Welcome to The Cook Islands…

Aitutaki

The Cook Islands are among the most beautiful places on earth. 

With unmatched natural beauty, safety, and blissful isolation, The Cook Islands are the perfect holiday location, whether you are visiting with your family, starting a new family with marriage or a honeymoon, or just “getting away from it all.”

This website is dedicated to sharing this wonderful place and helping you to go there in the manner that suits you best.

 

Cook Islands: Getting there

The Cook Islands are 15 islands spread over a part of the Pacific about the size of India. Scattered across close to 2.2 million square kilometres of the Pacific Ocean, the territory of The Cook Islands extends from 9º south of the equator at its most northern island of Penryhn, to just above the Tropic of Capricorn for its most southern island of Mangaia. To the west are the islands of Tonga and Samoa, and in the east lies the islands of French Polynesia.

The capital, Rarotonga, is approximately 4 hours direct flight from Auckland, New Zealand, and just 12 hours from Los Angeles, making The Cook Islands a very accessible destination for air travellers. There is a Northern Group and a Southern Group of islands. The capitol – and largest island – is Rarotonga, in which the town is called Avarua.

Flight Information:

 

There are currently four airlines flying to the Cook Islands – Air New Zealand; Virgin Australia, Pacific Blue and Air Tahiti. There are direct Rarotonga flights from Auckland, Sydney, Los Angeles and Tahiti.

Flights to Rarotonga from Auckland

Air New Zealand have daily flights to Auckland, while Pacific Blue flights are three times a week with connections to Sydney. Virgin Australia have flights to Rarotonga from Auckland. During the peak season Air NZ also flies directly between Christchurch and Rarotonga. Pacific Blue also operates a regular service between Christchurch and Rarotonga throughout the year. Flight Time :  4 hours

Flights to Rarotonga from Sydney

Air New Zealand connects to Sydney from Auckland with direct flights to Rarotonga. Flight Time :  6 hours and 12 minutes

Flights to Rarotonga from Los Angeles

Air New Zealand operates non-stop flights from Los Angeles to Rarotonga. Flight Time : 9 hours and 24 minutes

Flights to Rarotonga from Tahiti

Air Tahiti has a regular weekly service from Papeete to Rarotonga. Flight Time : 2 hours and 45 minutes

To travel to the other islands of the Cooks, travellers fly to Rarotonga and connect with flights on our domestic airline, Air Rarotonga.

The airlines change their schedules to reflect demand during different times of the year – check their websites and/or with travel agents for more details. Fare prices can also vary depending on the time of year.

 

Climate

The Cook Islands enjoy a pleasantly warm and sunny climate all year round, but as with any tropical area, it does pay to be sensible about how much time you spend in the sun, especially when coupled with time in the ocean.If you are unfamiliar with Pacific Islands, what you choose to wear also has a real bearing on how much you will enjoy your stay too. Humidity can be quite high, so when packing your bags, make sure you leave behind the synthetic fabrics and stick to lightweight cotton and natural fibres. Tee-shirts, shorts, sleeveless dresses are great and don’t forget to pack a sunhat and sunglasses and plenty of sunblock.

Even when the weather is wet, it is quite likely the whole day will not pass without sunshine and whether raining or sunny, it’s still warm.

June to August are the cooler months, while November to March marks the warmer season, with occasional tropical showers expected.

The drier months from April to November have an average temperature of about 26°C, while the warmer, more humid and damp season runs from December to March.

During this season the temperature ranges between 22°C and 28°C. The table below indicates the prevalence of sunshine and sunshine and even temperatures. Severe weather is rare and infrequent.

 

Language

English is the primary language spoken here.

The Cook Islands have 11 dialects, two indigenous languages, and an international language. Two of the dialects are English and nine Maori. British English was introduced in the 1860s whereas New Zealand English was introduced in 1901.

Maori and Pukapuka are the two indigenous languages and Maori has eight dialects.

The Pukapuka language is spoken only on Pukapuka and Nassau. Both islands are close to Tonga, Samoa, and Niue geographically and also linguistically.

Maori is spoken by the rest of the islands. It is also spoken on neighbouring French Polynesia, Easter Island and New Zealand. Both French Polynesia and Easter Island are east and south east of the country. New Zealand is south.

Maori is taught in the primary schools and at Auckland University New Zealand as part of a degree programme. It was also taught at Victoria University of Wellington New Zealand until the mid 1990s.

The Cook Islands is the only place on earth where the country’s greeting means “may you live long.” Kia Orana.

Some Maori Words:

Kia Orana (kee-ah-oh-rah-nah) : Hello

Pe’ea koe (peh-eh-ah koh-ay): How are you?

Meitaki (mey-tah-kee) : Well, good or thank-you

Ae (aye) : Yes

Kare (kah-reh) : No

 

Entry Requirements

The Cook Islands welcomes all visitors from all countries and nationalities. There is no need to prearrange a visa before entering into the Cook Islands. An entry visa is granted on arrival for a stay of 31 days provided your passport is valid for at least 6 months beyond intended stay, proof of onward travel, sufficient financial support, and staying in a tourist licensed accommodation.

Visa extensions are granted up to 3 months at a fee payable to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Immigration 14 days prior to the expiration of your visitors permit. Children under 15 years of age are exempt from the fee, however must still report to Immigration for official paper work.

For stays of more than 3 months in the Cook Islands you must apply for a visa before entering the Cook Islands, please contact the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Immigration to apply:

 

Getting Around

Travel is a breeze around Rarotonga, which is 32 kilometers in circumference. There are two main roads on Rarotonga, you can circle the island on the Ara Tapu sealed road, through the villages and past the beaches; or you can take the older inland road, which winds through fields of taro, pawpaw, bananas and local farmlands.

For most tourists, the choice of the hourly run bus or very cheap motor scooters is the preferred method of transport, although rental cars and jeeps are available.

The ‘Island Bus’ offers a convenient low cost method of transport, operating regular schedules around the island (in both directions). It will pick you up and set you down anywhere on request.

For those unsure of which side of the road to keep on, driving is on the left hand side of the road and you are required to have a current Cook Islands Drivers Licence.

These are available from the Police Station in Avarua on presentation of your own licence and cost NZ$10.00. They make an excellent souvenir of your trip to the Cook Islands!

And, of course, the best way to go anywhere is with Raro Tours, the most extensive and well-equipped transportation company in the country.

 

Money

The currency used in the Cook Islands is the New Zealand Dollar (NZD). The Westpac, Bank of the Cook Islands and ANZ Banks in Avarua are open Monday to Friday 9:00am – 3:00pm. In addition visitors can exchange travelers cheques and principal currencies at larger stores and hotels.

Banking facilities are also provided at the airport for currency exchange and cashing of travelers cheques. They are open for the arrival and departure of all International flights. Major credit cards are accepted throughout the island at most shops, and restaurants.

 

Shopping

Shopping is relaxed in Rarotonga, with plenty of variety and great bargains to be had. The main marketplace is the waterfront market located at the western end of Avarua.

While you won’t find antiques or haute couture clothing here, you will discover the lustrous and beautiful black pearls which the Cook Islands are renowned for, handicrafts of excellent quality, colourful clothing and more at very reasonable prices.

On Friday nights the market offers hot food, and on Saturday morning it hums as everyone on the island seems to be there! If the fishing has been good, the catch is displayed for sale on the same day it was caught.

Retail shopping hours are normally from 8am to 4pm during the week and from 8am to noon on Saturdays. Do remember that almost everything is closed on Sundays, which are regarded as days of religious observation.

The Cook Islands way of selling is relaxed and friendly and most of all helpful. In fact, the retailers in general are extremely obliging and are inclined to refer you to another shop if they think a certain item will better suit your needs.

You will rarely find sellers who try to push their wares at you and bargaining is not an accepted custom in the Cook Islands.

The duty free traders are mainly centered in Avarua and also at the airport. These duty-free shops offer an array of competitively priced goods ranging from cameras, watches and stereos to fine china and famous brand perfumes.

There are also a number of smaller island-style general stores where you can purchase some of the tropical jams and preserves which, apart from being delicious, also make inexpensive gift items.

Other specialty stores in Rarotonga include fashions, gifts, stationery, chemists, camera shops, arts and crafts and of course exquisite pearl shops. Mother of pearl and other highly polished shells make distinctive pieces which are often admired. Black and red coral also make most unusual forms of jewellery.

And yes, we have a department store, with everything from toothpast to tennis shoes… and two supermarkets.

Rarotonga is blessed with many fragrant and exotic flowers and these are used in locally-produced perfumes, oils and soaps. The most fragrant scents are tipani (frangipani), tiare (gardenia), and pitate (jasmine).

The islanders handicrafts are highly prized. Wood carvings, fine grass skirts and baskets are all locally produced.

 

Dining

When it comes to food, the red carpet is out – Cook Islanders sure know how to cook.  Everyone chips in and creates a feast fit for a king! Any gathering, event, church – whatever – the excuse there is always an abundance a food for all to enjoy….

There are many types of places to choose to eat from in Rarotonga with restaurants ranging from top class cosmopolitan style eateries to friendly takeaway bars, funky island-style cafes and ethnic restaurants (Italian, Asian, Thai,  European, and more).

The hugely popular Umukai is the traditional Polynesian feast and is prepared in an underground earth oven where food is wrapped in banana leaves and then steamed over hot stones. The flavour of foods cooked in an Umukai is just delicious and the meat is especially superbly tender and juicy.

Seafood, as you would expect, features highly in island menus – deepsea fish such as Tuna, Mahi Mahi (dolphin fish) and Parrot fish are most popular. Try a gourmet marlin-steak sandwich, or curried octopus (an island specialty).

One island dish not to miss is raw fish marinated in lime juice and mixed with coconut cream – Ikamata. Another speciality of the island is the fresh crayfish – Koru. Very few places in the world can offer you a delicacy of this calibre for the prices normally charged here.

Along with fresh fish and vegetables, visitors should sample the tantalising tropical fruits. Island fruits are absolutely beautiful. Pineapples in particular are juicy sweet, as are the pawpaws and the mangoes, lemons and limes, oranges, custard apple, star fruit, bananas, coconut….and plenty more exotic fruits!

Even if you don’t try the fruit at night, you will find pineapples, pawpaw (papaya) and bananas with NU make a delicious breakfast – try an all fruit smoothie! Coconuts grow all year round, and produce Nu (the clear sweet liquid inside the cooconut. And then the thick flesh with is grated to produce cream which is used in many island dishes – such as Ikamata and rukau (spinach-like taro leaves). Sample other traditional local foods such as eke (octopus), kumara (sweet potato) and poke (pawpaw or banana pudding). Visitors should also seek out the unique breadfruit and taro, tried plain or in one of the myriad of ways the Cook Islanders prepare them to enhance their flavours.

There are many restaurants, hotels and resorts that offer local style food done in the Umu or in the kitchen with westernised food – topped with a local splash of produce to excite your tastebuds!

 

FLOWERS & BIRDS The diverse range of flowers and birds found on the Cook Islands is a central part of local culture. Blooms of virtually every shape and color are used daily for personal adornment and to grace homes and buildings.

Cook island women are taught young how to weave the intricate patterns of the flowers they wear and their speedy dexterity is wonderful to watch.

Upon arrival, visitors are customarily presented with a garland of flowers such as Tiare Maori (gardenia – the national flower) to wear around their necks. Another spectacular native flower is the hibiscus, referred to by the Cook Islanders as ‘Kaute.’ The wild hibiscus bark is used to create the amazing dancing costumes of the islanders, who are regarded as world leaders.

The spectacular beauty of the ‘flamboyant,’ or ‘flame tree’ is legendary. While primarily a native of South America, in their hime land they are much smaller than the magnificent specimens found in the Cook Islands.These striking, widely photographed crimson trees provide colorful landscaping throughout the islands.

Several plants and flowers on the Cook Islands are not just beautiful to look at. Many have traditional medicinal uses, most notably the Noni plant whose roots and leaves are used by herbalists in treating a wide array of ailments, including diabetes, high blood pressure, arthritis, and more.

Noni juice is now being mass cultivated on Rarotonga for export around the world and is regarded as natures wonder-product for the health properties it delivers.

A BIRDS-EYE VIEW

The Cook Islands is blessed, much like New Zealand, with no native poisonous creatures or predatory animals – other than what you might find offshore! But there are a number of unusual and rare birds, which are not found elsewhere and of four original native birds species not found elsewhere, all bar one are now extinct.

There are few birds on the islands; most are in the hills of Rarotonga. Many birds have been driven out by the frequently obnoxious mynah bird, (called Gudgeon’s Revenge, after the Englishman who brought them to the Cooks in an effort to get rid of some of the insect population).

Among endemic birds are the cave-dwelling Atiu Swiftlet, the chattering Kingfisher of Atiu and Mauke and the rare Mangaia kingfisher. The Rarotonga Flycatcher, or Kakerori, is found only on a limited area of that island and is slowly making a comeback from the endangered species list.

The Kakerori was until recently on the verge of extinction. Due to the efforts of the Kakerori Recovery Program, a population increase from 29 birds in 1989 to 140 in 1997 was documented, so it is now making a comeback.

The only mammals considered native are Pacific fruit bats, which are found only on Mangaia and Rarotonga. As with most islands of the South Pacific, rats and pigs were introduced when European explorers arrived.

The waters around the islands are swarming with parrot-fish, sea cucumbers and humpback whales, among others.

Although still vulnerable, the tiny Rarotongan Flycatcher, known locally as the Kakerori, now number around 240 adults and is off the critically endangered list. In 1989, a survey found only 29 of the birds in Rarotonga.

The birds are found only in the native bushland of Takitumu in the southern part of Rarotonga. To better manage the Kakerori habitat and strengthen the birds’ conservation, landowners and conservationists set up the Takitumu Conservation Area (TCA) programme.

The efforts of that small group of people have now been internationally recognised.

 

RELIGIOUS OBSERVANCE Many Cook Islanders are Christians and Sundaysis regarded island-wide as a day of rest.  You will find very few shops or tourist activities open on a Sunday, other than petrol stations and half a dozen restaurants.

DRESS While the Cook Islands are informal and the dress is casual, it is recommended that very brief attire such as bikinis not be worn in shopping areas or public places outside of the beach and resorts, as it may cause offence in some places.

TIPPING Tipping is not a custom in the Cook Islands.

DRIVING Driving is on the left-hand side of the road. Cars and motor scooters can be rented but all drivers must have a current Cook Islands license — this costs US$6.50 (NZ$10), is a great souvenir and an even better tax-raising device for the Cook Islands Government.

The test itself is better seen as a formality and very few people have ever failed it!

Motorbikes are also available to rent. There is no helmet law, but we certainly recommend wearing one.

VACCINATIONS There are no vaccination requirements.

WATER AND ELECTRICITY Voltage is 220 AC/50 cycle, the same as New Zealand and Australia. In some cases, a two pin adapter may be required. Some hotels and motels have provisions for 110 volt AC electric razors.