WHY WE LOVE IT
- The pristine beaches of these remote islands—including Tonga, Samoa and the Cook Islands—make the perfect romantic getaway.
- Natural beauty abounds thanks to crystal-clear waters, rain forests studded with dazzling flowers, picturesque mountains and black volcanic rocks marking miles of white sand.
- Here travelers can escape high-rise hotels and hyped-up beaches in favor of secluded, unspoiled landscapes and share the unhurried, peaceful Polynesian lifestyle.
- The accommodations may not be as posh as those on neighboring South Pacific islands, but the prices generally aren't as steep either.
- Literature buffs can revel on the islands that Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson once called home and visit the hotel that helped inspire James Michener to write Tales of the South Pacific.
- Shop for hand-carved tiki figurines, pareus and fresh tropical juices—and get a good buy on commemorative honeymoon tattoos!
WHEN TO GO
There's no high season, though the best, slightly cooler weather is during the May-to-October dry season.
Ureia, Aitutaki, Cook Islands
Dining at Tupuna Hewett's place in the middle of this idyllic island is like being invited to her dinner party: The charming open dining area is attached to her home, and she cooks everything herself—and grows some of it too. Dishes like ika mata, the local version of ceviche, and the spicy fish curry with mint chutney are made with freshly caught seafood. She also serves delicious New Zealand steaks, and there’s plenty for vegetarians as well.
RIGHT ON THE BEACH RESTAURANT
Manuia Beach Boutique Hotel
West coast of Rarotonga, Cook Islands
The name says it all. This open-air, sand-floor restaurant really is right on the beach and offers full views of the lagoon. The menu is international, but the relaxed atmosphere radiates South Seas charm, especially on Wednesdays and Saturdays, when the restaurant offers an island buffet and dance show.
SAILS RESTAURANT AND BAR
Beach Road, between Ifiifi Street and Mulivai Stream
This historic 140-year-old colonial building was once home to Robert Louis Stevenson, the Scottish author of Treasure Island and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, but is now home to one of the coziest eateries in the South Seas. Reserve a table on the porch and enjoy the nautical decor, friendly ambience and to-die-for lobster bisque.
SEAVIEW LODGE AND RESTAURANT
Nuku'alofa, Tongatapu Group, Tonga
This old favorite looks like Granny's parlor crossed with a colonial outpost in the tropics. You can often catch visiting dignitaries eating here, or even see local royalty ordering from the simple and satisfying seafood-heavy menu. The late King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV lived in the modest palace next door.
One mile east of traffic circle, Avarua
Rarotonga, Cook Islands
This meticulously restored 1920s home sits on two sprawling acres of beachfront property and offers some of the best eats in the South Seas. A tranquil breakfast might include fresh corn fritters, followed by an open-faced sandwich and a coconut-smoked marlin salad for lunch. The space is most romantic in the evening, when the signature dish is fish fillets glazed with tamarind and lime juices, caramelized onions and coriander.
TRADER JACKS BAR & GRILL
Avarua Harbour, Avarua
Rarotonga, Cook Islands
This 20-year-old Cook Islands institution offers good times and great seafood to locals and tourists alike. Whether you sit in the restaurant area for views of the lagoon or just order bar snacks, keep an eye out for the chalkboards that list daily specials, which are made from the freshest local fish.
Crown Beach Resort
Rarotonga, Cook Islands
Owned by Cook Island locals who got their culinary training in New Zealand, this elegant restaurant offers excellent service and menu specialties from the Pacific Rim. Wines from Down Under complement fresh seafood fare and dishes for landlubbers, like aged rib-eye steaks and herb-marinated beef tossed with peanuts and Vietnamese rice noodles.
When Aggie Grey opened this hotel and hangout in 1943, she may very well have inspired her friend the novelist James Michener to create the Bloody Mary character in his now-famous book Tales of the South Pacific. Today her heirs ensure that this modern 50-acre, 140-room resort retains its age-old charm. Every evening the resident string band soothes visitors with traditional tunes, and on Wednesday nights, guests attend fiafias, or Polynesian fire-dancing performances.
PACIFIC RESORT AITUTAKI
Amuri, Aitutaki, Cook Islands
This romantic, secluded resort finds its home on a triangular atoll that rises from the ocean floor. Accommodations include 18 tropical-chic beachfront bungalows, six suites surrounded by tropical flower gardens and three one-bedroom villas, all perched above the white-sand beach on black volcanic rock. In addition to spa treatments, a beachfront bar and a Friday-night buffet dinner with drums and dancing, the resort also offers a five-hour cruise around the beautiful Aitutaki Lagoon.
CROWN BEACH RESORT
Rarotonga, Cook Islands
It's honeymoon heaven at this 22-villa resort and spa—and the most dreamy accommodations are the beachfront bungalows, each with a hot tub on its front porch. The marble-floored and thatched-roof reception building also includes an air-conditioned exercise room, and the rest of the 4.5 acres of the resort feature tropical gardens, a coconut grove, two bars, two restaurants and a rocky waterfall that pours into an inviting swimming pool.
Aitutaki, Cook Islands
The name of this hidden gem translates to "blue starfish" in the Maori language, and local art in each of the eight generously spaced villas offers another tie to the island's native people. Every room includes a fully equipped kitchen, a covered veranda and a private garden with an outdoor shower, in addition to a marble-tiled indoor one. Complimentary breakfasts and refreshments are available daily at the poolside self-serve "honesty bar."
FAFÁ ISLAND RESORT
Fafá Island, Tonga
Your own bungalow on a private island for about 50 bucks a night? Well, this is a great deal for honeymooners who don't mind roughing it a bit: The thatched-roof fales are open to the air—and anything else that might crawl in. (If you're not fond of geckos, this isn't the place for you.) Beds are cloaked with mosquito netting, and outdoor showers are solar powered, which means that water pressure and warm water could be limited on cloudy days. Still, the only thing that's overly expensive is the alcohol, so be sure to bring some from the airport duty-free shop.
Titikaveka, Rarotonga, Cook Islands
This quiet three-story hotel overlooks a white-sand beach on the southern coast of Rarotonga. The 12 regular rooms and five top-floor suites all feature beachfront balconies and in-room kitchenettes, but many visitors choose to dine at the hotel's restaurant and bar, the friendly, laid-back Paw Paw Patch. Looking for a bargain? Keep an eye out for reduced rates in the Hot Deals section of their Web site.
THE SUNSET RESORT
Atupa, Rarotonga, Cook Islands
Located on Rarotonga's western shore, this spot is named for its breathtaking view of the sunset over turquoise waters. With rates starting at less than $100 per night, this comfortable resort promises one of the better deals in the South Seas, and its clean, comfortable, no-frills rooms are best suited to beach bums on a budget.
OLD APIA MARKET
Beach Road, west of the Town Clock
Stop by this bustling flea market to watch local artisans at work in their stalls. Look for Samoan craft items, like 'ie toga (fine mats made from pandanus leaves) and intricately carved kava bowls.
Apia, Upolu, Samoa
Venture off the Cross Island road to find these stunning falls, whose water plummets 500 feet into an old volcanic crater. One of Samoa's most impressive sights, it’s surrounded by a lush tropical rain forest.
PAPASEEA SLIDING ROCK
Apia, Upolu, Samoa
The most joyful activity on the island of Samoa may be gliding down this 16-foot natural waterslide. Once you plunge into the deep and cool freshwater swimming hole below, you'll want to slide down again and again.
Avatiu Harbour, Rarotonga, Cook Islands
The best time to visit this bustling market is early Saturday morning, by 7 or 8 a.m. for the best selection of fresh-picked mangoes and passion fruit, nu (coconut juice) and gorgeous tropical flowers for your hotel room. The market runs every weekday, and on Wednesdays, local artisans demonstrate how to make eis (flower garlands) and weave traditional straw hats.
TE RUA MANGA
Rarotonga, Southern Cook Islands, Cook Islands
Also known as "the Needle," this 1,363-foot rocky spire offers a challenge to honeymooners in search of a good hike. Be sure to bring your boots if you're up for a climb!
THE ART OF TONGA
Fund Management Building
Taufa'ahau Road, between Wellington and Lafone roads
Owned and operated by local artist Sitiveni "Steven" Fehoko, this handicraft shop offers dramatic mother-of-pearl jewelry, whalebone letter openers and wood carvings ranging from simple refrigerator magnets to intricate tiki figurines.
Vailima was author Robert Louis Stevenson's final home and is now a wonderfully atmospheric museum. His colonial mansion built in 1891 looks as if he and his wife, Fanny, had just stepped out for a minute. All his books are here, plus 72 tons of furniture he shipped from England. Don't miss the 30-minute walk to his hilltop grave up the "Road of the Loving Hearts."