Who hasn’t dreamed of setting foot on one of those incredible, paradisiacal islands? After giving some though to suitable destinations to visit as a family, we decided that visiting the Cook Islands in the South Pacific seemed ideal.
The Cook Islanders culture is incredibly child-friendly, the climate outside the rainy season is very pleasant, for swimmers and snorkelers, the underwater world is colourful and the beaches are heavenly. Surely a perfect holiday destination for all ages?
We travelled in November which is just at the start of the wetter season from November until April/May. The weather at this time will be hot and humid, with a brief rain in the later afternoon which doesn’t really spoil your day. From June to October the temperature is in the mid 20 degrees Celsius, with less rain and slightly cooler, more comfortable nights.
You may be thinking, ‘how on earth will our children (and especially us as parents!) endure the long haul flights?’ It’s a fair question – but don’t worry too much.
If you can choose between different flights, I always recommend families opt for night flights. And on top of that, it’s normally a good idea to plan at least a one-day stopover, or even multi-day stopovers after long-haul flights.
When Travel Nation books your flights, we will ask for a cot for your little ones on all their flights, which makes flying much more enjoyable. Because of this, you’ll also be rewarded with more leg room as the reserved baby/toddler seats are in the first row of seats.
Most major airports have an indoor playground for kids with a soft play area. We found this was ideal for our little boy to burn off some extra energy and stretch and roll around before boarding.
Our little one is not the best at sleeping, but actually the monotonous background noise of the plane always rocked him into a wonderful, long sleep. When he wasn’t sleeping, he spent some time strolling up and down the aisle with us, meeting all the passengers – or simply playing in his cot or at our feet on the floor in front where there was some space.
The Cook Islands are easily accessible from London via Los Angeles - a great destination to break the long flight. We flew with Air New Zealand from London direct to LA (about 11 hours) and planned a 2-day stopover with our friends in Pasadena, Los Angeles.
On our exploration of LA, we discovered the outdoor shopping mall ‘The Grove’ which will make shopaholics and kids’ hearts beat faster. With parking available for your hire car, there are fountains, grass, live music and a tram – there’s lots to keep adults and kids entertained beyond the numerous shops. In the pre-Christmas period (we travelled in November) The Grove is highly recommended, with the many lights and the Christmas decorations.
The hustle and bustle on Venice Beach also fascinated us and our son. Similar in feel to neighbouring Santa Monica just a few miles to the north, Venice is close to LAX airport, so you can easily visit on your way to or from the airport if you’re short on time.
If you have older children than we did, the Warner Brothers and Universal Studios as well as Disneyland will certainly be at the top of the list of things to do in LA with a family!
From LA, we made the direct flight to Rarotonga on the Cook Islands (9.5 hours), which is scheduled once per week, but on other days you can fly via Auckland in New Zealand.
We stayed at both the Edgewater Resort & Spa (one of the Cook Islands’ best-known resorts) and the Rarotongan Beach Resort & Spa. Both hotels offer a free kid's club for children aged 4-12 years and a babysitting service so you can spend some time with your partner. The Rarotonga Resort was perfect for us; spacious grounds, super-friendly staff and delicious food! Our 15 month old son was allowed to join us in the main pool, and the beach is just gorgeous.
We can help you choose the best child-friendly accommodation in the Cook Islands and recommend exactly the right place to suit your family.
Once you’re here, there’s plenty of ways to explore Rarotonga. It’s easy to explore the main island by bus – there’s only one circular route which runs half-hourly - one bus drives clockwise, one counter-clockwise! You can also rent a car and drive around the island completely independent.
Whilst you’re on Rarotonga, I recommend you visit the family-friendly Nautilus Resort and treat yourself to a cocktail or lunch and relax in the warm infinity pool overlooking the mountains and the gorgeous Muri Lagoon.
Children will love the many places to go snorkelling – our favourite bring the Aroa Marine Reserve or the waters around Titikaveka. If you prefer to stay above the waters, even a kayak trip or a stand up paddle board will give you a glimpse of the dazzling underwater world through clear water.
Some hotels offer guests the opportunity to feed fish in knee-deep water - and the fish swim over in their hundreds! This was a lovely, accessible experience, not just for the little ones!
If you ever tire of beach life, there are plenty of guided and independent hiking adventures to help you explore Rarotonga’s lush and jungle-covered interior – although since this is better suited to older kids than our toddler, we didn’t get the chance to explore very far.
For a cultural insight, you should also visit the colourful Punanga Nui weekly market which takes place every Saturday in the capital, Avarua. And for a further glimpse into the everyday life of Cook Islanders, you’re welcome to pay a visit to one of the local Sunday church services, where joining the local and singing offers a little more insight into local life.
The islands are also known for their traditional song and dance, so I recommend going to an ‘island night’ or a cultural evening to watch a fire show or dance – this was definitely an unforgettable experience for us. We can arrange this as part of your itinerary if you ask.
After a few nights in Rarotonga, we took the scenic flight over to the neighbouring island of Aitutaki. Here we stayed in the Aitutaki Village – situated right on the famous and truly fabulously beautiful lagoon.
Here you can take a boat trip through the spectacular Aitutaki Lagoon to Tapuae Tai Motu or ‘One Foot Island’. Along the way you’ll moor at uninhabited islands, bask in the sun on lonely sandbanks, go snorkelling and enjoy a tasty BBQ on One Foot Island.
What you’re probably not expecting to see on an uninhabited island is a tiny Post Office – so you can surprise your loved ones with a unique postcard sent directly from uninhabited ‘One Foot Iceland’! In fact, this remote corner of paradise is a popular destination for people to get married abroad – with a secluded ceremony in the middle of the lagoon. Ask us if this is something you’d like to build into your trip – we will happily arrange a wedding holiday!
If you’re considering a long haul family holiday, it’s worth bearing in mind that whilst children are under 2, they can fly for almost nothing. And since they sleep in your hotel room, there’s not yet any extra costs over travelling as a couple. Travelling with a toddler if you plan it well can be a really fun experience for all of you!