Oceania : Cook Islands
The Cook Islands  are a self-governing parliamentary democracy in free association with New Zealand, located in Polynesia, in the middle of the South Pacific Ocean, between French Polynesia (Society Islands) to the east and Tonga to the west. It is an archipelago with 15 islands spread out over 2.2 million sq. km of ocean. Though quite far, there's nothing between the Cook Islands and Antarctica.
With the same time zone and latitude (disregarding north and south) as Hawaii, the islands are sometimes thought of as "Hawaii down under". Though smaller, it reminds some elderly visitors of Hawaii before statehood without all the large tourist hotels and other development.
- Northern Cook Islands - Low coral atolls, closer to the equator.
- Southern Cook Islands - Mostly volcanic and hilly islands, a few atolls; includes Rarotonga, location of the capital town of Avarua.
Named after Captain Cook, who sighted them in 1770, the islands became a British protectorate in 1888. By 1900, administrative control was transferred to New Zealand; in 1965 residents chose self-government in free association with New Zealand. In effect, New Zealand handles defense, foreign affairs (including passports), and currency; otherwise the islands are self-governing. This includes immigration, which is strictly controlled -- even for New Zealanders. The emigration of skilled workers to New Zealand and government deficits are continuing problems.
Tropical, moderated by trade winds.
The northern Cook Islands are seven low-lying, sparsely populated, coral atolls. The southern Cook Islands consist of eight elevated, fertile, volcanic isles where most of the populace lives.
You must have a reservation for accommodations pre-arranged, or risk being sent back (or onward) on the next flight out. Though immigration and customs may be a little less strict about this than in the past, and let you reserve at the airport by phone, if nothing is available you will be sent back. Camping on the beach is not allowed.
Rarotonga International Airport (IATA: RAR) is the main gateway to the Cook Islands. There are daily services to Auckland, New Zealand and weekly services to Fiji and to Los Angeles. The only international airlines at present are Air New Zealand and twice-weekly Pacific Blue. Air New Zealand has code share arrangements with other Star Alliance members including United Airlines and Rarotonga is a popular stopover on Round the world flights.
Rarotonga and Aitutaki are regular stops for cruises operating from Tahiti. Other cruise companies also stop by occasionally.
Domestic inter-island service is provided by Air Rarotonga . Although you can book flights through Air Zealand, it is usually cheaper to do so directly with Air Rarotonga. This has become much easier in the past few years, now that they offer online booking through their web site http://www.airraro.com. Unless you're a member of Air New Zealand's "Airpoints Dollars" program, you won't receive any airline miles for Air Rarotonga -- and then only if you book through Air New Zealand, often at a higher price. Star Alliance mileage for Air Rarotonga is not available.
Most of the outer islands have only unpaved runways. However, landing won't be much rougher than that of a paved runway. If you've never landed on an unpaved runway before, it's nothing to be overly concerned about, and you've probably had a few rougher landings on a paved runway.
The intrepid traveler can visit all inhabited islands by inter island freighters, but these can be few and far between if you want to get the really remote islands. Details of services are published in local island newspapers.
By motor scooter
Rarotonga's main island is encircled by a 32 km bitumen road that is in good condition, and the best mode of transport is hiring a motor scooter from the various rental companies scattered around, or direct from the larger hotels.
To ride a scooter, you need a Cook Islands driver’s license, which can be purchased from the Police station in Avarua. Be prepared to do a short test, where an officer will follow you around a short circuit to make sure you know what you are doing. The Police station is open from 8am until 12pm, is closed for lunch between 12pm and 1pm, then opens again at 1pm and closes for the day at 3pm. The drivers license office stops administering the tests at 2:30pm, or perhaps before then if they feel like it. It is best to arrive in the morning or as close to 1pm as possible to ensure that you can get your license.
If you're planning to sail to the islands you must enter through one of the five designated ports of entry. These are Rarotonga, Aitutaki and Atiu in the Southern group, and Penrhyn and Pukapuka in the Northern group. There are two uninhabited islands - Takutea and Manuae. The only easy way for a visitor to get to Takutea is on the research vessel Bounty Bay operated by Rarotonga-based Pacific Expeditions, which has special permission to run occasional eco tours.
Languages: There are five living languages in the Cook Islands with English and Cook Islands Maori the official languages. Cook Islands Maori is sometimes also called Rarotongan after the capital island and is the most widely spoken version of Maori in the Islands. Others are Penrhynese - unique to the Northern group island of Penrhyn and rapidly disappearing - and Rakahanga-Manihiki which is spoken by about 2,500 Cook Islanders only half of whom live on the two islands from which it takes its name. On the remote Northern group island of Pukapuka, the islanders have a unique language of their own called Pukapukan of which there is no written version. It is more like Samoan, and some of it can't even be understood by other Cook Islanders. But even there, English is spoken, albeit not widely. Children, though, are taught it in school.
At the very least, the visitor will quickly learn the usual greeting, "kia orana" which means "may you live long"
The Cook Islands use the New Zealand Dollar, but also issue their own banknotes and coinage, including the unusual $3 notes and the triangular $2 coins. Cook Islands money is only legal tender within the Cook Islands.
Like many other South Pacific island nations, the Cook Islands' economic development is hindered by the isolation of the country from foreign markets, the limited size of domestic markets, lack of natural resources, periodic devastation from natural disasters, and inadequate infrastructure. Agriculture provides the economic base with major exports made up of copra and citrus fruit. Manufacturing activities are limited to fruit processing, clothing, and handicrafts. Trade deficits are offset by remittances from emigrants and by foreign aid, overwhelmingly from New Zealand. In the 1980s and 1990s, the country lived beyond its means, maintaining a bloated public service and accumulating a large foreign debt. Subsequent reforms, including the sale of state assets, the strengthening of economic management, the encouragement of tourism, and a debt restructuring agreement, have rekindled investment and growth.
Overall, much cheaper than nearby Tahiti, though anything imported (petrol/gasoline, milk, etc.) will be expensive. Calling home can cost a bundle, due to the need of having a large satellite dish and related equipment on each sparsely populated island.
Try the islands' ika mata (raw tuna) with coconut milk, finely chopped vegetables. It is delicious!
Most of the outer islands turn off the entire electric system (blackout) overnight. Bring a flashlight (torch) with batteries.
- Vara's Accomodation, (About 15 minutes outside of town in the clockwise direction. Located on Muri beach.), ☎ 682 23156, . checkout: 10:00am. Vara's has many different types of accommodations, ranging from the dorm rooms to the Grand View Lodge. Split between the hillside location, which is usually quieter and has a pool, and the beach there are quite a few beds available. The beach dorms look out over the lagoon to the east, and share the best beach on the island with the expensive resort hotels. Vara's beach location has a, perhaps well deserved, reputation for late night revelry and partying. If you are looking for quite and solitude this is perhaps not the best location, but if you are looking to meet people and have a good time you will find that at Vara's. One of the best features of Vara's is that the Koka Shack is located on premise. This business offers kayak and snorkeling gear rental, as well as spear fishing, deep sea fishing, guided hikes, BBQs, poker nights, betting days, and plenty of games. By organizing these events on premise you get to know many of the people staying with you.20-120 NZD/night.
No major hazards, but medical care is limited -- especially on the outer islands. Though the locals often go barefoot (they're experts at it!), it's not recommended beyond sandy beaches due to the sharp coral rocks. Use caution when climbing stairs that connect the lower parts of an island near the sea to the upper part above the cliffs. Some do not have railings on the edge, including platforms. Only the most acrophobic would be uncomfortable with this (they're plenty wide enough and not vertically "open"), but for children, the blind, and someone who's had too much to drink, the risk is extreme. On the platforms, avoid getting too close to the edge -- especially if you need a rest from climbing. Motorcycle accidents cause many injuries and fatalities.
Try not to eat snappers, they may give you ciguatera. Mosquitoes are mostly a nuisance, though every few years there is a dengue fever outbreak in the wet season. No malaria, or other serious tropical diseases to worry about, (but do take dengue fever seriously during outbreaks).
Though the survey form given on arrival (and collected at departure) is optional, the airport staff will be very disappointed if you don't complete or lose it.
Although the Cook Islands are located far away from Europe, the inhabitants are not behind the times. They have TV and Internet and they know very well what's going on in the world, so don't try to patronize them. As a German tourist you might be asked about Germany's "dark history", but they know very well that these times are gone long time ago and that modern Germany is an industrialized and democratic country. Respect their religious habits; especially that everything is closed on Sundays (with the exception of a few bars).
Contrary to popular belief, the Cook Islands own history doesn't include head hunting but there was a large loss of life during the earlier World War I (1914-1918) fighting for the British against the Germany and Central Powers.
This page was last edited at 19:38, on 13 March 2009 by Eric Polk. Based on work by Ian Sergeant, Stephen Conrad, Todd VerBeek, John Roberts and David, Wikitravel user(s) Ypsilon, Texugo and MMKK, Anonymous user(s) of Wikitravel and others.