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10 Photos of the Cook Islands That Will Make You Want to Drop Everything and Buy a Plane Ticket

PHOTO: Amanda Castleman

Behold the beauty of the under-the-radar South Pacific country.

A longtime honeymoon hotspot, The Cook Islands has travelers swooning over its outdoor adventures and Polynesian traditions. These 10 photos will make you fall in love with this South Pacific archipelago.

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PHOTO: Amanda Castleman
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International flights touch down on the largest of the 15 islands, Rarotonga. Excited to jump into the grass-skirted swing of things? Head to the Highland Paradise Cultural Center, a 600-year-old village site.

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PHOTO: Amanda Castleman
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Visitors can explore ancient ruins and reconstructed huts at Highland Paradise by day. Three nights a week, the cultural center hosts a traditional umu (earthen oven) feast and sunset show, featuring Māori dancers and drummers.

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PHOTO: Amanda Castleman
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Stretch away any airplane cricks and creakiness at KiteSUP in Muri Beach Lagoon, where co-owner Brynn Acheson-Nooroa leads paddleboard yoga sessions.

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PHOTO: Amanda Castleman
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Get a taste of that classic Cook Islands’ romance with dinner in The Crown Beach Resort’s oceanside gazebo.

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PHOTO: Amanda Castleman
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Air Rarotonga runs puddle jumpers from the main island to Tahiti and eight outposts in the Cooks. The nation’s terra firma is just 1.3 times the size of Washington D.C…. but spread over two million square kilometers of ocean—an aquatic empire almost as big as Greenland.

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Many travelers hop a 50-minute flight north to Aitutaki, where a turquoise lagoon cradles sandy motus (islets). The most famous remains One Foot Island; its beaches often top lists of the world’s best. A pop-up post office dishes out novelty passport stamps there.

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PHOTO: Amanda Castleman
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Swank it up at Pacific Resort Aitutaki, the Cooks’ only five-star accommodations. It may look familiar from Air New Zealand’s cheeky 2014 Safety in Paradise video, which put locals on camera with Sports Illustrated models to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the magazine’s swimsuit edition.

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On Rarotonga, Herbalist Pa leads three-hour walks that introduce the island’s edible and medicinal plants. But prepare to be slimed, as he sometimes slathers stinky greenish-white noni fruit onto guests’ skin, both to prevent and soothe sunburns.

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PHOTO: Amanda Castleman
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The Punanga Nui Cultural Market livens up the capital of Avarua, known simply as “town” to locals. Stalls sell everything from black pearls to banana vodka, mango-chili chutney, and Polynesian applique-style quilts with vibrant patterns celebrating nature.

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PHOTO: Amanda Castleman
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Decompress before heading home at Little Polynesian, a 14-room boutique resort on the south coast.