The Cook Islands are comprised of a small group of beautiful emerald dots scattered over untold distances in the vast reaches of the tropical South Pacific; some are rugged volcanic islands, some are tiny coral atolls, all are surrounded by warm crystal clear lagoons, colourful coral reefs and sandy beaches. The islands enjoy plenty of sunshine and are home to a friendly and welcoming people whose first response upon meeting visitors is generally ‘Kia orana’, or ‘May you live long’. Considered by many to be one of the Pacific Oceans’ best kept secrets, the Cook Islands enjoy a growing tourism industry with over 110,000 visitors enjoying the pristine waters, empty white sandy beaches and the peaceful tranquility which pervades this remote island archipelago.
The Cook Islands are a group of 15 small islands which are spread over a huge area in the central regions of the South Pacific Ocean, east of the International Date Line, and west of French Polynesia. They are comprised of two distinct groups, namely the volcanically formed Southern Cook Islands and the sparsely populated Northern Cook Islands which are generally low-lying coral atolls. The whole country is home to approximately 18,000 residents with the majority living within the Southern Cook Islands. The largest and main island of Rarotonga is the most heavily populated with 13,000 people, of which 6,000 live in the largest and only city of Avarua that is the national capital. The remainder of the population of Rarotonga is generally comprised of fishermen and subsistence farmers who live in small villages that are scattered around the island.
The Southern Cook Islands are comprised of eight mostly volcanic and hilly islands with fertile soils and lush tropical vegetation, and are located in the south-east region of the Exclusive Economic Zone (E.E.Z.), an area of 1.8 million square kilometres of the Pacific Ocean which lies under the authority of the Cook Islands. The remote Northern Cook Islands consists of seven tiny, coral atolls which are sparsely vegetated and spread over a huge area of ocean in the northern reaches of the E.E.Z. Due to the distances involved in getting to these northern islands, many have little external influences, few tourists, and maintain much of their original traditional way of life. Cook Island culture is dominated by its’ Polynesian heritage which ensures that most of the population are predominantly conservative and religious people, and hold strongly onto their old customs. This living culture is reflected in the popularity of the traditional song and dance, the telling of legends, the easy pace of life and the desire to live in an uncomplicated manner away from the turmoil of the outside world. The biggest influence the islands have experienced in recent history was the introduction of Christianity during the 19th century when hard working missionaries converted the whole country. Today strong Christian ethics and morals permeate society with Sundays being reserved for church, worship and enthusiastic singing.