— words by Kristie Kellahan

Does a real-life version of paradise exist on earth? Many who have holidayed in the Cook Islands would say the Polynesian nation of 15 tropical islands scattered across the South Pacific Ocean comes very close. Beach lovers, watersports enthusiasts, true romantics and sun-worshipping families are drawn to the relaxed pace and stunning natural beauty of island life in the Cooks, situated halfway between Sydney and Hawaii.

Most will stay at least a few days in Rarotonga, the main tourist island and home to the international airport, many resorts and villas, a host of ways to enjoy the lagoons and more than 50 cafes and restaurants. A short flight to relaxed Aitutaki is worth the trip for lagoon cruises to beaches that are consistently voted the most idyllic on the planet. The more intrepid will venture to Atiu, island of the birds, for a taste of traditional village life.

With an abundance of fresh seafood and tropical fruits – not to mention coconuts galore – the Cook Islands will also satisfy your tastebuds. One of the benefits of the country's close association with New Zealand is culinary inspiration, so expect to taste the influence of island-minded Kiwi chefs who increasingly are opting for the life aquatic. The New Zealand dollar is the official currency, affording Aussie travellers more purchasing power.