COOK ISLANDS, THE WORLD'S LARGEST MARINE PARK
Once part of the British Empire, and now a self-governing country in free association with New Zealand, the Cook Islands have maintained their Polynesian identity. From the various island dialects, all originating from the old Maori (Maohi in Tahitian) language, to the arts and crafts, dancing and performing arts, the traditional culture and customs have remained strong. Less affected by development and tourism unlike some of its neighbours in the South Pacific, the Cook Islands have been described as “how Hawaii looked over 60 years ago”. This idyllic group of 15 islands, divided between the Northern and Southern Cook Islands, was named in honour of Captain James Cook, who visited in the late 18th Century.
The archipelago was named after the famous British explorer James Cook.
A real island paradise in the South Pacific, Aitutaki has it all: gorgeous white sand beaches and a stunning turquoise lagoon surrounded by motus (islets) on the barrier reef. Though considered an atoll, it has a significant large area of high land on the north side, providing sweeping views across the lagoon. According to legend, the island was settled by Ru, who sailed from Raiatea in the Society Islands in search of new lands and many Aitutakians believe they are descended from this seafaring warrior. Today, they are known for their charm, easy going attitude and hospitality. Whether relaxing on the beach, snorkelling the crystal clear lagoon in search of colourful tropical fish and corals, or discovering remnants of an ancient past, Aitutaki offers the best of both worlds.
The largest and most populous, Rarotonga is the hub of the Cook Islands, with its chief town, Avarua, as its capital. Settled by Polynesians from French Polynesia around the 9th century, the bond with Tahiti and her islands has always remained strong. Today, as modern Pacific people, the high spirited Cook Islanders are a cosmopolitan blend of Western influence and ancient Polynesian heritage. Many important archeological sites can be found here, such as Arai Te Tonga, the most sacred marae in Rarotonga, and nearby, the Ara Metua, a thousandyear-old interior road, paved with basalt or coral slabs, that once circled the island and of which, about two thirds still exists. Highland Paradise, sometimes known as “the lost village” is now a cultural centre consisting of old and faithfully rebuilt traditional structures, offering guided tours of the once large settlement site, and re-enactments and cultural demonstrations.