The Cook Islands are a nine hour night-flight away from Los Angeles so you really need to make it worth while. Beautiful beaches, wonderful people, fantastic food, there are way more than 10 things to should do. We traveled for two weeks to two of the fifteen islands, Rarotonga and Aitutaki and here is what topped our list of don’t-miss-its.
1 Visit A School
You want to see how the locals live? Go visit one of the schools and you’ll have every question answered (and be asked quite a few on the way). Hooking up with the school in the Cook Islands is as easy as an email. Most schools are government run with a handful of private locations. If you go to the Cook Islands Ministry page http://www.education.gov.ck/ and click on the tab for schools it will give you a list of the schools. If you want your visit to entail working with younger students, contact Primary schools. Teenagers/High Schoolers are at the Colleges (which flipped me out a little because college in the US is after High School – in Cooks, college is after primary, University is after college. See, perfectly clear). Once you have emailed a couple schools, arrange to either work with students with reading or math, have a question and answer session with a classroom or just hang out during lunch break. We chose the question and answer session and they were one of the best parts of our trip. At first students are shy (they are sometimes worried about their English skills), but they warm up to you quickly! If you are traveling with kids or teenagers, this is an even better experience – for everyone. We traveled with our fourteen year old and the fourteen year old Cook-Islanders had lots of questions for her!
This also gives you some “celebrity” status later in your visit when you are wandering town, because the students have no problem coming up and talking to you. We were told some of the best non-touristy places to eat, snorkel, and shop during these impromptu run-ins. We got invited to dinner, church, dance class and favorite swimming holes. A piece of advice: do this early in your trip and plan on more than one school. We thought it would be hokey until the first school, and then my family wanted more so we ended up visiting four schools on two islands.