The Cook Islands are a small nation but one that’s rich on history and some interesting little facts as well. We’ve curated a list of 13 of these between ourselves that we hope will pique your interest and leave you wanting more!
1. Captain Cook didn’t spot Rarotonga
Most of you probably know that the Cook Islands were named after Captain Cook, the British explorer. What you might not know is that he only briefly set foot on the uninhabited Palmerston Atoll and missed Rarotonga, the biggest island, altogether!
2. Cook Islanders originated from Tahiti
The first Polynesian settlers to arrive in the Cook Islands came from Tahiti around 900AD. That’s pretty impressive considering there were obviously no planes back then and Tahiti is around 1,200km away!
There are still strong links between the two nations with many similarities between the cultures.
3. 15 Islands and a lot of sea
The Cook Islands are actually comprised of 15 islands, 13 of which are inhabited. Although the islands make up only 240 square kilometres of land, the ocean area in and around their borders totals 1.8 million square kilometres!
So you’ll need more than flippers and a snorkel to get from one to the other.
4. Rarotonga has 6 x more people than the next biggest island
The capital of the Cook Islands, Rarotonga, has 6 times more people (approx 13,000) living in it than the island in second place, Aitutaki (approx 1,900). It is also 30% larger than the next biggest island, Mangaia.
The numbers themselves are quite small considering over 125,000 tourists visit the Cook Islands every year.
5. There are more Cook Islanders in New Zealand than the Cook Islands
Over 61,000 people identify as Cook Island Maori in New Zealand compared to the total population of the Cook Islands at around 17,000. The Cook Islands have a free association relationship with New Zealand which means their citizens automatically get New Zealand citizenship too.
Before all you Kiwis get your hopes up, the deal only goes one way so you’ll have to stick to visiting the Cook Islands on holiday.
6. The Cook Islands have an awesome $3 note
The standard currency for the Cook Islands is the New Zealand dollar but they had their own notes until the 1990’s including a $3 note. Whilst the other notes have largely been replaced, the $3 note is still around and makes a popular souvenir for tourists.
They also still have some of their own coins including a triangular $2 coin which is pretty cool.
7. Cook Islanders are the best singers/dancers in the world
This one may be a little subjective and we are admittedly pretty bias but it doesn’t take away from the fact that Cook Islanders are pretty good singers and dancers. Singing and dancing are both so much a part of the Cook Island culture to which anyone who’s been to a cultural performance here will agree.
It helps that Cook Islanders have to study singing and dancing as a mandatory part of their education at school.
8. They are also the best scooter drivers in the world
Again, a little subjective, but it’s because the scooter is such an essential part of the daily life in the Cook Islands. Given how small the islands are, hopping on a scooter to get from one place to the other is the best way to go. Many tourists do this themselves when they visit!
The main circular road in Rarotonga is 32km long taking about 45 mins to do a full loop by scooter.
9. Snakes and spiders are few and far between
A big tick in the box for those that suffer from arachnophobia or ophiophobia, as there are no snakes in the Cook Islands and barely any spiders too. It’s not too surprising when you think about it, given the remoteness of the islands and the lack of wings those species have.
10. They have Coconut Crabs!
Everyone knows that coconuts are plentiful in the Pacific which probably why a certain species of crab have evolved to eat them. They are known as the Coconut Crabs (Birgus latro) and as these extremely shy critters do not come out in the open if you wish to see one, it would be best to ask a local to show you the way!
They also have incredible longevity and can live to around 50 years old!
11. The Curse of the Black Pearl
It’s not really a curse (couldn’t help but reference the Pirates of the Caribbean film) but the Cook Islands is one of the largest exporters of Black Pearls in the world. These amazing gems look incredible with their vivid black tones and slight shades of green, pink, blue and yellow in some instances.
You’ll have plenty of places to have a look at these in the Cook Islands at many of the jewellers and shops.
12. Location of the 13th series of Survivor
In 2006, the well-known ‘Survivor’ reality TV show came to the Cook Islands in its 13th edition of the series. The contestants that year probably couldn’t have believed their luck to end up in the tropical oasis that is the Cook Islands. They were nevertheless kept busy with the usual tasks and challenges on the show.
There have also been a few films shot in the Cook Islands like ‘Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence’ and ‘The Other Side of Heaven’.
13. No McDonalds, KFC or Starbucks
Given how prevalent these big international brands are you sort of just naturally expect them to be everywhere you go. Well, things are a bit different in the Cook Islands and despite repeated attempts to try and get in, local businesses are all that you’ll find.
Without being disrespectful to those successful brands, it’s a nice thing to appreciate and creates are more authentic and intimate experience with the local people when you visit.
We hope you’ve enjoyed our collection of interesting Cook Island facts and hope it gets you excited about visiting our beautiful islands (and resorts) soon!