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Holiday Guides for Oceania - Cook Islands

Cook Islands

These small islands located in the South Pacific Ocean offer large amounts of fun and frolics and breathtaking natural beauty.

Sprinkled across the South Pacific halfway between Hawaii and New Zealand, the Cook Islands' idyllic existence makes them a fascinating holiday destination – a true cluster of paradise in the South Seas.

The Cook Islands make up a nation that is a self-governing parliamentary democracy in free association with New Zealand, but still has Queen Elizabeth II of England as it head of state.

A chain of fifteen small islands, they have a total land area of 240 square kilometres and cover a staggering 1.8 million square kilometres of ocean.

Typically tropical, with their blue lagoons, white beaches, dancing and singing locals and a decidedly chilled-out atmosphere, the Cook Islands can pull off the enviable trick of being both relaxing and exciting at the same time.

The main population centre is on the island of Rarotonga (about 10,000 people), where there is an international airport. There is also a much larger population of Cook Islanders in New Zealand, particularly the North Island - in the 2006 census, 58,008 people self-identified as being of ethnic Cook Island Maori descent.

Cook Island Traditions And Culture

Discovered by the Captain that lent his name to the isles in 1770, the Cook Islands came under the British protectorate in 1888. Twelve years later administrative control was handed over to New Zealand, with the islanders choosing self-control in 1965.

Christian music is very popular in the Cook Islands - Imene tuki is a common form of unaccompanied vocal music that visitors are likely to encounter on a visit. It is known for a uniquely Polynesian drop in pitch at the end of phrases as well as rhythmic outbursts of apparently nonsensical syllables (tuki). The word Imene is actually derived from the English word hymn.

Traditional dance is also something that is very important in the culture of the Cook Islands and a popular attraction for foreign visitors. Each island has its own particular dance that is taught to children.

Dances are usually accompanied by drums which add an infectious rhythmic beat. The style of drumming native to the Cook Islands is known internationally but is often misidentified as Tahitian music.

In recent years, there has been an increase in activity by local painters and artists who have started to develop original contemporary Polynesian artistic styles. Wood carving is a popular art form among local islanders, as is sculpture in stone, but to a lesser extent.

Recommended Cook Island Attractions

From the mountainous Rarotonga to the tiny sand cays of Takutea and Nassau, the islands offer a range of landscapes and experiences for the visiting traveller. Perhaps most famous of them all are the lagoons that are dotted about the islands.

Aitutaki's lagoon is an absolute must see for first-time visitors. Sprinkled with sand bars, coral ridges and about 21 uninhabited lagoon islets, the lagoon offers a great opportunity to dive and snorkel which must not be missed.

Maina Motu also offers fantastic snorkelling on gorgeous coral formations and around large white sand bars near its shore. Tapuaeta'i, (One Foot Island) also has a lovely stretch of beach and striking pale blue waters for diving.

Holidaymakers are also encouraged to go on a guided tour of Anatakitaki, which is one of the most famous of the many caves found on Atiu. It is a vast, beautiful cave and home is to the Kopeka - a rare bird that is somewhat similar to the swift.

Walking and hiking up some of the volcanic hills and valleys is also a popular choice for the energetic journeyman.

For nature lovers, the lush vegetation on the islands contain a plethora of plants and animals, with small forests housing hundreds of types of birds and mammals and the surrounding seas filled with dolphins, fish and whales.

The big event of the year is the ten-day Te Maeva Celebrations beginning on August 4th, with parades, drums, sporting competitions and fairs all taking over the islands.

The islands attract around 70,000 tourists a year, although the unspoilt location means a very different kind of holiday experience from the norm. There are no high-rise buildings, no huge hotel complexes and very few of the normal clichés found on the average package jaunt.

The paradise islands of the South Pacific are often touted as the ideal holiday getaway and their simple charm and unspoilt communities offer much more than a relaxing snooze on a white beach – though they do that well too.

Cook Island Weather

The climate on the Cook Islands is agreeable and even all-year-round, with no excesses of temperature or humidity.

The best time of the year to visit is around September and October, when it's warm and there is reduced humidity. March and April are also good periods to visit as by this time the cyclone season will have passed and the skies will be clear.

Winter nights (between May and October) can be cool at times - even chilly - so ensure that you bring a warm jumper if you are planning to visit at the time.

Destination Checklist For The Cook Islands

  • The official languages spoken on the Cook Islands are Maori and English.
  • The currency in use is the New Zealand dollar and the current weights and measurement system is Metric.
  • When dialling the Cook Islands, you will have to use the code +682 and don't forget that as this destination is in the Pacific, it is ten hours behind GMT.
  • Rarotonga has an international airport with regular flights from Auckland and Los Angeles arriving and departing from there. Air Rarotonga also operates out of the island, flying passengers to and from the other 14 islands regularly.