COOK ISLANDS

Birders flock to the Cook Islands for a chance to spot the colorful Kakerori, an endangered species found only on Rarotonga. Pack the binocs for a nature trek or 4X4 safari into the island’s lush, jungle-covered interior when Holland America Line cruises to this Polynesian paradise. You can explore sacred marae and other ruins left behind by an ancient Rarotonga hill tribe, and hand-feed reef fish right off coral-fringed Aroa Beach — renowned for some of the Cook Islands’ best snorkeling.

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Rarotonga, Cook Islands

Rarotonga’s landscape hints at the relaxed lifestyle its 10,000 residents enjoy: There's only one main road—without a single stoplight—following the 32-kilometer (20-mile) perimeter. The island's most visible landmark is a towering granite pinnacle known as the Needle, which rises from razor-backed ridges. Rarotonga’s other main calling cards are its Muri Lagoon, a dazzling patchwork of soothing blue hues, and its extraordinary people. Cook Islanders have a passion for Polynesian drumming and dancing, which they perform with an old-school, hip-swinging intensity that gets even bystanders’ hearts racing. The singing at Sunday church services is equally inspiring.