The Cook Islands lie diagonally in between New Zealand and Tahiti (northeast of New Zealand and southwest of Tahiti). It is comprised of 15 islands scattered over the South Pacific over an ocean area the size of India, but a surface land area less than 100 square miles – that is about one-third the size of New York. The more popular of the islands are Rarotonga, Mitiaro, Manuae, Mangaia, Penrhyn, Aitutaki, Mauke, and Manihiki. Like the islands of French Polynesia, many of the Cook Islands have lagoons along the exteriors and volcanic mountains and small areas of fertile land in the interiors.
The Cook Islands were first settled by the Polynesians in the 6th century AD, most likely Polynesians from Tahiti. The Spanish were the first Europeans to discover the islands; Pedro Fernández de Quirós landed on Rakahanga in 1606. Captain James Cook later re-discovered the islands in 1733. And in 1888, the islands became a British protectorate and were subsequently transferred to New Zealand in 1901. In 1965, the islands became a self-governing territory, essentially gaining independence from New Zealand.
For the most part, the residents of the islands are culturally and physically more resembling of the Maoris of New Zealand and the Tahitians of French Polynesia. The people in the northwest islands of Nassau and Pukapuka, however, are more similar to the Samoans. But all Cook Islanders, whether in the northwest or the south, are extremely warm, generous, friendly, and hospitable. The people are very family-oriented and collectivist in their way of life.
Today, the Cook Islands may well be the perfect getaway for those who want to relax and unwind undisturbed. Only 18,000 people live in these islands and while popular among tourists, many stretches of beautiful beaches remain untamed and the sands so pristine it’s like they’ve never been touched before. The sky and ocean waters are a turquoise, clear blue. The waters are filled with foreign fishes and colorful coral reefs, making beaches like the Muri Lagoon or the Titikaveka great places to swim, dive, snorkel, kayak, and canoe. And for traditional Polynesian entertainment, you can attend the many festivals and performance shows in the various islands, usually held around the few low-rise hotels that have been built.