The nine southern Cook islands were populated by Polynesians who came from the Society Islands around 300 AD. The six northern Cooks were probably populated earlier directly from Samoa.
Tourism provides almost half of GDP in the Cook Islands. They played host to 7 tourists for each Islander in 1998. This makes the Cook Islands the sixth most tourist influenced country in the world with a Tourist Saturation Index of 3.36. Pearl farming and the export of fruits and vegetables are also important contributors to the economy.
The British took control of Rarotonga in 1888 to halt the expansion of French Polynesia. The 15 Cook Islands were annexed to New Zealand in 1900 and given internal self government in 1965 (New Zealand retains control of defense and foreign affairs and Air New Zealand has a monopoly on international flights). More than six decades of New Zealand control have transformed Rarotonga into what looks like a New Zealand province. Very little of the original Polynesian way of life remains but the traces that are left are actively promoted for their touristic value.
Aitutake atoll, with about 2500 inhabitants is the second most populated island after Rarotonga which has about 11 000. According to the legends Aitutake was settled by Polynesians before Rarotonga. It was also the first to suffer the christianising influence of the London Missionary Society. Its excellent airport, built by the Americans during W. W. II, was an important refueling facility for cross-Pacific flights until the construction of Rarotonga's airport in 1974.
The cruise around the lagoon, shown in dark blue on this map, was one of the highlights of my Pacific trip.
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Rarotonga's modern airport built in 1974 was an important factor in the rapid growth of tourism here. It is well served by an inexpensive public bus that goes all the way around the island.
Rarotonga is a small island with almost 40 hotels and resorts strewn along the 30 km circular road. New Zealanders really know how to handle tourists and their influence is obvious here. In my books New Zealanders are the world's best tourist herders and Peruvians are the worst.
I had a 3 bed dorm all to myself for only 8.20$US at the Tiare Village on a back road a few km from the capital Avarua. (Tiare means Gardenia).
The Tiare Village was owned by New Zealander but run by a friendly Polynesian woman called Lilly. Several comfortable self-contained units surrounding a pool were also available there.
The modern buses that go around the island in both directions depart every hour from Cook's Corner in the center of Avarua.
The people have been very strongly imprinted by the Christian religions in the Cook islands like everywhere where else in the Pacific.
They even have their own religion called the Cook Islands Christian Church CICC which is followed by 70 percent of the Islanders. The Catholic Church has most of the remaining 30 percent but there are also some Seventh-Day Adventists, some Mormons, some Jehovah's Witnesses and various other denominations.
This is the St-Joseph Catholic Cathedral.
Avarua Harbour west
Avarua harbour east with "Trader Jacks"
This "Cook Islands Christian Church" CICC church was built in 1853. The CICC religion was founded by the first missionaries sent here around 1820 by the London Missionary Society. Their efforts opened the door of the Pacific to British influence very much like French missionaries opened the door of West Africa to French colonists and Spanish priests helped to establish Spain's dominance over South America.
Avarua's museum, next to the sports ground, is worth a visit and so is the library next-door.
This building houses the School of Medicine which is affiliated to the University of the South Pacific (USP). The USP is based in Suva Fiji but it is jointly owned by 12 countries (Cook Islands, Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Niue, Solomon Islands, Tokelau, Tonga, Tuvalu, Vanuatu and Samoa).
Many fine properties like this one on Rarotonga's round the island road are secondary residences for wealthy New Zealanders.
Here is another amongst many around the island.
I was quite satisfied with my lodgings at the Tiare Village but I think I would have equally enjoyed staying here, at Vara's Guesthouse on Muri Bay.
Vara's Guesthouse is far from Avarua but it has the advantage of being located directly on a beautiful beach.
Another advantage of Vara's is the nearby Rarotonga Sailing Club.
Here is a view of the South Eastern corner of the Aitutaki Atoll taken from the plane as I flew in from Rarotonga.
Worth mentioning on this photo are the Rapota island on the lower left and the Tapuaetai (One Foot) Island which is the central of the three islands near the edge of the atoll. We will see close-up photos of these islands taken on a lagoon cruise.
Here we can guess Vaipea village on the lagoon side of Aitutake's main island. Arutanga, the largest village, lies on the far side of this island.
The airport is small but the welcome is hearty
Tourists are greeted and sent off with a charming South Pacific song. Those New Zealanders really know how to do it.
I came close to staying here at the Paradise Cove Hotel but I chose to stay at Tom's Cabins which was more central.
Toms Cabins was not as nice as Paradise Cove but it did have a beautiful beach.
Tom's Cabins was close to the Arutanga supermarket and wharf from which the lagoon cruises leave. I chose to go with a small group in a fast boat.
The lagoon cruise was really worth it. We stopped to snorkel on a reef head that featured huge giant clams and went for a long walk on a sandbar next to Motu Maina in the southeast corner of the atoll.
I was glad I had chosen the small boat option over the big boat option because I would have been quite unhappy on this motorised contraption supposed to look like an ancient Polynesian double hulled canoe.
I'm always amazed at how some tourists accept to be herded like sheep and entertained with phony contrived cultural shows all over the word. As Barnum used to say, there's one born every minute!
This view of beautiful Motu Rapota should clean your mind of the pollution of the same island that I showed in the last picture,
A buffet dinner of fish, chicken, taro and many other local dishes, served on "One Foot" Island, was a perfect ending for a perfect day. Yep, those New Zealanders, they really know how to handle Tourists.