An unspoilt cluster of islands in the Pacific, several hours flying time from New Zealand, the Cook Island group is a treasured holiday experience. The "Cooks" is in the centre of the Polynesian triangle flanked to the west by Tonga and Samoa and to the east by Tahiti and French Polynesia.

The group is made up of fifteen islands which are scattered over two million square kilometres of ocean. They fall into two distinct groups: The Southern Group is the most popular with 90% of the population. Six of the nine islands are accessible by regular air services. The more remote Northern Group has six islands, three of which - Manihiki, Penrhyn and Pukapuka are accessible by air.

Rarotonga is the largest island lying at the southern end of the group. The capital, Avarua is a thriving administrative and shopping centre with restaurants, hotels, banking and other facilities including the International Airport. There are first class resorts, reef protected bays in which to snorkel, swim and sail and local bus transport which encircles the island every forty-five minutes.

From Rarotonga, you can visit other Cook Island destinations such as Aitutaki, a fifty minute flight by Air Rarotonga; Atiu, north east of Rarotonga which offers untouched beaches and coral reefs riddled with caves; Mangaia, south east of Rarotonga surrounded by a narrow fringing reef backed by the formidable cliffs of Makatea which reach heights of up to 60 metres; Mauki, with its fine caves located in the cliffs of the coral reef; Mitiaro which has a large swampy interior; Penrhyn, Pukapuka, Rakahanga, Manihiki, Nassau, Palmerston, and Suwarrow which has no permanent resident only a caretaker.

The southern group also has Manuae a marine reserve with only a caretaker and Takutea, another uninhabited island which is a bird sanctuary but there are no regular flights to either of these islands.


The people are mostly Polynesian, Cook Island Maoris, related to the New Zealand Maoris and the Tahitians. The Pukapukans however are unique in that they are closer to the Samoans. Most of the population live on Rarotonga and in the southern group. They are an open, friendly people who are happy to introduce you to their way of life. Their local greeting is "kia orana" ("may you live on").


Though spread across a vast empty expanse of ocean, the Polynesians knew all these islands by heart long before the first Europeans came. Rarotonga was first sighted by the Polynesians between 600 and 800 AD. Many anthropologists believe that these people may have originated in Peru and migrated to Malaya in "Asia Minor" which, in this case, refers to Southeast Asia and beyond, to such places as India, and then to Polynesia. However, one local legend says that they came from a land called Avaiki, (place you were before, which is understood to refer to Raiatea in French Polynesia). Another Rarotongan legend states that an ancestor named Tu-te-rangi-marama dwelt in the land of Atia-te-varinga-nui which means Atia-where-vari-was-abundant. In Rarotonga, the word vari means mud, but a connection has been seen between vari and the south Indian word padi meaning rice.

It has thus been thought that the Polynesian ancestors lived in a land where rice was grown in mud and that after they had left the rice lands behind them, they applied the word vari to the mud of taro swamps. One eminent authority believed that Atia was located in the basin of the Ganges. Perhaps the location is right, but the name Atia looks suspiciously like a Polynesian form of Asia. And so by isolated words and place names students have tried to prove that the Rarotongans travelled from the Land of the Pharaohs to India en route to the shores of the Pacific. ( See Polynesian Voyaging )

The Spanish explorer Alvaro de Mendana first sighted Pukapuka in 1595. He was followed by Pedro Fernandez de Quiros who discovered Rakahanga in 1606. In the 1770s Captain James Cook made contact with Atiu, Mangaia, Manuae, Palmerston and Takutea which he called the Hervey Islands. In 1789, the Bounty Mutineers visited the bays of several islands on their way to Pitcairn Island. It was the Russian cartographer Johann von Krusenstern who named the southern group the Cook Islands in 1824.

New Zealand law took effect in 1901 and after pressure from the UN the group became a self-governing state in free association with New Zealand on the 4th August 1965, a day which is now celebrated as Constitution Day.


There are no snakes, wild animals or poisonous insects so exploration is relaxing and enjoyable. A four hour trek to the top of a rocky outcrop called the "needle", one of the highest points in Rarotonga, reveals a number of fascinating exotic plants, birds, and butterflies. In the lagoon there is a variety of vivid and interesting coral and marine life including tropical fish of every hue. From August to October, whales can sometimes be seen outside the protective reef, while sharks are unheard of inside the warm lagoons


The Avarua CICC Church is a magnificent landmark built of coral and lime and well worth a visit particularly on Sunday, for the people all attend church and the air is vibrant with their beautiful singing. The national cultural centre is an imposing island structure in beautifully kept gardens. Nearby are the old Sunday school ruins built by the missionaries, which have been renovated and are now the Beachcomber Pearl and artefact shop, and in the harbour is the wreck of the Matai which was sunk in 1916.


Rarotonga has a selection of resorts, hotels, motels, guest houses and lodgers which range from International standard to budget and mostly located along the waterfront. There are also Polynesian style thatched "ares" which are very comfortable.


An island bus service operates around Rarotonga. Taxis and rental cars are available and a good sealed shoreline road encircles Rarotonga making it easy for bicycles and rented mopeds which are a very popular means of transport.


Nightspots, discos with bands and island dancing feature at the major hotels and resorts. Wining and dining is also a delight as a number of excellent restaurants offer a fine selection of local and international cuisines and are romantically located along the waterfront. A highlight of the Cook Islands is the Polynesian feast or banquet (umukai), prepared in the traditional style with foods such as marinated fish with coconut sauce, octopus, taro, and sweet potato.


Golf, tennis, trekking, squash, bowls, horse riding through tropical plantations to Wigmore Falls and a wide range of aquatic sports including sailing, windsurfing, snorkelling and scuba diving are popular pastime. Boats are available for charter for deep sea and game fishing.


Shops are open between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. Lustrous precious pearls are indigenous to the Cook Islands. The beautiful black pearl is unique to French Polynesia and Manihiki Island in the Northern Cook. Set in gold, or complimented with precious gem, these black pearls are a special reminder of these islands. The traditional white pearl, found in the same area are predominantly golden in colour.





Captain James Cook (Born: October 27, 1728 Died: February 14, 1779)

The English navigator James Cook, possibly the greatest explorer of the 18th century, is known for his voyages to the Pacific Ocean and his application of scientific methods to exploration and to cartography. Born on Oct. 27, 1728, he was the son of a poor Scotsman who had settled in Yorkshire as an agricultural labourer. After a short time in a haberdasher's shop at Stainthes, he became a bound apprentice to a Whitby ship owner, and spent several years in coasting and Baltic trade. He joined the Royal Navy in 1755 as an able-bodied seaman, soon became a mate, and within four years became a master. In 1759, during the Seven Years' War, Cook was given command of the Mercury, sailing to Canada and up the St. Lawrence River, where he helped to survey the river channel. He was responsible for the successful piloting of the fleet, which took Quebec.

After the war ended in 1763, Cook, commanding the schooner Grenville, spent four years surveying the coasts of Labrador, Newfoundland, and Nova Scotia. He also studied mathematics in order to master the science of navigation. His charts of the coasts, considered both important and accurate, were published. Cook had observed a solar eclipse in 1766 and used it to determine the longitude of Newfoundland; these findings were published in the Transactions of the Royal Society. After his return to England in 1767, Cook was commissioned a lieutenant in the Royal Navy.

Voyage of the Endeavour

In 1768 the Royal Society requested the Admiralty's aid in observing the transit of Venus at Tahiti, to occur in June 1769, and Cook was given command of the expedition. Secret instructions made clear that Cook also was to search for terra australis incognita, the "unknown southern land." Cook and the Endeavour left Plymouth on Aug. 26, 1768. In addition to its crew the Endeavour carried an astronomer, two botanists, Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander, and artists.
The Endeavour travelled by way of the Madeira, Canary, and Cape Verde islands and Rio de Janeiro and rounded Cape Horn into the Pacific. Cook carried good provisions and citrus products and thus avoided the plague of scurvy. The ship reached Tahiti in April 1769. During their three months there the scientists examined the island thoroughly and observed the transit of Venus on June 3. They sailed west with a Tahitian guide through the Society Islands and then southward, finally reaching land on Oct. 7, 1769.

Cook had rediscovered New Zealand, originally discovered by Abel Tasman in 1642. He spent several months circling and surveying North Island and South Island, proving that they were islands and not a continent. The expedition then sailed west, reached the unexplored eastern coast of Australia, which he chartered and claimed for Great Britain. Sailing north, Cook saved the Endeavour after it struck and was grounded on a coral reef. Overall about 3,200 km (2,000 miles) of Australian coast was surveyed. Cook also confirmed the existence of a passage between Australia and New Guinea (the Torres Strait). The expedition sailed on, refitted at Batavia in Java, and returned by way of the Indian Ocean and the Cape of Good Hope. It reached England on July 13, 1771.

Voyages of the Resolution

Because the first voyage had not totally disproved old legends of a major southern continent, the Admiralty soon authorised a new expedition. Cook commanded the Resolution, which was accompanied by the Adventure, and again took scientists and artists. They left Plymouth on July 13, 1772, and headed for the Cape of Good Hope. Then they travelled south, crossing the Antarctic Circle in January 1773. Finding no continent, they went on to New Zealand and from there explored the South Pacific.

The Resolution and Adventure lost contact, and the latter returned to England, becoming the first vessel to circumnavigate the world from west to east. The Resolution, however, again crossed the Antarctic Circle, reaching a latitude of 71 degrees 10' S, stopped at Easter Island and Tonga, and explored the New Hebrides, New Caledonia, and Norfolk Island. Finally it crossed the South Pacific again, rounded Cape Horn, crossed the South Atlantic to the Cape of Good Hope, and then sailed north to reach England in July 1775. Only one man had been lost to disease on the entire voyage. Cook had proved that no great continent existed in the temperate region of the Pacific, but he had become convinced that there was an Antarctic continent. As a result of his successful expeditions, Cook was elected a fellow of the Royal Society.

Promoted to captain, Cook sailed again on the Resolution on July 12, 1776, this time to search for the Northwest Passage from the Pacific side. At the Cape of Good Hope he was joined by the Discovery. The two ships visited Tahiti. They also discovered Christmas Island and then the Hawaiian Islands, which Cook called the Sandwich Islands, in January 1778. Sailing onward to North America, the expedition landed at Nootka Sound, near Vancouver. It then went through the Bering Strait into the Arctic Ocean but found ice and no passage. The ships returned to Hawaii for repairs, and Cook was killed there in a skirmish with the Polynesian inhabitants on Feb. 14, 1779. The expedition then returned to England.

James Cook had surveyed and charted thousands of kilometres of coast and had solved many mysteries of the Pacific Ocean area. He had also opened the northwest American coast to trade and colonisation. Cook handled ships and crews extraordinarily well, avoided scurvy, hitherto the scourge of long sea voyages, and conducted all of his explorations in a remarkably peaceful fashion.



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