Kia Orana to the Cook Islands! Nestling between French Polynesia and Fiji in the South Pacific, the Cook Islands archipelago encompasses 15 beautiful islands and coral atolls. Think turquoise lagoons, powder white sands, towering volcanic peaks and fish-filled coral reefs and you've only just scratched the surface of what the Cook Islands have to offer. Add into the mix flavoursome cuisine, the 'call of the drum', traditional dancing, and friendly locals and you're approaching perfection on the tropical holiday front.
Split into two distinct island groups - the South Cook Islands and the North Cook Islands - each island has its own attractions. Rarotonga is the main island in the Southern group and hosts luxury resorts and the island's capital Avarua - famed for its white coral churches and lively Saturday morning market. The 'honeymoon island' of Aitutaki is an hour's flight away and couldn't be more different - expect deserted beaches, crystal clear lagoons, tiny motu islets and sea birds and tropical fish for company.
Music is the heartbeat of the Cook Islands, from the beat of the drums at local dance shows to the hymns that drift out of the many churches on Sunday. Festivals play an important part in the calendar with each island competing with their neighbour to put on the best show - the Constitution Day celebrations and the Te Maeva Nui Festival are thrilling experiences. The culinary journey takes in worldwide flavours and traditional umukai feasts.
The lagoons and oceans that encircle the islands are a mecca for divers and snorkelers, with glass bottom boat trips a more sedate way to take in underwater delights. Island handicrafts such as oil paintings, tapa cloth designs and Rito hats, not forgetting the black pearls that are naturally harvested locally are all great buys to take home.
The Cook Islands enjoy a warm tropical climate year-round. Expect daily temperatures of 26C from June to August with little rain. From November to March the temperature gauge hovers between 22C and 30C, tempered with occasional tropical showers and rare cyclones.
The Cook Islands are overflowing with things to see and do. Snorkelling and scuba diving opens up a world of tropical fish and coral reefs. Enjoy Robinson Crusoe moments on One Foot Island or spend the day chilling out on picturesque Muri or Titikaveca beaches. Take a cross island hike on Rarotonga and discover the Tua Rua Manga pinnacle rock and the Wigmore's Fall. Enjoy an exciting 4x4 trip through mountainous terrain. Learn more about Cook Islands crafts and Maori bush medicine at the Cook Islands Cultural Village. Discover how Arabica coffee is created at the Atiu Coffee Factory. Shop til you drop at the Saturday markets on the Aratunga Wharf and the Punanga Nui Outdoor Market.
The Cook Islands' cuisine embraces a world of flavours including Polynesian, Italian, Indian, and Chinese specialities. Local dishes to try include Ika (raw fish marinated in lemon juice and served with onion and coconut cream) and Rukau (coconut cream, salt and onions mixed with mashed taro leaves). Special occasions bring traditional Umukai feasts - with banana leaf wrapped meat, fish and vegetables cooked over hot coals in umu earth ovens. Coconut water, tropical fruit juices, Cooks Lager and Bush Beer are the perfect accompaniment to any meal.
Evenings in the Cook Islands offer something to suit your every mood. Rarotonga is the place to be, especially at weekends with its bustling bars and music filled nightclubs. The Avarua waterfront is lined with lively bars too, while night-life scene on Aitutaki combines cultural shows and fire dancing with a handful of nightspots.
It is your responsibility to ensure you have the correct travel insurance and vaccinations and / or special medication for your destination. Please consult your GP for advice at least one month ahead of travel. It is essential that you meet the visa and passport requirements for your chosen destination. Visit the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (http://www.fco.gov.uk) website for up to date entry requirements listed by country.