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Rarotonga, Cook Islands, PACIFIC OCEAN

Many a round-the-world ticket includes the option of stopping in the Cook Islands, evoking thoughts of Pacific perfection. Considering these 15 islands sit in between world-class locations like Fiji, Tonga, Samoa and Tahiti, you would be forgiven for thinking that they must have awesome waves somewhere. The fact that they bear the name of the ultimate surf discoverer, James Cook, is not a guarantee of good surf and like Tubuai or Niue, the underwater topography doesn’t suit epic surf requirements. However, devoting a few weeks should ensure sampling some decent and definitely uncrowded high tide waves. The Cook Islands, spreading over a staggering 2.2 million km2 (1.4 million mi2) of ocean, consists of 2 groupings with 1500km (940mi) between the 2 most remote islands. The southern group includes nine volcanic islands, although some are virtually atolls : Aitutaki, Atiu, Mangaia, Manuae, Mauke, Mitiaro, Palmerston, Rarotonga and Takutea. The northern group comprises of six low coral atolls: Manihiki, Nassau, Tongareva (or Penrhyn), Pukapuka, Rakahanga and Suwarro. The majority of the population lives in the southern group. The capital Rarotonga is volcanic with a rugged, eroded centre of peaks and ridges, surrounded by flat lowlands about 1 km wide. Since Rarotonga is the youngest island, it is physically unlike its other volcanic neighbours where erosion and periodic submersions have reduced mountains to gentle hills. Compared with other atolls, the lagoon surrounding Rarotonga is quite small, covering only 8km2 (5mi2) and is relatively shallow. The fringing reef defines the lagoon, which is broad and sandy to the south, and narrow and rocky on the north and east. Most of the reef passes are too narrow, preventing waves from wrapping properly, and explains why there is only a handful of surf spots in the Cook Islands. The waves break over shallow reef, so it’s usually safest to surf at high tide and a decent-size swell will also help the waves to break in deeper water. All the reefbreaks are easily accessible by paddling out one of the passages or directly over the reef.