When it comes to paradise, Maldives, Hawaii or Fiji come to mind — take it from me: My job is literally to travel around the world. But if you want one of my best-kept vacation secrets, it’s this: A direct ten-hour flight on Air New Zealand from LAX will transport you to the little-known gem called Rarotonga of the Cook Islands. (A direct flight to the Maldives? That’ll take you 20 hours.) Here’s my guide to the magical getaway.
WHERE IS THIS PLACE AGAIN?
The Cook Islands, made up of 15 individual islands, are in the South Pacific northeast of New Zealand, between American Samoa and French Polynesia. They’re at once completely isolated but also connected to the world by the international airport on Rarotonga, the biggest and most populous of the islands.
WHERE TO STAY
My take? Enjoy the full beauty of the island — in all of its outdoor glory — and stay at the Ikurangi Eco Retreat. Glamping, as many call it, in safari tents and waking up to fresh breakfast at your doorstep, with an outdoor shower to complete the experience, will make it nearly impossible to think about work emails (and actually, you probably will have to disconnect; our cell-phone service did not provide coverage here).
WHAT TO DO
The number one thing? Relax. Like really relax. No Facebook, Instagram or texts reminding you to make your next dentist appointment (but, you know, you should eventually do that). If you get antsy and want something to do aside from lounging on the beach, try island hopping: A short, 45-minute flight will get you to Aitutaki, another Cook Island, known for its azure blue lagoon. It’s seriously dreamy.
More of the adventurous type? Go snorkeling in the crystal-clear waters or ATVing through the mud. Plus, Rarotonga has two breweries you can tour (and take a bottle or two home with you).
WHEN TO GO
Any time! The weather is always gorgeous, maybe some rainfall during the cooler seasons, but overall the Cook Islands are a year-round destination. Kia Orana!