Close your eyes and let tropical winds blow gently across your face, dig your toes into warm sand, listen to the soft lapping of the waves on the beach and swim in warm waters so full of colorful fish that you might think you’re in a tropical fish tank. These are the Cook Islands.
Located between Fiji and Tahiti in the South Pacific, the Cooks (as they are nicknamed) are visited less frequently than their neighbors, but share similar cultural and physical characteristics. The Cook Islands share the same time zone as Hawaii. Spread out over 850,000 square miles of the ocean, the 15 islands – a total of about 93 square miles – that comprise the Cooks are divided geographically into six Northern Islands and nine Southern Islands.
The country is self-governed, with free association with New Zealand. As a result, New Zealand has brought modernity to the Cooks but the nation is still soothingly removed from the lifestyle of 21st century western culture. You will find an Internet café here, but after a day or two you won’t find any reason to go there!
One of the main attractions of the Cook Islands is their lack of tourists. Instead, you’ll meet a population that in the process of figuring our how to fit into a modern world where communication is instantaneous and travel nearly so.
Rarotonga, the largest and most populous of the islands, as well as the capital and port of entry for most tourists, is in the Southern group, along with Aitutaki, Atiu, Mangaia, Manuae, Mauke, Mitiaro, Palmerston, and Takutea. The Northern Islands are Manihiki, Nassau, Tongareva, Pukapuka, Rakahanga, and Suwarrow. The Northern Islands are true atolls while the Southern Islands are mainly volcanic.
Avarua, the capital of the Cooks, is located on Rarotonga near the major airport. Raro is also the most developed of the islands, but ‘developed’ is a relative term. You will find the Cooks to be a refreshing change from islands that see millions of tourists a year – the Cooks receive fewer visitors in a year than Hawaii does in a week! Most of these tourists are from New Zealand (with which the country is associated) and Australia, with only 12% of visitors coming from the US. Weddings held in the Cook Islands are legally recognized.
The second most visited of the islands is Aitutaki, a mere 140 miles and a short plane ride from Rarotonga – sufficiently close that many tourists go there for a day trip to take a lagoon cruise. Atiu is also beginning to develop a tourist trade, but has significantly fewer visitors than Raro and Aitutaki. It is also a short flight from Rarotonga.
Time slows down in the Cooks when you relax on warm beaches and swim in tropical seas. You will find the native Cook Islanders friendly, hospitable, and interested in sharing their culture. Take full advantage of opportunities to discover the singing and dancing that permeates the lives of the people, whether it is at a church service or an island night. This is truly a place where you can leave your cares behind!