The Cook Islands consist of 15 islands spread over 850,000 square miles (2.2 million sq. km) of the South Pacific.
Rarotonga, the most populated island, is home to Cook Islands’ international airport and the Capital town of Avarua.
Non-stop direct flights operate out of Auckland, New Zealand, and Papeete, Tahiti.
Cook Islanders regard themselves as true Polynesians, celebrating a heritage connecting directly back to the finest seafarers. Possessing navigation skills well beyond the times, original settlers came from French Polynesia. Fearlessly crossing vast stretches of the Pacific Ocean in 800AD in search of new lands.
According to local legend, Maori explorers first arrived on Rarotonga around 500AD. Traveling across the South Pacific by canoe, they discovered the islands by following migrating birds. These include the long-tailed cuckoo as it travels between New Zealand and Polynesia every October. The great Polynesian migration began in 1500BC, when descendants of the Maori ancestors arrived by Vaka, guided by the stars.
The first written history of European exploration of the Cook Islands began in 1595. Incited by the sighting of Pukapuka by the Spanish voyager Alvaro de Mendana. The islands remained relatively untouched until 1773 when the nation’s namesake Captain James Cook recorded a sighting of the island of Manuae. It was 4 years later that he discovered islands of Palmerston, Takutea, Mangaia and Atiu. Captain Bligh and his ship, the HMS Bounty, landed on Aitutaki in 1798. Soon after, following the very bloody Mutiny on the Bounty, buccaneer Fletcher Christian, having seconded Captain Bligh’s very own boat, sailed into Rarotonga.
In 1821 Christianity arrived, with influence felt almost instantly. Although Christianity rapidly grew in popularity and altered the traditional aspects of islander life, the Cook Islands people are proud of their Polynesian heritage. To this day they continue to celebrate their Polynesian roots, practicing their traditions.
In 1901, the declaration was made for New Zealand to annex the country despite opposition from traditional chiefs. Many of the islands were independently ruled by local chiefs with no federal statutory law to decide such things. New Zealand’s governnce remained until 1965, when the Cook Islands once again became an independent nation, adopting self-governing and free association with New Zealand which oversees the country’s defense.
Today the total population of the Cook Islands has grown to approximately 19,000 prior to covid times. The majority of people reside in Rarotonga. Many Cook Islanders have also chosen to live and study overseas, accounting for almost 50,000 islanders residing in New Zealand, with a number departing for work during covid which closed the borders for almost 2 years. Visitors to the Cook Islands are frequently enchanted by the locals’ charm, genuine warm hospitality, and relaxed, positive approach to life.
Song & Dance
Cook Islanders are renowned for their distinct Polynesian singing and dancing, and are arguably the finest performers in the South Pacific. Each island’s own unique dances tell a story through gentle, graceful hand and arm gestures, performed to the haunting rhythm of the Pacific drum.
Traditional costumes worn by dancers are handmade and decorated with intricate detail. Women proudly wear their coconut frond skirts, with coconut bras, adorned with shell necklaces, flowers and headdresses, fashioned with pearls, shells, and feathers.