Who would have thought that flying just 3 and a half hours (to arrive 22 hours back in time) would bring you to a tropical island that felt a long way from home? The Cook Islands is every little bit what you’d imagine it to be- sunshine , crystal clear waters, champagne coloured sand, fresh coconuts, lazing around in hammocks, swim up bars, kind-hearted locals, fresh fish, palm trees at every turn of the road and the tropical song of waves dashing against the sandy shore.
The Cook Islands use the New Zealand dollar, making it all the more easier for me to ease straight into my holiday. This is my first visit to the Cook Islands and knowing that it’s only a short hop on a plane (about the same as Australia), it definitely won’t be my last. The Sanctuary Rarotonga-On The Beach Resort has an adult only rule and the stretch of beach front villas that face onto the private lagoon and incredible display of Palm Trees can’t help but get me onto Island time.
My beachfront villa room is located on the sand, a direct fifty metres from the Lagoon edge, the only thing in the way? A palm tree or two. I’m usually one of those people who likes to spend most of their time adventuring in new places, getting up early & heading out to explore, however staying at the Sanctuary gives me more than one reasons to laze about all day. There’s so much going on every day at the resort which gives you the option to partake in the days activities or lounge on the beachfront. And despite all that’s going on, you never really seem to notice a peep. There’s a pleasant stillness and peacefulness right throughout the property.
We all know I love a good breakfast and what I loved most about the Sanctuary degustation menus was all the Gluten Free, Dairy Free, Nut Free, Paleo & Vegan options- big tick right here. Travelling can be really hard when you have diet restrictions but the Sanctuary make it feel like it’s not ever an issue. The breakfast degustation menu changes daily, with two options under every category- Fruit Morning Treats, Tropical Fruits, Mains, Sweet Endings, South Seas Elixirs and even different styles of coffee- choosing from plunger coffee or freshly brewed island style with coconut cream and vanilla. You pick an option from each category and you can chose to enjoy it by the poolside or on the sand in the beach restaurant hut. Hello Heaven, i’ve certainly arrived!
There are three restaurants located on the property- all serving an array of freshly prepared local catches and warming meals. Sundays in the Cook Islands is usually reserved for family, church and relaxation so most outside cafes are closed. The Sanctuary puts on a special Roast Carvery Night on Sunday evenings ($39NZD pp) with the resort restaurants open all day giving you the opportunity to laze around, swim, eat, repeat, if that’s what you’re into.
Whichever activity takes your fancy- there’s equipment readily available for you to borrow- snorkelling, reef shoes, kayaks, tennis and stand up paddle boards. The stunning area of Lagoon in front of the resort is the Island’s best lagoon area for snorkelling, meaning you don’t have to carry your equipment too far to reach the water. It’s all inclusive in the resort cost so you can do and borrow as you please. I’ve never experienced such clear water- the schools of fish, blue starfish and brightly coloured coral here are really something else.
While there’s lots to do on the Island- safari tours, hiking, cross island walks, lagoon cruises, 4WD tours, cycling excursions, beach BBQ’s and performance nights, The Sanctuary Resort is also packed with daily activities so you can’t be made to feel guilty if you feel like spending most of your time enjoying the facilities. The daily activities range from night snorkelling to coconut hat weaving, Nui floral garland weaving, Aroa lagoon fish feeding, crab racing, cultural dance nights and weekly sunset cocktail parties.
There are however a few things on my hit list that I believe you can’t come to mainland Rarotonga without doing:
TO DO & SEE
SATURDAY MORNING MARKET (TE PUNANGA NUI MARKET)
Located at the sands edge in town, the market is only held on Saturdays and is a colourful and fun event filled to the brim with locals and tourists alike. The market starts early (7-12) and I suggest getting there by around 9 to ensure you can enjoy all that is has to offer. You’ll find fresh produce, local arts, crafts fresh smoothies & meals. Grab a coffee or a fresh mango smoothie and wander around listening to music, trying all the local delights and speaking with locals. If you forgot to pack a sarong or you’re looking for authentic souvenirs to take home, this is the place to grab them. What I enjoyed most about the markets was how friendly everyone was- it was so nice to be able to chat to people and find out their favourite spots around town and with local artists, Ukulele and drum carvers ask them about where their inspiration came from.
SEE THE ISLAND
Whether it be by scooter (You can rent these for about NZD$25 a day or $40 for 3 days), car, or by foot, make sure you do step out and view what’s around the island. Rarotonga is made up of three districts and the 29KM road around the island will take you about 40 minutes to drive. The speed limit here is a strict 50KM at all times and if you’re wearing a scooter without a helmet, the speed limit is 40KM. Make sure to stick to this because the roads can be uneven and any or all of the following could run out onto the street- chickens, dogs, children!
You can also catch the bus around the island, which goes in two directions. Each trip is $5 or you can buy a day pass for $16 allowing you to hop on and off whenever you please. You might be treated to a singing bus driver and some dad-jokes over the speaker microphone if you’re lucky.
HAVE A SPA TREATMENT AT THE SPA POLYNESIA
An island holiday isn’t really an island holiday without a visit to the spa. The Spa Polynesia is located directly across from The Rarotongan and the Sanctuary and has a pretty impressive and extensive menu with options for him, her, the kids and couples- from Thalasso Algae body wraps to sea salt scrubs, aromatherapy massages, reflexology, nail treatments, tropical hydrotherapy bath soaks & coconut sugar body scrubs.
The spa building is a beautiful colonial villa surround by lush plants and features a swimming pool, and outdoor massage areas. I loved the staff here at the Spa, they all had such exceptional skill and great stories to tell.
The Spa Polynesia
TRY THE FRESH FISH
You can choose to enjoy this two ways- by catching it yourself on a fishing charter and rewarding yourself after, or by dropping into one of the many fresh fish restaurants around town. Straight from the ocean to table.
My favourite cheap spot for fish was: Bite Time Cafe, located in a colourful shack by the markets (NZ$10 for a Sashmi & Ika Mata plate).
I also did a Safari Day Tour which had me climbing the mountains in an open 4WD to reach the most magnificent views of the mountains, lush forest and the lagoon. The off-road adventure allows you to drive up a private path and see Rarotonga from inland and you’ll learnt about the people, the land, the produce and traditions, finishing off the tour with a barbecued feast for lunch.
In total I spent 5 nights in Rarotonga and it was the perfect amount of time to be able to make the most of the activities, the sun and really relax into Island time.It’s now onwards and upwards to Aitutaki, the next biggest island in the Cook Islands, a 50 minute flight North from Rarotonga.
The Sanctuary Rarotonga Resort
Aroa Beach & Lagoon Marine Reserve , Rarotonga, Cook Islands, South Pacific