Kia Orana can be used as a greeting or a goodbye because it means ‘may you live long’ - and visitors to the Cook Islands could well live longer simply because they have experienced the lack of stress known as ‘island time’. Gorgeous white-sand beaches fringed by palm trees, stunning coral reefs, turquoise blue lagoons and tranquil waters, all make the Cook Islands one of the most beautiful places in the world to visit. A collection
of 15 islands located in the heart of the Southern Pacific Ocean near New Zealand, this region is an idyllic paradise; the perfect retreat to kickback in and unwind. What makes vacationing here so unique is that there
are no huge hotels, resorts or bustling tourist attractions in the Cook Islands today. Rather this island group offers the ultimate escape from city life. Home to some of the friendliest folks you will find in the Pacific,
a vacation in the tiny and remote Cook Islands is the perfect travel destination for many. The beautiful beaches, blue-green lagoons, swaying palm trees and friendly locals will undoubtedly seduce you. Whether it’s romance, soft adventure or a family holiday you’re looking for, there’s an array of quality island accommodation to suit
all tastes and budgets.
The Cook Islands lies south of the equator in the south west pacific ocean, west of Tonga, Samoa, Fiji and New Caledonia. The only islands to the east are French Polynesia, Pitcairn and Easter Island. The Cook Islands are situated in the heart of the South Pacific Ocean. There are 15 islands that make up the Cooks with numerous motus (uninhabited islets). Some islands are raised atolls, some are volcanic in origin. Rarotonga is the only island with a dramatic mountainous interior. Rarotonga and Aitutaki have a surrounding reef that allows for safe lagoon snorkeling. The Cook Islands is spread out over 2 million square kilometers of ocean.
There is a total population of almost 20,000 residents as of December 2010. From the 20,000 residents,
a little more than 14,000 live on Rarotonga. Polynesians comprise 81% of the country's population,
with mixed Polynesian and other races comprising almost 16% and Europeans and other races about 3%.
Cook Islanders are closely related to the Maori of New Zealand, the Maohi of French Polynesia, the Maori of Easter Island and the Kanaka Maoli of Hawaii. As such, they also have a chiefly system based on traditional legends of migration and settlement, where allegiance to chiefs is paramount and a man is measured by
Passport and visa:
Visas are not required. A visitor permit for 31 days is granted to all Nationals on arrival on presentation of a valid passport for at least six months beyond the intended period of stay, adequate financial means to support the stay and a ticket for return or onward travel is required on entry.
Air New Zealand is the main airline offering flights to Rarotonga Airport with direct flights. Most flights arrive and depart in the early hours of the morning. The high season for travel is between December and February when flights are often full. Pacific Blue (Virgin) also offers flights from Auckland. There is only one airline operating between the islands - Air Rarotonga. There are daily air connections (except Sunday) from Rarotonga to Aitutaki and several flights a week from Rarotonga to Atiu, Mauke, Mitiaro and Mangaia. Air Rarotonga does offer an air pass between Rarotonga, Aitutaki and Atiu.
There is little risk of disease on the Cook Islands, but visitors should take precautions against insect bites and sunburn. Outbreaks of dengue fever can occur, therefore a good arsenal of mosquito repellent and protective clothing is advised. Locals consider the tap water safe, but boiled or bottled water is advised for visitors, particularly to the rural areas. A range of medical and dental services are available on Rarotonga,
including a hospital and various pharmacies, but medical facilities in the Cook Islands in general are limited
and a comprehensive medical insurance is advised to include air evacuation for emergencies. Vaccinations are not required except for yellow fever and cholera if coming from an infected area. Importation of plants, animals and associated products is strictly prohibited.
The Cook Islands is a great destination all year round; seasonal variations are slight, with temperatures ranging between 18°C and 28°C in the winter months (May to October) and 21°C and 29°C during the summer (November to April). The rainy season is between November and March, but the rain usually falls in the form of late afternoon storms, cooling the air temperature. Severe weather is seldom experienced.
The islands are 10 hours behind GMT (London). Daylight saving time is not observed - in other words, the clock remains the same all the year round.
English is the official language, but the locals also speak Cook Islands' Maori, of which there are a few dialects. The Islands of Pukapuka and Nassau in the north have their own, Samoan-influenced language.
The currency of the Cook Islands is the New Zealand Dollar (NZD). Foreign currency exchange is available at the airport and two banks in Avarua, ATMs are also available in Avarua and are slowly becoming more widespread. American Express, Visa and MasterCard are accepted at restaurants and hotels in the main towns, and travellers cheques in small denominations as well as major foreign currencies can be exchanged at larger shops and hotels. Banks are open Monday to Friday from 9am to 3pm. You may receive strange shaped coins occasionally (Cook Island currency) - these can only be used in the Cook islands - once you board the plane they
Rarotonga is only 32km in circumference so it is easy to explore by car, moped or bicycle. The main circular coastal road is flat and tar-sealed and there are lots of side roads heading inland which connect to an ancient road, a kilometer or so inland at the foot of the mountains. There are rental companies based in Avarua Town,
at the Airport and at several of the resorts and hotels. Helmets are not necessary although hire companies do offer them is you want. Petrol is reasonable and driving is on the left. To drive in the Cook Islands (motorbike, scooter or car) you will first need to obtain a Cook Islands driving license at the police station in Avarua.
You must be over 21 and show a current license from your own country. Expect to queue up, fill in a form and then wait for an officer to take a head and shoulders photo. You'll be told to come back an hour or so later to collect the completed license which is valid until your next birthday. If you want to drive a motorbike or scooter, you will also have take a short test which involves riding successfully around the only roundabout on Rarotonga.
Fees for the license are approximately NZ$15 and are obtainable on the same day. Moped and bicycle hire is also available on Aitutaki, Atiu and Mauke but a license must first be obtained in Rarotonga.
Breathalyser testing was introduced in 2008, and if you are involved in an accident, your alcohol consumption could result in a prison sentence. Speed guns are also in use with on the spot fines. The limit on most of the island is 50kph, and just 30kph in town (Avarua). Buses travel around Rarotonga every hour in each direction between 7am and 4pm Monday to Saturday with reduced Sunday services. There's also a night bus operating until 10pm weekdays and until 1.30am on busy Friday nights. There is no bus service on Aitutaki
(except airport pick-ups / drop-off's) nor on the other islands.
Like many Pacific Island nations, Cook Islanders embraced Christianity and are now a very religious people whose faith has become integral to daily life. Much of the community's social life is centred on the church,
and Sunday is kept as a day of worship and rest.
Inhabitants of the Cook Islands are very religious and frown upon inappropriate dress. Beachwear should not
be worn in town, and topless sunbathing is a definite ‘no-no’.
Tipping is not expected and is contrary to Cook Islands custom.
Electrical current is 240 volts, 50Hz. The three-pin flat blade plug with two slanted pins are used.
The country code for the Cook Islands is +682, and the outgoing code is 00 followed by the relevant country code. City codes are not required. International Direct Dialling is available, but operator assistance may be required. In the main town of Avarua there is a telecommunications office (Telecom Cook Islands) offering international telephone, fax, email, Internet connections and other services. GSM 900 cellular mobile
services are only available on Rarotonga and Aitutaki.
The following goods may accompany travellers over 18 years to the Cook Islands: 2 litres of spirits; 2 litres of wine or 4 and a half litres of beer, 200 cigarettes; 20 cigars or 250g of tobacco. Only travellers from New Zealand are permitted to import fruit, meat and livestock. No firearms, cartridges or cartridge cases, gunpowder, bullets, and other forms of ammunition are allowed without prior permission from the Minister of Police.
Visits to the Cook Islands are usually trouble-free. There is relatively little crime, but it is advisable to protect your valuables.
A departure tax is paid by each visitor and is not included as part of prepaid taxes with airline tickets. Departure tax is NZ$55 for adults, NZ$15 for children under 12 years of age and free for children under 2. Place of payment is at the airport of departure or at Westpac Bank, Avarua (opening hours Monday - Friday 08.00-16.00). There's no departure tax on domestic flights.
Cook Islands Activities:
Cook Islands activities include swimming in the beautiful clear water, snorkeling and diving, surfing and exploring the nature trails and wildlife of this exquisite part of the planet. Sightseeing, day tours and cruises are available that take in the culture and natural wonders around the Cook Islands. One of the most enjoyable times in the Cook Islands is the Island Nights, run by most resorts. You don’t have to stay at a resort to book in for one of these, all you have to do is call and make a booking. This is a display of the local native costume and dance routines and they do not boast when they say that Cook Island dancers are among the best in the world. Music
is to the Pacific Islanders, much more than just the beat of a drum or twang of a catgut chord. The highlight of the evening has to be the island girls. The other highlight is when they choose members of the crowd to be
given a very impromptu lesson in how to dance 'island style'. The other highlight of the evening is the buffet, where you get a chance to taste island cuisine at its best. Some resorts will include food cooked in the umu
(oven in the ground), others won’t, so it does pay to ask. But you’ll certainly get the idea of what taro,
breadfruit, pawpaw, mango, poke and yams, for example are all about.