THE COOK ISLANDS
The Cook Islands are a group of 15 islands lying in the centre of the Polynesian Triangle in the South Pacific Ocean, with Tonga and the Samoas to the west and Tahiti and the islands of French Polynesia to the east.
Volcanic in origin, most are in the form of low lying atolls with beautiful lagoons at their centre. In contrast, Rarotonga has high mountain peaks covered in tropical rain forest. All have sandy beaches with turquoise seas, fringed by tropical trees.
Tourism is an important part of the islands economy with the main tourist islands being Rarotonga and Aitutak.
When to go
The weather on the Cook Islands is typically tropical with the hottest and most humid months being December through to April. This is the wettest time with a high risk of tropical storms. This is also the busiest season for tourism despite the humidity and increased number of mosquitoes. The winter (May to November) is drier with cooler temperatures (25º during the day and 19º at night). The northern islands are noticeably warmer than the southern islands.
How to get there
The Cook Islands were originally a convenient stopover on trans-Pacific flights from Australia and New Zealand to America. However many people are now flying to these beautiful islands as their end holiday destination.
Located on the island of Rarotonga, the international airport has direct flights from Los Angeles, Auckland, Fiji and Tahiti (Air New Zealand) and from Honolulu and Vancouver (Aloha Airlines).
A handful of yachts and cruise ships also pass through.
The other islands are accessible by local flights from the international airport (for example Aitutaki is 45 minutes from Rarotonga).
Where to stay
Most tourist accommodation is to be found on the island of Rarotonga where there are a few small resorts with guesthouses, motels and restaurants and the majority of accommodation is beach side. Private holiday homes around the main island of Rarotonga can also be rented.
There are also a few places to stay on the islands of Atiu, Mangaia and the lagoon island of Aitutaki - mostly self-catering bungalows or motels.
What to see
The turquoise lagoon of Aitutaki Island is well worth a trip. An idyllic day can be spent sailing, snorkelling and wandering along the sandy beaches.
You can scuba dive off Rarotonga and Aitutaki, exploring the reefs and seeing the excellent marine life and even a few old wrecks.
The Cook Islands traditional dance accompanied by the rhythmic drumming is also a must see. At the Cook Islands Cultural Village on Rarotonga you can even join in and learn about the Cook Islands customs and past culture.
At the end of July, the Te Maeva Celebrations take place and include dance and cultural competitions between teams from all the islands. This ten day celebration finishes on Constitution Day (4th August).
The Tiare Festival takes place on the third or fourth week in November, with flower shows, a parade, and beauty contests.
Atiu Island is best known for its eco-tourism and trips here offer bush walking, bird watching and an insight into the traditional lifestyle still retained by the local people.
All of the islands are small and can be explored on foot or horseback or by car, bike or moped which can all be hired locally. Rarotonga only has two bus routes, clockwise and anti-clockwise, and no bus stops. The drivers just drive round picking up anyone they see and dropping them off when the passengers want them to.
Wallis and Futuna
The Federated States of Micronesia
Northern Mariana Islands
Torres Strait Islands
Rarotonga And The Cook Islands
By Oliver Berry
The Lonely Planet Guide
Price: £8.57 (34% off list price)
This book of information gives details such as size and origins, its indigenous mammals and a guide to language, as well as essentials on how to get around, places to visit and activities, and where to stay.
Buy the book Rarotonga and the Cook Islands securely online with 34% off via amazon.co.uk by clicking here