Destination: Cook Islands
The Cook Islands consists of 15 islands scattered over some 772 square miles of the Pacific Ocean.
It was during the Great Polynesian Migration (which began about 1500BC), that our ancestors first arrived on these islands. Their giant double-hulled canoes - ‘Vaka’s’ - guided by the stars and the power of ancient Polynesian navigation, arrived here approximately 800AD. It is said that Chief Toi arrived in the Cook Islands during the original migration. Toi presided over the creation of a grand road, built of coral, laird through the inland swamps. This all-weather road is still in existence despite being almost 1000 years old. Now tar sealed, it lies inland and is called the Ara Metua.
The first Europeans were the Spanish explorers Alvaro de Mendana, who sighted Pukapuka in 1595 and Pedro Fernandez de Quiros who sighted Rakahanga in 1606.
There was no further European contact until over 160 years later in 1773 when Captain James Cook, for whom the island group was eventually named, sighted Manuae atoll which he named Hervey Island. On a later voyage, he also discovered Palmerston, Takutea, Mangaia and Atiu in 1777.
The Cook Islands become a favorite stop for whalers in the 1850s, the British flag was raised in 1888 at which time Aitutaki and Rarotonga were included in the boundaries of New Zealand.
Today, an international airport in Rarotonga handles daily connections from several destinations including the US.
15 islands in the heart of the South Pacific spread over 850,000 square miles with a population of approximately 15,000. The Islands most visited are Rarotonga and Aitutaki which are only 140 miles apart
Closely linked in culture and language to the Maori in New Zealand, the Maohi of French Polynesia, the Rapuni of Easter Island and the Kanaka Maoli of Hawaii with about 87 per cent of Cook Islanders are Polynesian Cook Island Maori.
It is the natural charm of the Cook Island people that lures visitors in. Friendly, high-spirited and welcoming – they are the great entertainers of the Pacific and regarded as the best dancers and drummers in Polynesia. Festivals are an important part of the annual calendar, where the competition between the islands to produce the most outstanding performers is part of the national pride.
Cook Islands Maori is the local language but everyone also speaks English.
Both Ru and Tangiia, from French Polynesia, are believed to have landed on Aitutaki and Rarotonga respectively around 800 AD. Written history of the Cooks began with the sighting of Pukapuka by the Spaniard Alvaro de Mendaa in 1595 followed by a landing on Rakahanga in 1606 by another Spanish explorer, Pedro Quiros.
In 1764 the British arrived off Pukapuka and named it Danger Island because they could not land. Between 1773 and 1779 Captain James Cook sighted and landed on many of the southern group but never came close to Rarotonga.
In 1789 Captain William Bligh landed on Aitutaki, while the first official European sighting of Rarotonga happened in 1813 by a missionary, John Williams. The first known landing occurred in 1814 with the crew of the Cumberland. Trouble broke out between the sailors and the Islanders and many were killed from both sides. The islands saw no more Europeans until missionaries arrived from England in 1821. Christianity quickly took hold in the culture and retains that grip today.
The Kingdom of Rarotonga was established in 1858 and became a British protectorate in 1888 per the request of Queen Makea Takau. She was attempting to avoid French expansionism. It became a New Zealand protectorate from 1901 until 1965 after which it became a self-governing territory in free association with New Zealand.
Today, the Cook Islands are essentially independent but are still officially placed under New Zealand sovereignty where it is tasked with overseeing the country’s foreign relations and defense.
The currency in the Cook Islands is the New Zealand dollar (NZ$), supplemented by notes and coinage for local use. The unique local coins and notes are not negotiable outside the Cook Islands, but are keenly sought by collectors worldwide.
The Cook Islands are a year round warm and sunny country. April to November is the drier months with June to August being the cooler months. November to March is the warmer humid season with the sporadic topical showers. It time of year is also cyclone season but they are not a regular occurrence so don’t be deterred.
None except entering from a Yellow Fever area.
No visa required for US passport holders staying up to 31 days. A valid passport and a return ticket are required
Tipping & Porterage
Tipping is not encouraged in the Cook Islands. Tip with a smile and ‘meitaki ma’ata’ (thank you). Polynesian custom says that if you
give something for nothing, the person receiving will owe you - and that’s how a tip is perceived.
Bargaining can also be taken as an insult.
Visa, MasterCard and Bankcard are accepted at most places on Rarotonga. American Express and Diners Club are accepted at more-expensive hotels and restaurants.
Both the New Zealand dollar and the Cook Islands dollar and is divided by 100 cents.
Coins: 1c, 2c, 5c, 10c, 20c, 50c, $1, $2, $5
Notes: $3, $10, $20, $50
Voltage is 220 AC/50 cycle. If you are traveling from a part of the world where your appliances are 110v you will need a voltage transformer.
Drink bottled or boiled water only.
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