After a relatively calm crossing from French Polynesia to the Cook Islands, National Geographic Orion awoke with Rarotonga on its horizon and the imposing mountain range, Te Manga, standing as a majestic backdrop.

The archipelago consists of fifteen main islands. The northern Cook Islands are seven low-lying, sparsely populated, coral atolls while the southern Cook Islands, where most of the population lives, consist of eight elevated, fertile islands. The largest island (26 square miles), Rarotonga, is home to 9,000 of the 19,000 residents. The ship anchored outside the harbor of the capital, Avarua, and after breakfast we explored the waterfront and small town.

After an early lunch back on the ship, we set out again for our activities further afield. Hikers enjoyed an amazing walk into the island’s interior and were awarded a fantastic view and samplings of the island’s bounty. Bikers rode along the flat-rim road and enjoyed watching their guide open coconuts. They also went for a swim from one of the island’s beautiful beaches. The bus tour drove the entire 20-mile rim road and stopped at beautiful Muri Beach, Maire Nui Botanical Garden, and the circle of seven stones at Avana Pass.

Photo by Elise Lockton: On approach to Rarotonga, the largest island in the Cook Archipelago.