Summer in the Cook Islands
If you’re looking for a summer holiday destination that’s a little more exotic, but still not too far away, why not consider the Cook Islands
? The Cooks are renowned for their friendly people, relaxed pace of life and idyllic tropical scenery, so there’s no better place to lay your pre-Christmas stress to rest.
Visitors to the Cook Islands arrive at Rarotonga
's airport east of the capital of Avarua. Part of the Southern Group
of islands, Rarotonga is the vibrant heart of the Cook Island nation, and its largest island (67sq km). The mountainous interior, rising to 653m, provides a dramatic backdrop to the coast, where most of the settlements can be found. Avarua has a lively town centre with all the main amenities and services including a post office, banks, cafés, restaurants and shops. A great way to explore Rarotonga is to hire
a scooter and travel the coastal road (32km) around the island. Running adjacent to this is the Ara Metua coral road built in the 11th century, which will take you past historic sites and plantations. Buses
also depart from Cooks Corner in Avarua, circling the island on its coastal road. The Tourism Cook Islands Bureau and Visitor Information Centre can be found on Avarua’s Main Road, next to the Banana Court.
Language & Currency
The Cook Islands have close political ties to New Zealand, so they are like a home away from home for New Zealanders. English and Cook Islands Maori are the official languages, and the New Zealand dollar is the accepted currency, so holidaying here – especially with kids – is nice and easy.
What to see:
- Punanganui Markets
Located in Avarua, these colourful markets are the perfect place to browse for colourful handcrafts and clothing, and there is tasty local food to sample as well. Saturday is the main day, from early until 12 noon.
- The Cultural Village
This is a good introduction to the history and culture of the Cook Islands. Visitors can enjoy an island-style lunch with local song and dance entertainment.
- Takitumu Conservation Area
This major conservation project covers 155 hectares of forest, scrub and fernland. Guided tours allow you to see native plant and birdlife, along with one of the world’s rarest landbirds, the kakerori or Rarontonga flycatcher.
- Muri Beach & Lagoon
One of Rarotonga’s loveliest beaches, Muri is great for swimming, sailing, windsurfing and snorkelling. A turquoise lagoon and tiny offshore islands add to its scenic appeal. Lagoon cruises in glass-bottom boats operate from the beach and are an ideal way to explore.
- Papua (Wigmore’s) Waterfall
Rarotonga’s only waterfall has a large pool, ideal for a cooling swimming on a hot day.
A great way to experience the vibrant local culture is to attend one of the Cooks’ famous Island Nights. Every major hotel puts on an Island Night at least once a week, with traditional song and dance, and an island-style feast known as an umukai. A highlight of the evening is the Cook Islands Hura (a counterpart of the Tahitian Hula), when guests are treated to a fierce display of drumming on the pate and fast-paced, rhythmic dancing. Don’t be shy if you get asked to join in – it’s all part of the fun.
What to Pack
Informal, lightweight clothing, such as shorts, t-shirts and skirts, is fine, although avoid wearing brief clothing out of the resorts. Pack a sweater or light jacket for cooler evenings. Sarongs are ideal for the warm tropical climate and make a great beach towel or picnic blanket as well. Remember to take some reef shoes for exploring the reefs at low tide, plus a good book, and some cards or games for the kids in case of a rainy day.
The main school holidays in the Cooks are from the third week in December to mid-January. During this Christmas period local flights can be full as locals return home to visit relatives so it is wise to book ahead. Resorts are also busy in this time as it is the main holiday season for New Zealand and Australian visitors.
Sundays are observed as a day of rest - only a few shops are open and bus services are limited. Christmas and Boxing days are also public holidays. Do your shopping well before, and plan some general family activities for these days such as swimming, snorkelling, reef walking, beachcombing, or picnicking. On Sundays most people attend church, and visitors are welcome to take part in the services (see your host accommodation). This is a great way to hear the wonderful singing and close harmonies for which the Cook Islanders are famous.
Te Mire Tiare Festival - 1-6 December 2008
The Tiare or Flower Festival is a big event in the Cooks, taking place annually to celebrate the variety and beauty of the local flowers. Throughout the week there are all sorts of competitions including the best handmade lei and the Island Floral Gowns Competition. The annual Miss Tiare beauty pageant is held, including the colourful Tiare Float Parade which is followed by the crowning of Miss Tiare.
The official Tourism Cook Islands website
Before you go, order your copy of the Jasons Cook Islands Visitor Map & Jasons Cook Islands Visitor Guide, packed with maps, attractions, activities and more.