A Week of Beating Drums and Swaying Hips
The Cook Islanders are considered the best dancers in the South Pacific, but their nightly hotel shows are usually the most authentic displays of traditional skills many travelers will see.
True dance lovers and those wanting to see something more than pretty beaches should plan their Cook Islands trip around the annual Island Dance Festival, for which the crème de la crème of the islands’ village and school dance troupes travel to “mainland” Rarotonga for a week of song and dance. The lusty, hip-swinging tamure is much like what you might see in Tahity, though the drum-induced enthusiasm and spirit of the Cook Islanders will convince you that the dance belongs to them.
It’s second nature to male and female, young and old, part of the cultural glue that binds these fifteen far-flung islands. It is amusing to imagine the alarm of the early missionaries, just barely off the boat from dank, temperate England, encountering such decidedly unreserved behavior.
Blissfully Remote, Breathtakingly Beautiful
It is ironic that of the many islands Captain James Cook sailed to in his quest for paradise, he missed Aitutaki, the one perhaps most qualified – and, as it happens, in the island group that was later named for him.
Instead, Aitutaki was “discovered” by Captain William Bligh in 1789, just days before the mutiny aboard his H.M.S. Bounty. Today the only mutiny you’ll find is among those resisting the return to Rarotonga, which seems downright raucous compared to this sleepy little island. Aitutaki doesn’t profess to be the most stunning of all Pacific islands, but it may well be – at least according to the many seasoned travelers who have sailed these incredible waters before arriving here, speechless.
Gorgeous at ground level, Aitutaki is also (like the rugged Tahitian island of Bora Bora, to which it is often compared) spectacular from the air, where its 30-mile protective reef resembles a scalloped turquoise carpet spread out on an indigo sea. The reefs necklace of twenty-one tiny motus (small islands) and their empty white beaches are perfect destinations for picnics, lolling, and snorkeling in the startlingly clear water.