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Spread across a large ocean expanse between New Zealand and Hawaii are the 15 tiny Cook Islands. With rainforests tumbling down to coral-fringed beaches, crystal-blue lagoons filled with tropical fish and high mountain scenery, nature is the big attraction. Swim in warm waters, sunbathe on powdery white sands, hike up forested mountains and watch migratory whales pass by.
Most visitors arrive on Rarotonga. The archipelago’s principal island is the only one with an international airport. Stay for a few days to enjoy its attractions. Go for a scenic drive along the 20-mile (32-kilometer) coastal road that encircles the island. Swim, fish, dive and snorkel in the blue lagoon that surrounds Rarotonga. Hike up Raemaru, the flat-top mountain on the west side of the island.
Travel to some of the other Cook Islands by using the inter-island air services. There are no scheduled ferry services between the inhabited islands. There are inter-island cargo ships, but the service is sporadic.
Take the 1-hour flight from Rarotonga to its nearest neighbor, Aitutaki, for plenty of watersports in its lagoon. Explore the ancient caves on Mangaia and dive among the corals off Palmerston Island. Nearby Atiu Island is home to numerous bird species including the blue kingfisher, brown booby and the rare kopeka. This is a perfect place to become a birdwatcher if you aren’t one already. While you are here, tour the Atiu Coffee Factory and its plantations.
The 850,000 square miles (2.2 million square kilometers) of ocean around the Cook Islands have been designated a whale sanctuary. From July to October, humpback whales pass the islands on their annual migratory route. Head out to sea on a whale-watching trip or stay on land to catch sight of the large marine mammals. They are often spotted from the shores of any of the islands.
The Cook Islands have a tropical climate that’s warm year-round. This beautiful setting attracts many honeymooners and other vacationers for its wildlife, scenery and tranquility.