Cook Islands

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Introduction to Cook Islands

Wafer-thin cays and farflung atolls, white-sand beaches and lush green volcanic mountains, a slow pace, friendly people, dancing - what's not to like about the Cook Islands? If that's not enough, they also have excellent hiking, snorkelling, caving and lazing.

The Cook Islands are a Polynesian paradise in a conveniently handy package. Their attraction is in their stunning beauty, geographical diversity and universal appeal - they offer something for everyone. Rarotonga, the main island, is spectacularly beautiful, but it's merely your starting point.

Mountainous like Tahiti, cloaked in dense jungle and surrounded by a protective coral reef, Rarotonga has soft white-sand beaches fringed with coconut palms and clear turquoise waters. Rarotonga has the full complement of traveller facilities, but you should venture further to the other islands of the Southern Group. Aitutaki may well be the Pacific's most beautiful island. Some of the less famous islands are even more fascinating, and the easy-going locals may be the friendliest people in the Pacific.

Full country name: Cook Islands

Area: 240 sq km

Population: 18,027

Capital City: Avarua

People: Polynesian (80%), mixed Polynesian and European (8%)

Language: Maori, English

Religion: Cook Islands Christian Church

Government: Self-governing parliamentary democracy

Head of State: Queen Elizabeth II

Head of Government: Prime Minister Jim Marurai

GDP: US$179 million

GDP per capita: US$12,000

Annual Growth: NA%

Inflation: 1.0%

Major Industries: Fruit processing, tourism, fishing, black pearls.

Major Trading Partners: New Zealand, Japan, Hong Kong, Italy, Australia

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Traveler Facts

Visas: Visas aren't required for a maximum stay of 31 days - all you need are valid passports, proof of onward travel and booked accommodation.

Time Zone: GMT/UTC -9

Dialling Code: 682

Electricity: 240V ,50Hz

Weights & measures: Metric



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Events

Island traditions are on display during Cultural Festival Week (second week of February), featuring tivaevae quilt competitions and arts and crafts displays; and Island Dance Festival Week (third week of April), with dance displays and competitions culminating in the crowning of male and female Dancers of the Year. Song Quest, held over five weeks beginning in July, culminates in a big finale where singers, musicians and performers from throughout the islands search for stardom on Rarotonga.

Beginning on the Friday before 4 August, the 10-day Constitution Festival celebrates independence with sports, dances, music, historical and cultural displays and many other events. This is the Cooks' major festival of the year. During the last week of November, floral float parades, a beauty pageant and flower arranging competitions all mark the Tiare (Floral) Festival. Dancing and other entertainments mark New Year's Eve.

Public Holidays

1 January - New Year's Day

Easter Holidays - Good Friday, Easter Monday

25 April - Anzac Day

First Monday in June - Queen's Birthday

26 July - Gospel Day (Rarotonga only)

4 August - Constitution Day

26 October - Gospel Day (Cook Islands)

27 October - Flag Raising Day

25 December - Christmas

26 December - Boxing Day

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Best time to Visit

Any time is a good time to visit the Cook Islands. Seasonal variations are slight. Festivals may sway your plans: the big dance competition is in late April, the independence bash in early August.



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Currency / Costs / Approx. Spending

Currency: New Zealand Dollar

Meals

Budget: NZ$7-15

Mid-range: NZ$15-20

High: NZ$20-30

Deluxe: NZ$30+

Lodging

Budget: NZ$6-25

Mid-range: NZ$25-70

High: NZ$70-110

Deluxe: NZ$110+

You can travel comfortably in the Cooks, staying at the top-end lodges and eating at the best restaurants, for US$200 to $300 a day or more, depending on whether you hit more than two or three islands or stock up on tivaevae quilts. Moderate travel will run closer to US$100 to $150 a day, though you can get by for less if you pick your accommodation with care and do a little self-catering. Budget travellers can squeak by for well under US$50 a day if they stick to inexpensive accommodation and restaurants.

You get about 4% more for travellers' cheques than for cash. There aren't many place you can change cash - Avarua, Aitutaki and a few hotels. You're better off changing all your money on Rarotonga rather than hoping to do it on the outer islands.

There's a value added tax of 12.5%. Tipping isn't a custom in the islands, and haggling over prices is considered extremely rude.

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Attractions

Avarua

Avarua, the capital of the Cook Islands and Rarotonga's main town, lies in the middle of the northern coast. Avarua used to be a sleepy little port, very much the image of a South Seas trading centre, but it got spruced up for the 1992 international Maire Nui festival, and it's still looking good.

But its relaxed, friendly ambience remains. The focal point of the town is the traffic circle, located toward the eastern end of town near Avarua Harbour. Just east of the circle is the Seven-in-One Coconut Tree, a group of trees growing in a perfect circle of their own. Legend has it that they've grown from the same seed.

Among the reminders of the missionary era of the 19th century are the Papeiha Stone, named for the first person to preach the Christian gospel in the Cook Islands; and the CICC Church, dating from 1853 and graced with a beautiful graveyard.

Aitutaki

Aitutaki lacks Rarotonga's popularity and sheer physical beauty but it has charms all its own. It sits at one corner of a triangular lagoon dotted with lovely motu (small islands), and it's historically interesting, with a number of impressive pre-European religious meeting grounds there.

Arutanga is the main village - a sleepy place with a weathered 1828 CICC church, the oldest and one of the most beautiful in the Cooks, with lots of carved wood and stained glass windows. There are lots of funky little shops, and the view of the coastline from the end of the jetty is superb.

Rarotonga

Rarotonga is a lush, beautiful place, fringed with beaches and crowned with mountains at its centre. Two concentric roads ring the island, and most of its attractions are on or near one of them. Situated on the western coast, ?rorangi was the first mission-built village on the island.

The main place of interest is the 1849 CICC Church, where Papeiha, the islands' first Christian preacher, is buried. You can do a day hike of Raemaru, or visit the Cook Islands Cultural Village where you'll learn more about traditional culture here than you probably will for the rest of your stay.

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Disclaimer: We've tried to make the information on this web site as accurate as possible, but it is provided 'as is' and we accept no responsibility for any loss, injury or inconvenience sustained by anyone resulting from this information. You should verify critical information like (visas, health and safety, customs, and transportation) with the relevant authorities before you travel.

Sources: CIA FactBook, World FactBooks and numerous Travel and Destinations Guides.

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