The Cook Islands are a group of 15 small islands in the South Pacific Ocean, about half way between Hawaii and New Zealand. The northern Cooks are 7 low-lying, sparsely populated, coral atolls; and the southern Cooks, where most of the population lives, consist of 8 elevated, fertile, volcanic isles. The highest point is Te Manga at 652 meters (2,139 feet), on the main island of Rarotonga. Environmental issues include waste management, and the effects of climate change. The islands’ government has a particular interest in achieving 100 percent renewable energy. The National Environment Service (Tu’anga Taporoporo) is the official environmental authority, and works together with the traditional tribal councils (Aronga Mana). The government sponsored Cook Islands Natural Heritage Trust maintains a website on Cook Islands Biodiversity.
“Ra’ui”, the traditional system of marine managed areas, were re-implemented in the 1990s. In 2012, the Cook Islands announced the creation of the world’s largest marine park, a vast swathe of ocean almost twice the size of France. Also in 2012, the Cook Islands declared their entire exclusive economic zone to be a sanctuary for sharks. The Cook Islands whale watching season is from July to October, during the humpback migration. The Cook Islands Whale and Wildlife Centre is maintained by the US based NGO, Center for Cetacean Research and Conservation. Suwarrow atoll was declared a national park in 1978; however, it’s only accessible by charter from Rarotonga, or private yacht. The Takitumu Conservation Area bird sanctuary on Rarotonga, home to the Rarotonga Monarch – threatened by black rats and feral cats, has been a boost for ecotourism. Kuhl’s Lorikeet was successfully reintroduced to the black-rat-free island of Atiu.
Pa’s Treks leads nature walks as well as Rarotonga cross island treks. Adventure Cook Islands offers a variety of experiences, on both land and sea. KiteSUP Cook Islands provides kitesurfing and paddleboard services on Rarotonga. Koka Lagoon Cruises offers glass bottom boat tours. There are quite a few dive operators, mostly on Rarotonga, including Cook Islands Divers, Dive Rarotonga, Pacific Divers Rarotonga, and The Dive Centre.
The vast majority of Cook Islanders are either of full or partial native Polynesian people, known as Cook Islands Maori. Cook Islands Maori are related to the Maori of New Zealand, as well as the native peoples of French Polynesia. Captain James Cook first arrived in the islands in 1773; though, Spanish ships had visited long before, beginning in the 16th century. English missionaries settled 1821, and whose influence lasts until the present day. In 1858, the Kingdom of Rarotonga was established, and became a British protectorate in 1888. It was transferred to New Zealand in 1901, and remained a New Zealand protectorate until 1965. Today the Cook Islands is a country in free association with New Zealand; and as such, Cook Islanders are New Zealand citizens. The Cook Islands dollar is pegged to the New Zealand dollar.
The Ministry of Cultural Development (Tauranga Vananga) oversees cultural development, cultural activities, cultural heritage, and national records. There are a number of “cultural villages”, including Cook Islands Cultural Village, Highland Paradise Cultural Centre, and Te Vara Nui. Also, the Punanga Nui Market is referred to as a “cultural market”. The Vaka Eiva traditional outrigger canoe race is a major annual event, every November. There is also an active Cook Islands Arts Community. Atiu island has its own Atiu Fibre Arts Studio.
The New Zealand Aid Programme is helping upgrade the tourism capacity. Cook Islands Tourism Industry Council serves as the trade association for the islands. There are a number of interesting places to stay, including Ambala Gardens at the higher end and Rarotonga Backpackers at the lower end in Rarotonga, Atiu Guesthouse on Atiu island, and the funky Matriki Beach Huts on the island of Aitutaki. Air Rarotonga operates regular inter-island flights throughout the Cooks.
- Land, water and tourism in Aitutaki, Cook Islands by WE Cowling, 2004
- Towards new tourism development strategies in Cook Islands by C Mellor, 2004
- Local control and the sustainability of tourism in the Cook Islands by T Berno & D Harrison, 2003
- Towards new tourism development strategies in Cook Islands by CS Mellor, 2003
- Global Processes, Local Response: Ecotourism at the Takitumu Conservation Area in the Cook Islands by SJ Cole, 2002
- In the isle of the beholder: traversing place, exploring representations and experiences of Cook Islands tourism by KL Jamieson, 2002
- The Takitumu Conservation Area: a community-owned ecotourism enterprise in the Cook Islands by A Tiraa & IK Wilmott, 2001
- Tourism to the Cook Islands retrospective and prospective by JE Taylor, 2001
- The Cook Islands as an Outrider for Sustainable Tourism?: A Projekt Work by O Eberz, N Alessandrini & M Molinari, 1999
- Cook Islands under siege-Beyond the Winebox: tourism, consumerism and pollution are pushing the Cooks’ environment to breaking point by J Barrington, 1996
- The socio-cultural and psychological effects of tourism on indigenous culture: a Cook Islands case study by T Berno, 1995
- Tourism and Development in the Cook Islands by BA Schusterbauer, 1995
- What tourism is doing in the Cook Islands by S Short, 1992
- The economic impact of tourism in the Cook Islands by S Milne, 1987
- Tourism employment and residents’ attitudes in Rarotonga, Cook Islands by PTI Pryor, 1982
- An assessment of residents’ attitudes and tourism employment in Rarotonga, Cook Islands by PTI Pryor, 1980
- Research requirements of tourism in the Cook Islands by T Okatai, 1980
- Tourism in the Cook Islands by T Okotai, F Rajotte & R Crocombe, 1980
- Cultural impact of tourism with particular reference to the Cook Islands by G Cowan, 1977
- Implications of tourism for the Cook Islands: a preliminary study by YM Liew, 1977