Traveller Zoe Palmer embarks on an epic journey to the the idyllic Cook Islands in the South Pacific. These remote islands lie 3,500 kilometres north east of New Zealand and comprise 15 coral atolls and volcanic islands. Zoe's journey takes in the 4 islands of Rarotonga, Atieu, Mitiaro, and Takutea.
Her adventure begins with a trek across Rarotonga, the largest of the islands with a population of 10,000 people. The island measures 32 kilometres in circumference and, with a circular road following the coastline, it's not difficult to get around. Renowned for its beautiful beaches, 70% of Rarotonga’s surface is mountainous, and covered in almost pristine native forest. From the tiny capital city Avarua, Zoe hikes along an ancient pathway to the centre of the island and historic ceremonial site of Te Rua Manga where local people once carved the faces of their gods into the rockface.
Back in Avarua, Zoe takes part in the Mire Tarai Festival, an annual celebration of local culture, crafts and traditional sports. She joins an all female team of canoeists to compete in a canoe race across the local lagoon. No one knows who wins - or fact cares - it seems the festival is more about celebrating ancient customs and having fun.
From Rarotonga, Zoe flies to the island of Atiu, where Captain Cook landed in 1777. Cooks landing party were met by curious islanders who'd never seen white people before in their lives. Cannibalism was known to take place on the Pacific islands so their Tahitian interpreter was terrified when he noticed the islanders preparing a large bonfire. Luckily, his fears were unfounded and the the party received a warm welcome from the Atiu islanders.
Two years' later Captain Cook was in fact killed and cooked (literally!) by Polynesians in Hawaii. Ironically, the Polynesians had much in common with the man they killed - just like Cook they were highly skilled navigators and intrepid explorers. There is also archaeological and genetic evidence dating back 1,000 years that suggests Polynesian canoes sailed 2,000 miles across the Pacific Ocean, discovering en route: Hawaii, Easter Island, and New Zealand.
Next Zoe hitches a ride to the nearby island of Mitiaro in a traditional voyaging canoe named the Te Au o Tonga. Built in 1994, it's the only voyaging canoe of its kind on the Cook Islands today and an exact replica of an ancient canoe design. Apart from voyages of discovery, this type of canoe would also have been used for regular warrior raids when cannibalistic Atiuans launched terrifying attacks on the terrified Mitiaro islanders. Thankfully, the Atiuans are a much friendlier bunch today. And, when Zoe arrives at Mitiaro, the welcoming festivities are in full swing. These days having the voyaging canoe in port is a really happy event and Zoe is treated to a traditional Polynesian welcome.
The final leg of Zoe's trip takes her to the nearby uninhabited island of Takutea where she gets to test her survival skills. Following in the wake of ancient warriors and intrepid explorers visiting these remote, idyllic islands has been an unmissable experience. Zoe is enthralled by the Cook Islands.