There’s a sense of nostalgia among many in the tourism industry for the way Hawaii was in decades past. While that island chain remains one of the most popular premiere destinations in the world, there’s a demand for a simplified version of a similar experience.

Anyone interested in that would do well to visit the Cook Islands. Located northeast of New Zealand in the South Pacific, the Cook Islands are named after British navigator James Cook.

I was fortunate enough to bring my entire family there recently for my parents’ 60th wedding anniversary. And it was everything you would expect it to be, and so much more.

Rarotonga is the main island and the site of the international airport. We took a nonstop Air New Zealand night flight there from Los Angeles. The flight is nearly 10 hours, which may seem intimidating to some people. But I found that it offers enough time for a meal, movie, nap and breakfast. Before you even know it, you’ve arrived at a true island paradise.

Getting through customs is a fairly easy process, made easier by the fact that most natives speak English. The dress code is casual, so there’s no reason to pack business attire.

With its unspoiled Polynesian charm, Rarotonga is essentially one huge resort. The locals are friendly and contribute hugely to the laid-back, easygoing island culture. Many are from New Zealand, which is only a three-hour flight away.

My two weeks there were split between Rarotonga and another of the chain’s islands. A typical day can be whatever you want it to be. Lounging by the pool is easy and relaxing. The hotels offer breakfast, and many restaurants overlook the breathtakingly blue ocean water. Lunch can be eaten directly on the beach, complete with its fluffy, white sands. And unlike in many places, tipping for service is not customary on the islands.

The Mooring offers a unique dining experience, as you can watch fishermen deliver fresh seafood directly from the boat to the restaurant. I went with a small group to do deep sea fishing and we caught 30 tuna in the space of an hour. You’re allowed to keep as many of the fish you catch as you want, so we took several of them back to the hotel’s restaurant, where the chef prepared it to our specifications.

Anyone hoping for an active outing would be hard-pressed to find a wider variety of quality options anywhere else. The Cook Islands boast everything from kayaking to swimming, bird watching and snorkeling. A lagoon runs all over Rarotonga, complete with an abundance of coral in many areas. You can take a cruise devoted entirely to the lagoon. The beaches are fabulous and vary in width and the island is very diverse with wildlife, as crabs and turtles are common sights. You can even charter a boat and watch huge fish eat fruit off of the side of it.

Getting around is also fairly easy through multiple methods. One road encircles Rarotonga, and buses run frequently in both directions. Although everyone drives on the opposite side of the road, it’s easy to get used to. Driving around the entire island takes around an hour. You can also rent motor scooters to explore the island’s scenic beauty or hop aboard the party bus that services the area. It’s also entirely possible to take hikes from one side of Rarotonga to another.

I spent some time doing exactly that, and found some of the lesser known parts of the island. There, I discovered rare products made by locals, including a banana wine and exotic flavors of ice cream. Locals also grow vanilla beans and use them to create different products. You can even buy a hand-made, hand-painted ukuleles.

Overall, the Cook Islands offer a memorable experience for people of all ages. It can be enjoyed by couples, families, and is an ideal location for newlyweds to honeymoon. Give us a call at CI Azumano Travel to book your trip today!