Looking for an exotic oasis of freedom with crystal clear blue waters, white sandy beaches, warm weather all year round and authentic, friendly locals. Look no further. You can do as much or as little as you like in the Cook Islands. Still largely undiscovered by North Americans, the Cook Islands are like Hawaii was 50+ years ago only with all the modern conveniences. Made up of 15 islands, they are a mix of coral atolls and volcanic islands abundant with marine creatures, both big and small.
You will not find row upon row of high-rise beachfront hotels and apartments nor chain resorts as there are no buildings higher than a coconut tree. You will not find chain stores or McDonald’s, even a stoplight is hard to find.
The Cook Islands are named after Captain James Cook who visited the islands in 1773 and 1777. By 1900, the islands were annexed as British territory and included within the boundaries of the Colony of New Zealand. The Cook Islands government is a parliamentary democracy with its own executive powers and laws (became independent in 1965) but carry New Zealand passports. A seafaring people, Cook Islanders consider themselves descendants of Polynesians from nearby Tahiti, who first settled the area about 1400 years ago.
English is the official language and is taught in school. The common vernacular is Cook Islands Maori, also called Rarotongan similar to New Zealand and Tahiti Maori. Dialects vary, and in the north, some islands have their own languages.
The Islands total 240 square kilometres or approx. one and a third times the size of Washington, D.C. Rarotonga is the biggest Island but is only 11 kilometres in length. The main road which goes all around the Island is 37 kiolometres so you can circumnavigate the Island in an afternoon. Scooters and bikes are very popular modes of transportation but it was the buses that caught my eye. They run in two directions: Clockwise and Anti-Clockwise. A simple and efficient means of getting around with some very entertaining drivers who will fill you in on the folklore and history for free!
Some interesting facts on the Cook Islands
- The major industries are agriculture and tourism. Rarotonga receives nearly fifty thousand tourists a year.
- The Cook Islands are the world’s second largest producer of black pearls. Although they were named for the colour of the shell they are found in, the pearls come in hues of blue, silver and deep green.
- The Islands are known for their wood carving, and many young people who live there are taught by older generations of wood carvers how to perfect those skills.
- Rugby is the most popular sport followed by cricket and soccer.
- Polynesian healers have used noni fruits for thousands of years to help treat a variety of health problems. A cure all for the ages it is an important export
- On Sundays the Cook Islands are buttoned up tighter than a clergyman’s collar. Businesses shutter, the buses do not run and if you want a drink you’ve got to stick to your hotel. Virtually all the people are Christian with 70 percent belonging to the Protestant Cook Islands Christian Church (CICC) and 30 percent divided Roman Catholic, Seventh Day Adventist, Mormon, or members of other denominations. Everyone dresses up and wear intricate hats woven by hand.
- Though there are formal church cemeteries they are far outnumbered by private burial plots on private land. The spirits of ancestors live with everyone, are a fact of life, and nobody to be feared. In some cultures, having a view on your parent’s grave from your living room window might be rather unsettling but it is commonplace here and treated with the utmost respect. Family land runs from the coast to the inner hills of the island and cannot be bought or sold. It stays with the family or is leased (one of the main reasons there is not so much outside development). The large and sometimes opulent burial vaults found in front yards most often belong to the woman of the family who built the house. Shoveling dirt onto a woman is a disgrace so the body is sealed entirely in concrete. For sanitation reasons, this practice spread to everyone.
Next time you are planning an exotic get away, give some thought to the Cook Islands – a little slice of paradise! The Islands are renowned for its many snorkeling and scuba-diving sites