Cruising the Cook Islands

In the southern Pacific Ocean, east of Australia and northeast of New Zealand, lie the two clusters of coral atolls that form the Cook Islands. It is rather less well-known that its neighbors Tahiti and French Polynesia, but boasts the same tranquil, idyllic land and seascapes which are its single largest draw.

With its fifteen major islands scattered over almost 850,000 sq mi (2.2 million sq km) of beautiful waters, you can only skim the surface with any single cruise.

The temperature never ventures south of 20 degrees Celsius at any time of year. It is warmer in the October to March period although the rains begin in December and continue till March.

The Cook Islands, like many of their Pacific neighbors, have a history of unique tribal art characteristic of the area. Venture a bit deeper inland from the ports and you will find some true gems not created specifically for the tourist market.

The islands have unique draws besides the scenery. Rarotonga’s jagged peaks offer an open welcome to intrepid travelers who want a majestic view of their surrounds, and clear-water lagoons straight out of the brochures. Mangaia and Atiu have interesting cave complexes that are worth a trek into. Avatiu’s harbors are a sight to behold in themselves.

For a more urban discovery, Avarua has museums which delve into the history and culture of the Islands. Thrill seekers will love Aitukai for its water sports which include kite surfing and snorkeling.

Holland America Line (HAL) has three separate long cruises with which you can discover the Cook Islands, the shortest of which is 48 days and the longest, 53 days. Called ‘Tales of the South Pacific’, they start in Seattle, Vancouver or San Diego and moor at almost 30 ports each.

HAL also has a 39-day Australia, New Zealand & South Pacific Collector for those who cannot get away for so long. Its 25-day South Pacific Crossing starts in Auckland and is better suited for a deeper discovery of the islands. It also has several Pacific Explorer packages that launch from Sydney or Melbourne in Australia and are between three and four weeks long.

Paul Gaugin Cruises’ ‘Cook Islands and Society Islands’ is based in the South Pacific and offers many cruises which revolve around the area which gives you a lot more time to discover the Cook Islands than HAL’s offerings. Most launch from Papeete in French Polynesia and all are of less than two weeks duration.