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Cook Islands Travel

Compared to expensive French Polynesia, the Cook Islands is a budget traveler's paradise. These fifteen islands cover a very small area of just 250 square kilometers and are occupied by only 20,000 people of Polynesian descent. One of the newest nations in the South Pacific, the Cook Islands saw its first settlers around 800 A.D. It saw its first Western settlers nearly 1,000 years later. The nation was formally annexed by New Zealand in 1900, but continues to have a British style of government and Christian belief system. Its first elections were held just over fifty years ago in 1965 and, today, the country is self governed with association with New Zealand. Its unique relationship with New Zealand allows Cook Islanders dual citizenship.

Because of its small size, the Cook Islands is a most tight-knit community, and the tropical fruit is so abundant that locals share their crops with their domestic pets and pigs. The most activity can be had in larger Rarotonga and Aitutaki , whereas the rest of the islands to the north and south enjoy slow-paced village life. However, even Rarotonga's bustling center boasts little tourism. There are no high-rise hotels anywhere on these islands, so life on the South Seas is essentially yours for the taking with each island offering something a little different and unique.

Regardless, most tourists who do make it to the Cook Islands spend most of their time on Rarotonga and Aitutak i. These two island offer the best organized trips for horseback riding, scuba diving, kayaking, boating, and fishing. Lagoon tours are also a favorite pastime, especially in the late afternoon. There's also plenty of great hiking trails on Rarotonga, which is the most mountainous island in the chain. Windsurfing is more popular than surfing, as the reef around in the Cook Islands hinders the surf in most places. Rental equipment can be easily acquired in Muri Beach on Rarotonga, where lessons can also be acquired.

Cook Islands Travel

Few visitors make it beyond these two islands, but those who venture beyond to islands such as Mangaia, Mauke, and Atiu tend to have more authentic cultural experiences and interactions. Mangaia is the most southerly island and the second largest in the chain, and has the largest and most spectacular limestone cave called Tenruarere . Adventurers can walk the crushed coral paths on Mauke , which is often regarded as the garden isle and has no cafés or restaurants — just plain old Cook Island hospitality. Atiu , to the south, has just one lagoon but several sandy beaches to relax on, as well as the Anatakitaki Cave , which is inhabited by tiny, bat-like, kopeka birds that use sonar to navigate their way in the dark. Throughout these smaller islands, communication with locals is imperative and although most locals speak a unique Maori language that became official only six years ago, English is widely spoken and understood.

Trade winds blow in from the east throughout the year in the Cook Islands, making the weather and temperature perfectly tropical nearly 85% of the time. The only exception would be interior Rarotonga, which experiences more cloud than sunshine, and the months of June and August, which can bring cool winter breezes to the islands. Summer hurricanes pass through the islands nearly every other year between November and April, but provide the islands with much needed rain. In reality, the Cooks can be visited and enjoyed any time of the year!

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