known to locals as Te Rua Manga, located in the centre of the island. Seventy-something year old Pa, the best local guide on Rarotonga, adds to the adventure of the Mountain Walk by retelling ancient Polynesian stories as he leads you through the jungle and over the mountain, to finish and rest a while at Wigmore's Waterfall.
Check out Rarotonga's ancient burial cave, Matavera, which houses twelve skeletons, and the cave of Katikatia, a witch who purportedly ate children. The third largest of the Cook Islands, Atiu, boasts spectacular limestone caves, including Te Ana O Raka burial cave and Anatakitaki or Kopeka cave, named for the rare Kopeka swallow inhabiting the island. On Mauke and Mitiaro, discover the freshwater pools of the raised coral makatea caves. After dark, take a swim by candlelight.
Superstitious seafarers will want to avoid setting off on a Friday, but once clear of the passage, follow the trade winds and chart your way around the outer reefs on board the modern day equivalent of a traditional Polynesian Vaka. Extreme adventurers can arrange an offshore charter to the southern and northern Cook Islands, or take the monthly cargo vessel to the remote northernmost atolls, where government guesthouses are the only accommodation.
Snorkelling and Scuba Diving
Discover Rarotonga's best snorkelling along its southern coast, and on Aitutaki around the marine reserve in the north. Book a lagoon cruise for the best access to spectacular coral gardens, and marvel at giant clams and abundant colourful reef fish. Keep an eye out for manta rays, reef sharks, eels and turtles, and opt for a scuba diving tour to get up close and personal with these and other marine creatures. Check out the wrecks, including the SS Matai and the Mataora, and try cave diving; get amongst the steep drop-offs, canyons, tunnels and swim-throughs.
A sense of adventure in the Cook Islands will see you on the ocean one way or another. Offering pick-ups from all properties on the island, independent operators will take you beyond the coral reefs surrounding Rarotonga, from the harbours in Avarua Town or Avatiu for a spot of deep-sea fishing. According to tradition, the biggest catches will go to the boat but you're welcome to keep smaller fish. Watch for whales between August and October.