The Pacific: Cook Islands
Aitutaki and Rarotonga
Great Find: The Art of Tivaevae
"You learn this from the time you start school," explains Aisne Williams, describing Tivaevae, the technique of patchwork and embroidery that was brought to the Cook Islands in the late 1800s and used for ceremonial events. Williams acts as both artisan and agent; if you want a specific design, size, or color, she can either create it herself or find someone who can. Depending upon the complexity of the patterns and embroidery, pieces take from a few weeks to a year to complete, often with several women working at once. An embroidered sarong is about $300. A bedspread of complex patterns goes for about $5,000. $ Williams sets up a shop at the market in Arutanga, located next to the wharf. For information, 682-31790.
Culture Watch: Aitutaki's Sunday Best
On Sundays in the Cooks, everything stops for church. Visitors should go, too; the services at Holy Zion Church are performed partly in Maori and partly in English, and the hymn singing is hauntingly beautiful. Even after the service, while others are next door enjoying the buffet (visitors welcome), the women continue to sing. On Main street in Arutanga.
Hot Property: Beyond Bora-Bora
ONE TO WATCH If Bora-Bora's aquamarine lagoon lures you, but its hordes of tourists hold you back, head to Aitutaki. The most visited of the Cooks after Rarotonga, this island is as beautiful as neighboring Bora-Bora but without the overdevelopment. Pacific Resort Aitutaki—the first luxury resort on the island—was big news when it opened last October. (It rivaled the Aitutaki Pearl Beach Resort which, despite its excellent setting on the lagoon, has terrible service and food.) And it's clear what all the fuss is about: 28 cottages dotting a half-mile beach surrounded by 17 acres of rainforest. The look is a mix of South Seas thatched roofs and Balinese furnishings. The food, by American Dean Betts, highlights local ingredients with a bright combination of flavors—whole parrot fish steamed with ginger and red Thai curry, tuna with wasabi aioli and fruit salsa. Get cottage 100 or 300, both 1,200-square-foot villas with large verandas just steps from the beach. Rooms, $415-$730; dinner $50; 682-20427; www.pacificresort.com.
With Reservations: Rarotonga
Overdeveloped and geared to mass tourism, Rarotonga, the Cooks' main island, is really only a transit point for inter-island flights. Once the runway in Aitutaki is resealed, a project currently underway, small private jets can avoid it altogether. In the meantime, if you're stuck there for dinner, book a table at Sails Restaurant in Muri Beach and order chowder made with New Zealand mussels and shrimp in a creamy coconut base (682-27349).
Book a tour with DAVE ATINIU, the matinee idol of Tahaa. He'll show you the pearl farms, vanilla plantations, and sing you a song while strumming his ukulele. $75 an hour; 689-65-62-42.
Hotel rates range from the lowest-priced double to the highest-priced suite in high season. In most cases VAT is not included. Meal prices are for a three-course dinner for two, excluding beverage and gratuity.
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