The 15 Cook Islands are scattered across the south Pacific over about 772,204 square miles (2 million sq km), an area the size of India. These unspoilt Polynesian tropical gems have the combined population of an average country town: about 14,000 unique and friendly souls. Most Cook Islanders dwell on the capital island of Rarotonga, which is also where most of the 70,000-odd annual visitors stop off, arriving at the island's international airport.
Circular Rarotonga is almost completely enclosed by a reef, harbouring a lagoon of clear turquoise water and white sandy beaches. The small island is dominated by a high mountain peak from where lush rain forests cascade down to the palm-fringed shore. The commercial centre of the islands is the friendly, bustling town of Avarua on Rarotonga, which has banks, shops and tourist facilities as well as a busy port and yacht basin. The outer islands are becoming increasingly popular for excursions, but remain largely unspoiled by tourism.
The Cook Islanders have their own language and government, and enjoy a vigorous and diverse culture with significant differences between each island. Even if you go no further than Rarotonga, though, you will be ensured of a dream 'South Seas' holiday experience on the pristine beaches, snorkelling the reef, or exploring the island by bus, motor scooter, bicycle or jeep.
The currency of the Cook Islands is the New Zealand Dollar
(NZD). Foreign currency exchange is available at the airport and
two banks in Avarua, ATMs are also available in Avarua and are
slowly becoming more widespread. American Express, Visa and
MasterCard are accepted at restaurants and hotels in the main
towns, and travellers cheques in small denominations as well as
major foreign currencies can be exchanged at larger shops and
hotels. Banks are open Monday to Friday from 9am to 3pm. Australian
dollars are the preferred currency for travellers cheques.
|NZ$ 1 =||US$ 0.79||Â£ 0.52||C$ 0.81||A$ 0.77||R 6.71||EUR 0.63||NZ$ 1.00|
Note: These currency exchange rates are not updated daily and should be used as a guideline only.
There is little risk of disease on the Cook Islands, but visitors should take precautions against insect bites and sunburn. Outbreaks of dengue fever can occur, therefore a good arsenal of mosquito repellent and protective clothing is advised. Although no vaccinations are required one or two may be recommended by your doctor as a precaution: vaccinations for hepatitis A, hepatitis B and MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) are sometimes recommended. Locals consider the tap water safe, but boiled or bottled water is advised for visitors, particularly to the rural areas. A range of medical and dental services are available on Rarotonga, including a hospital and various pharmacies, but medical facilities in the Cook Islands in general are limited and comprehensive medical insurance is advised to include air evacuation for emergencies. If you require medication during your stay in the Cook Islands it is best to take it with you; make sure you have the necessary documents from your doctor to get the medication through customs.
A passport valid for length of stay, proof of onward passage, adequate financial means to support the stay and proof of confirmed accommodation are required on entry into the Cook Islands. We recommend that passports be valid for six months after intended period of travel.
Note: Passport and visa requirements are liable to change at short notice. Travellers are advised to check their entry requirements with their embassy or consulate.
Cook Islands Tourism
Cook Islands Tourism Corporation, Rarotonga: +682 29 435 or www.cookislands.travel
Foreign Embassies in Cook Islands
Cook Islands Embassies
The largest of the Cook Islands, Rarotonga, is home to nearly three quarters of the archipelago's 20,000 citizens, most of whom live in settlements along the coast. The island is home to the capital, Avarua, and is also the most popular tourist destination in the Cook Islands.
Avarua is the only major town, and with a population of only 5,000 even that is small and contains a few restaurants, bars and shops. Rarotonga's attractions are not urban ones, however, but lie in the spectacular natural beauty of the island. The interior of Rarotonga is a stunning mixture of jagged mountains and lush green jungles that give way to the sparkling white sand beaches before meeting the clear blue waters of the South Pacific.
Snorkelling and scuba diving, along with other watersports, are the most popular activities in Rarotonga, although a healthy dose of relaxing and enjoying the beautiful beaches balances out the more physical activities. The circular island is nearly surrounded by coral reefs that contain tropical fish, octopi, eels, and other colourful marine life. Aroa Lagoon, Fruits of Rarotonga Beach, and Black Rock are popular areas for snorkelling and scuba diving. The reefs and lagoons make Rarotonga less than ideal for surfing, but create perfectly calm areas for swimming, like the idyllic Muri Lagoon.
A 45-minute flight from Rarotonga, Aitutaki is the ultimate getaway destination for those who want to leave the world behind. With views that look like an artist's depiction of an ideal beach, filled with swaying palm trees, clear turquoise water and sparkling white sand, it's no wonder that Aitutaki is quickly becoming the most popular holiday destination in the Cook Islands.
Tiny Aitutaki is home to only 2,100 or so inhabitants, most of whom live in the capital village of Arutanga. The infrastructure on the island is basic, including all the necessary amenities without crossing the line into crass commercialism. Man-made attractions in Aitutaki include a golf course, spa, and the bars and restaurants attached to the various resorts on the island. The popular Island Nights are a great way to experience Cook Islands culture, with traditional music, food and dancing.
However, the most popular attractions in Aitutaki are of course its natural ones. Scuba diving, fishing, windsurfing and swimming, as well as excursions to various lagoons and small islands in the reef, are the main reasons to visit this tropical haven. Aitutaki is small, and a popular way to see it is to rent a scooter. In no time you'll find yourself zipping along the picturesque roads to picnic at secluded lagoons and tranquil beaches.
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