You Should Know: The Cook Islands
If you are looking for somewhere truly exotic to travel to and the thought of Tahiti, Hawaii or Fiji now seems too commercialized and not exclusive enough for you, look no further than the Cook Islands.
Even with the world becoming more and more accessible and global exploration becoming more of a reality than ever, there are still some places in the world that are “untouched”. The Cook Islands are “one” of those places.
The Cook Islands is a parliamentary democracy in the South Pacific Ocean that is in free association with New Zealand. Positioned at the very center of Polynesia, the Cook Islands economic zone stretch out in a scattering of roughly 2 million square kilometers and comprises 15 small islands whose total land area is 240 square kilometers (92.7 sq mi). Geographically, the islands are located in Polynesia, in the middle of the South Pacific Ocean, between French Polynesia (Society Islands) to the east and Tonga to the west.
The country is broadly divided into Southern and Northern Groups.
The Southern Group, comprising Rarotonga (the main island), Aitutaki, Atiu, Mangaia, Manuae, Mauke, Mitiaro, Palmerston and Takutea, are mostly of high volcanic formation with fertile soils and lush tropical vegetation. The exceptions are the small atolls of Manuae and Palmerston are small atolls, while Takutea, is a sandy key. The Southern Group possesses about 90 percent of the total land area of the Cook Islands. Rarotonga is the largest island (6,719 hectares) and Takutea, the smallest (122 hectares).
The Northern Group comprises Manihiki, Nassau, Penrhyn, Pukapuka, Rakahanga and Suwarrow. All except Nassau which is a sandy key, are low-lying coral atolls with sparse vegetation (coconut and pandanus trees etc) and large lagoons. Penrhyn is the largest island (984 hectares) and Suwarrow, the smallest (40 hectares). (Source: Cook Islands gov)
Though the defense and foreign affairs are the responsibility of New Zealand, The Cook Islands are a self-governing parliamentary democracy.
If you have been to Hawaii or Tahiti, you have probably heard about British explorer and navigator Captain James Cook, whom the Cook Islands are named after. Captain Cook explored several islands along Hawaii, Tahiti and New Zealand and first arrived at what is now known as the Cook Islands in 1773. However, he didn’t name the islands after himself as legend has it, rather, he named them the Hervey Islands; the name “Cook Islands”, did not come about till 1820s when they appeared on a Russian naval chart in honor of Captain Cook.
Because of the shared history and background, the indigenous population of the Cook Islands is the Cook Islands Maori, whom are Polynesians closely related ethnically to the indigenous populations of Tahiti and nearby islands and to the New Zealand Maori.
If you are seeking a wonderful luxurious, yet private, island vacation on a white sand beach with amazingly clear blue waters, beautiful coral reefs and jaw-draping fauna and flora, or are just looking to lounge and relax on some of the most beautiful and serene beaches in the world while listening to the relaxing sound of the waves crashing on the beach, then the Cook Islands may be the destination for you!
As a lover and appreciator of Polynesian culture, the Cook Islands are a destination I simply cannot wait to visit! I’m already putting the plans in place to visit these beautiful islands in the near future.
Some random facts about the Cook Islands
– English and Rarotongan (Cook Islands Maori) are the main official languages spoken on the islands. Dialects of Cook Islands Maori include Penrhyn; Rakahanga-Manihiki; the Ngaputoru dialect of Atiu, Mitiaro, and Mauke; the Aitutaki dialect; and the Mangaian dialect. Cook Islands Maori and its dialectic variants are closely related to both Tahitian and to New Zealand Māori. Pukapukan is considered closely related to the Samoan language
– 69.6% of Cook Islanders are Protestant (Cook Islands Christian Church 55.9%, Seventh-Day Adventist 7.9%, other Protestant 5.8%). Others are Roman Catholic (16.8%), Mormon (3.8%), other (4.2%), unspecified (2.6%), or no religion (3%). (Source: CIA factbook and 2001 census)
– The Cook Islands use the New Zealand Dollar, but also issue their own banknotes and coinage, including $3 notes and triangular $2 coins. Cook Islands money can only be used within the Cook Islands
– The islands have a tropical oceanic climate with two seasons. The drier months, from April to November, have an average maximum temperature of about 78°F (or 26°C) and an average minimum temperature of about 68°F (or 20°C). The wetter, more humid months, from December to March, have an average maximum temperature of 82°F (or 28°C) and an average minimum of 72°F (or 22°C). During the latter season, the Cook Islands can experience occasionally severe tropical storms and even hurricanes. (Source: Cook Islands gov)
– Rarotonga Island’s resident population is 9,424 (11,225 in 1996) with about 5,500 of those people living in the capital Avarua
– Overall, according to the 2006 census, there are just 19,569 people living on the Cook Islands, though visitors number about 100,000 annually (mainly tourism)
– Motor scooters are the most popular means of transportation on the islands. Everyone gets around on one of these
– The islands are 10 hours behind GMT. Daylight saving time is not observed, thus, the clock remains the same all the year round
– You’ll be happy to know that tipping is considered contrary to the Polynesian way of life and is frowned upon. Cook Islanders in service positions are friendly and polite because it’s who they are, not because they are looking for a tip.
Want to go?
The main airport is the Rarotonga International Airport (IATA: RAR) in Rarotonga. To get there, you will have to travel through Auckland, Sydney, Fiji or Los Angeles.
If traveling from LA, you are looking at a straight shot direct flight on Air New Zealand which takes approximately 9.5 hours. However, on your return leg, you will have to connect through Auckland. This full itinerary will run you approximately $1050.
One sample itinerary is as follows: Los Angeles to Rarotonga on September 1st, 2013 returning on Sept 8th; $1040 total cost, 9.5 hours direct flight from LA leaving at 11:15pm, then the return trip total time taking approximately 31 total hours due to the connection and 14.5 hour total layover in Auckland. This layover can be viewed as an opportunity to explore Auckland for a day, as the flight arrives in Auckland at 5am and doesn’t leave till 7:40pm.
If you are flying from NYC, this same trip will incur a total cost of about $1350 on Air New Zealand, with one connection in LA to get there, then two connections on the return leg – first through Auckland, then through LA.
If you are flying from anywhere else in the continental United States or Canada, please add the approximate cost of traveling from your city to LA to the cost of traveling from LA to RAR to arrive at an appropriate approximate cost for your flight.
Because the Cook Islands are in association with New Zealand, New Zealand entry/exit requirements apply. If you are a U.S. citizen, you are eligible for a visa waiver and do not need a visa for tourist stays of three months or less. Visit the New Zealand Embassy website for the most current visa information.
While there are no major hotel chains such as Marriott or Starwood properties on the islands, there are plenty of beautiful hotel properties that will be sure to whet your appetite.
One such property is the Rarotongan Beach Resort and Spa, which goes for about $249/night for a Garden room or $294/night for a beach front room.
..is a common phrase you will hear a lot in the Cook Islands. If you will be heading there, learn to say it as you will use it to say hello and thank you. It is pronounced “kee-yah or-ah-nah”, and it literally means “may you live long” :).
Disclaimer: Since I have not yet visited the Cook Islands at the time of this posting, this post was written through my research and textbook knowledge only and not from in person experiences. This post is for informational purposes only. Please note, experiences may vary.