Introduction to the Cook Islands
The Cook Islands are located in the South Pacific with Tahiti to the east and Samoa and Tonga to the west. 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.
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!