Ah…the Cook Islands. Just the name immediately conjures images of long, lazy days spent gazing out across the Aitutaki Lagoon with a cocktail in hand. But while the overwater bungalows of this honeymooning hotspot are undeniably alluring, the Cook Islands offers plenty of more active adventures for those who just can’t sit still.

So whether you want to delve into the local culture or venture below the water’s surface, here are four ways to discover all facets of the Cook Islands.

“Looking across an idyllic lagoon in the Cook Islands”

Embark on the Cross Island Walk

Stretch your legs on an adventurous trek through the lush interior of Rarotonga while completing the Cross Island Walk. It extends from the north coast of the island up to the rocky outcrop of “The Needle” (or Te Rua Manga) before descending again to the southern coast.

Much of the trek is through a tropical jungle where you’ll be surrounded by wild bird calls before the trail opens up to offer spectacular views across the island. All up, the walk takes around four hours and ends at the idyllic Wigmore’s Falls where you can take a well-earned and refreshing dip. Keep in mind that the climb to the top of “The Needle”, an ancient ceremonial stone, is only for experienced rock climbers.

Spend a Sunday exploring Avarua

Beating to a very relaxed drum is the Cook Islands’ capital, Avarua, which nestles on the north coast of Rarotonga Island. Most travellers just catch a glimpse of its local life after flying into the Rarotonga International Airport but it’s worth a morning’s exploration to soak up the comings and goings on its vibrant streets.

You can shop for fresh, tropical fruits in the Punanaga Nui Outdoor Market (which is a photographic destination in itself) or delve into the local history at the Cook Islands Library and Museum Society. Try and coincide your visit with a Sunday when the hymns of the coral-built Cook Islands Christian Church ring through the streets, creating a sound and spirit that’s uniquely Polynesian.

Get your cultural fix at Te Vara Nui Village

Muri Beach on the southeast coast of Rarotonga is one of the island’s most popular stretches of sand, framing the crystal clear waters of the Muri Lagoon. But aside from whiling away an afternoon beneath an umbrella, you can also experience the rich culture and traditions of the Cook Islands at the Te Vara Nui Village.

This cultural village is situated in a stunning waterfall garden and provides engaging demonstrations about the archipelago’s handicrafts, ancient medicines and navigational techniques. A highlight is definitely the nightly buffet and dinner show where “The Legend of Tongaiti” is narrated through traditional dance and song.

Go snorkelling in the Aroa Marine Reserve

Aroa Beach on the west coast of Rarotonga is the gateway to some of the best snorkelling in the Cook Islands within the Aroa Marine Reserve. No motorised boats are permitted in the shallow lagoon, providing ideal and safe conditions for snorkelers of all ages and abilities.

The crystal clear waters and healthy coral reefs here are teeming with colourful tropical fish, such as parrotfish, angelfish and Moorish idol. In fact, the area is so safe for snorkelling that they even offer night snorkelling adventures where (equipped with a flashlight) you can discover some of the nocturnal critters that only come out after dark.

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