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Cook Islands

The Cook Islands are a self-governing parliamentary democracy in free association with New Zealand, located in Polynesia, in the middle of the South Pacific Ocean, between French Polynesia (Society Islands) to the east and Tonga to the west. It is an archipelago with 15 islands spread out over 2.2 million km2 of ocean. There's no land between the Cook Islands and Antarctica, though they are quite distant from each other.

With the same time zone and latitude (disregarding north and south) as Hawaii, the islands are sometimes thought of as "Hawaii down under". Though smaller, it reminds some elderly visitors of Hawaii before statehood without all the large tourist hotels and other development.

Regions

Cities

The Cook Islands do not have any cities but are composed of 15 different islands. The main ones are Rarotonga and Aitutaki.

Other destinations

Understand

History

Named after Captain Cook, who sighted them in 1770, the islands became a British protectorate in 1888. By 1900, administrative control was transferred to New Zealand; in 1965 residents chose self-government in free association with New Zealand. New Zealand handles defence, foreign affairs (including passports), and currency; otherwise the islands are self-governing. This includes immigration, which is strictly controlled—even for non-Cook Island New Zealanders.

People

Many Cook Islanders will tell you how there are more Cook Islanders living in New Zealand and Australia than in the Cook Islands. The population of the Cook Islands is less than 15,000 but there are over 50,000 Cook Islanders living in New Zealand, and over 30,000 in Australia. Those remaining have often spent time in Auckland, Melbourne or Sydney before returning home.

Climate

Tropical, moderated by trade winds. Rarotonga has average maximum temperatures of around 25C in winter (May–October) and 29C in summer (November–April), temperatures in the northern islands are several degrees higher. Rainfall mostly occurs in summer, usually in the form of afternoon storms. Cyclone season is November to March, although the islands are hit by a big one only once every five years or so.

Terrain

The Northern Cook Islands are seven low-lying, sparsely populated, coral atolls. The Southern Cook Islands consist of eight elevated, fertile, volcanic isles where most of the populace lives.

Tourism

Tourism facilities are well developed on Rarotonga and Aitutaki, and information is available. However you won't see a single tout, and tourist scams are unheard of. If you want to organise something, it usually isn't hard to do, but you will need to make the first move.

Get in

When you book a flight to the Cook Islands you must also book your onwards ticket. The Cook Islands issue entry permits, not visas. On arrival a bona fide visitor is granted a 31-day entry permit that may be extended up to a maximum of 6 months by application to the Cook Islands Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Immigration. You are not permitted to work if you are in the Cook Islands as a visitor.

Departure tax is included in your outwards fare and no tax is paid at the point of departure.

On arrival

It is best to have accommodation pre-arranged as there are no public camping areas in the Cook Islands and camping is actively discouraged. Most accommodators will arrange transfers from the airport.

By plane

Rarotonga International Airport (IATA: RAR) is the main gateway. There are daily services to Auckland (3.5 hours) and weekly services to Sydney and Los Angeles. The only international airlines at present are Air New Zealand and Virgin Australia. Air New Zealand has code share arrangements with other Star Alliance members including United Airlines and Rarotonga is a popular stopover on round the world flights.

See the Rarotonga article for airport details.

By boat

Rarotonga and Aitutaki are regular stops for cruises operating from Tahiti. Other cruise companies stop by occasionally.

If you're planning to sail to the islands you must enter through one of the five designated ports of entry. These are RarotongaAitutaki and Atiu in the Southern group, and Penrhyn and Pukapuka in the Northern group.

Get around

By plane

Domestic inter-island service is provided by Air Rarotonga. Although you can book flights through Air New Zealand, it is usually cheaper to do so directly with Air Rarotonga. This has become much easier in the past few years, now that they offer online booking. Unless you're a member of Air New Zealand's "Airpoints Dollars" program, you won't receive any airline miles for Air Rarotonga—and then only if you book through Air New Zealand, often at a higher price. Star Alliance mileage for Air Rarotonga is not available.

Most of the outer islands have only unpaved runways. However, landing won't be much rougher than that of a paved runway. If you've never landed on an unpaved runway before, it's nothing to be overly concerned about, and you've probably had a few rougher landings on a paved runway.

By boat

The intrepid traveler can visit all inhabited islands by inter island freighters, but these can be weeks apart or worse if you want to get the really remote islands. Details of services are published in local island newspapers.

There are no generally scheduled boat or ferry services between the inhabited islands.

There are two uninhabited islands - Takutea and Manuae. The only easy way for a visitor to get to Takutea is on the research vessel Bounty Bay operated by Rarotonga-based Pacific Expeditions, which has special permission to run occasional eco tours.

Talk

There are five living languages in the Cook Islands with English and Cook Islands Maori the official languages. Cook Islands Maori is called Rarotongan after the capital island and is the most widely spoken version of Maori in the Islands. Others are Penrhynese, unique to the Northern group island of Penrhyn and rapidly disappearing, and Rakahanga-Manihiki, spoken by about 2,500 Cook Islanders, only half of whom on the two islands from which it takes its name.

On the remote Northern group island of Pukapuka, the islanders have a unique language of their own called Pukapukan of which there is no written version. It is more like Samoan, and some of it cannot even be understood by other Cook Islanders. But even there, English is spoken, albeit not widely. Children, though, are taught it in school.

At the very least, the visitor will quickly learn the usual greeting, "kia orana" which means "may you live long".

See

One of the cultural shows/dancing at one of the larger resorts.

Do

Scuba Diving & Snorkeling, Rarotonga The Cook Islands is a beautiful place to explore both on land and in water. Scuba diving & snorkeling is available inside the calm protected waters of the lagoon as well as outside the reef in the open ocean. There are dive sites all around the island of Rarotonga which host an incredible amount of tropical reef fish as well as larger animals such as turtles, eagle rays, eels and reef sharks such as White Tips, Grey Reefs and Hammerheads, in addition to the beautiful hard coral formations, sand passages, swim-throughs and drop offs. Pacific Divers is a PADI 5* Dive Center located in Muri Beach on the South-East side of Rarotonga and offers snorkel trips & scuba diving 7 days a week for all levels of diving, from beginners to advanced divers and professionals. Various options are available, from half day excursions to 3 day courses to become a fully certified diver. They also offer a professional internship where they train divers up to the professional Dive Master level over the course of a few months.

Cook Island Christian Church, Rarotonga The CICC is a fine old white-coral building, much in the same mould as other CICCs in the Cooks. It was built in 1853, when Aaron Buzacott was the resident missionary. Travellers are welcome to attend services but are expected to dress respectfully.

Beachcomber Gallery, Rarotonga One of the best arts and crafts galleries on the island, the Beachcomber Gallery has a great selection of jewellery, carvings, pearls, craftwork and paintings locally sourced in the islands. You can sometimes visit the workshop behind the main building to see how the black-pearl jewellery and shell carvings are made.

Muri Beach, Rarotonga Muri Beach, on Muri's lagoon on the southeast side of the island, is particularly beautiful. The shallow water has a sandy bottom dotted with countless sea cucumbers and some coral formations.

Cooks Larger Brewery, Rarotonga See the brewing process first hand and enjoy a sample testing of Cook Island brews. As one of only two breweries on the island, the brewery tours are a truly unique tourist attraction.

Sir Geoffrey Henry National Culture Centre, Rarotonga Conceived by former prime minister Sir Geoffrey Henry, the National Culture Centre comprises six cultural divisions: the National Auditorium, the National Museum, the National Library, the National Archives, Performing Arts, and the Anthropology Unit. A number of government ministries are also based here.

Captain Tama's Lagoon Cruizes, Rarotonga Join the crew of the famous Captain Tama's Lagoon Cruizes on glass bottom boats for a memorable fun day you will never forget.

Aitutaki Lagoon, Aitutaki Aitutaki's marvelous lagoon, dotted with sand bars, coral ridges and 21 uninhabited motu (lagoon islets), is colourful and full of life. Maina Motu offers great snorkelling on the coral formations near its shore and around large powder-white sand bars.

Teking Lagoon Cruises, Aitutaki Teking Lagoon Cruises are small and intimate, ensuring a more personal experience. Local guides share their knowledge of the islands, their history and the culture that is Aitutaki, Cook Islands.

Anatakitaki, Aitu The most famous of the many caves on Atiu, which is riddled with limestone caverns complete with stalactites and stalagmites, is Anatakitaki, also known as the 'Kopeka Cave'. A hauntingly large and beautiful cave, it is the home of the kopeka, a rare bird, similar to a swift, which lives only on Atiu.

Buy

Money

The currency used in the Cook Islands is the New Zealand dollar, denoted by the symbol "$" or "NZ$" (ISO code: NZD). It is divided into 100 cents. In this guide, the "$" symbol denotes New Zealand dollars unless otherwise indicated.

The Cook Islands also issues their own banknotes and coinage, including the unusual $3 notes and the triangular $2 coins. Cook Islands money can only be used within the Cook Islands.

There are a handful of ATMs in Rarotonga and two on Aitutaki. There are no ATM facilities on any of the other islands.

Shopping

Black pearls, these can be found in the main town and some resorts.

Economy

Like many other South Pacific island nations, the Cook Islands' economic development is hindered by the isolation of the country from foreign markets, the limited size of domestic markets, lack of natural resources, periodic devastation from natural disasters, and inadequate infrastructure. Agriculture and tourism provide the economic base with major exports made up of copra and citrus fruit. Manufacturing activities are limited to fruit processing, clothing, and handicrafts. Trade deficits are offset by remittances from emigrants and by foreign aid, overwhelmingly from New Zealand. In the 1980s and 1990s, the country lived beyond its means, maintaining a bloated public service and accumulating a large foreign debt. Subsequent reforms, including the sale of state assets, the strengthening of economic management, the encouragement of tourism, and a debt restructuring agreement, have rekindled some investment and growth.

Prices

Overall, much cheaper than nearby Tahiti, although anything imported will be expensive. This especially applies to fuel and milk. There is no fresh milk made on the islands, and the only fresh milk available is air-freighted from New Zealand daily, and costs around $7.00 for 2 L. Locals generally get by with powdered or UHT milk.

Calling home can cost a bundle, due to the need of having a large satellite dish and related equipment on each sparsely populated island. Don't expect significant savings by Skype-in or VOIP callback, as the rates using these services tend to be the most expensive anywhere in the world. However, some hotels and resorts have free direct Skype connections (in addition to a regular telephone number) which can be used for reservations.

Eat

Don't eat pizza in the Cook Islands before you have tried the local stuff (which is admittedly hard to find):

  • ika mata (raw fish) with coconut milk, finely chopped vegetables. It is delicious!
  • umu food (prepared in the traditional earth oven)
  • curried eke (octopus in coconut curry)
  • rukau (Taro leaves, usually cooked with coconut cream)
  • poke (cooked fruit pudding) (banana, pawpaw,...) with coconut milk.

Some of these are available every day at the market in Avarua. Every 2 weeks there is a "Go Local" market where locals sell their products.

Drink

There are two microbreweries in the Cook Islands – Matutu and Cook Islands Brewery, located in Rarotonga, both of which produce a range of delicious beers. Imported beer, spirits and wine are available from major supermarkets Foodland and CITC Liquor, both located in the main town of Avarua – expect to pay a premium price. There are a number of bars and restaurants in Rarotonga and, to a lesser extent, in Aitutaki serving up beer, wine and delicious fresh cocktails. Options are extremely limited on all other outer islands.

Sleep

Most of the outer islands turn off the entire electric system (blackout) overnight. Bring a flashlight (torch) with batteries. See the individual islands for accommodation listings. Rarotonga and Aitutaki have various kinds of accommodation to choose from and are serviced with power 24hrs a day. Luxury accommodation can cost upwards of $600 a night, but comfortable lodgings can be found much cheaper and backpackers can also be accommodated in the Cooks.

Learn

Five day courses in traditional fibre arts are available.

Work

Non-residents, even New Zealanders, require work permits. The Cook Islands has a problem with people of working age leaving the islands. Jobs are generally available in the tourism and hospitality sector.

There is also a possibility of volunteer work, in education and care.

Stay safe

There are no major hazards in the Cook Islands. There are no poisonous wild or marine life in the Cook Islands other than sharks in the far northern island groups. Crime is rare but does occur most likely in the form of petty theft. Police are contactable on the emergency number 999.

Though the locals often go barefoot (they are experts at it) it's not recommended beyond sandy beaches due to the sharp coral rocks. Use caution when climbing stairs that connect the lower parts of an island near the sea to the upper part above the cliffs. Some do not have railings on the edge, including platforms. Only the most acrophobic would be uncomfortable with this (they're plenty wide enough and not vertically "open"), but for children, the blind, and someone who's had too much to drink, the risk is extreme. On the platforms, avoid getting too close to the edge, especially if you need a rest from climbing.

Motorcycle and scooter accidents have caused injuries and fatalities in the past. Driving after dark has additional hazards due to poor visibility due to inadequate lighting and road condition. Driving/Riding is especially dangerous on Friday and Saturday nights where drunk driving is prevalent. Always wear a helmet even though the locals may not.

Stay healthy

Medical and hospital facilities on Rarotonga are limited and serious cases will most likely require medical evacuation to Auckland for treatment. Facilities on the outer islands are extremely limited. There are no decompression chambers on any island and serious cases of pressure sickness will require a MediVac to Auckland. It is extremely important to take out comprehensive travel insurance before travelling to the Cooks.

Ambulance emergency is on 998.

Tap water can be trusted for drinking in Rarotonga, although after extended heavy rain it is recommended that tap water should be boiled before consumption or stick to bottled water. All water should be boiled before consumption on all other islands.

Do not eat reef fish when in the Cooks, for example snapper fish, they may give you ciguatera poisoning. Most restaurants do not serve reef fish; only locals consume them.

Mosquitoes are a nuisance especially on Aitutaki. There have been outbreaks of dengue fever, chikungunya and zika fever, all mosquito-borne diseases. Use insect repellent spray and other precautions against mosquito bites. There are no other serious tropical diseases reported in the Cook Islands.

There are very low instances of infectious diseases in the Cook Islands, however, it is wise to consult your doctor about vaccinations prior to travel.

Respect

Like New Zealand, tipping is not usual in the Cook Islands — better to graciously thank the person for their service or hospitality. On the outer islands with little accommodation, it is likely you will be staying with a family within a village. Purchasing a pig and presenting it as gift to the chief of the village and/or the family is considered extremely good form and will gain you the respect of the people.

Haggling for goods is considered taboo and rude in the Cooks. Expect a stone cold, emotionless face from local vendors if you make more than one attempt at doing so. Pay the ticket price of goods; there is no mark up to come down as you may experience in other countries.

The Cook Islands inhabitants are in no way behind the times. They have TV and Internet and regularly keep up with news and events local and abroad. Respect their view on the world and feel free to chat with the locals over a cool drink.

As in every country, respect the religious beliefs of the local people. If you are staying with a family or visiting a local village, you may be requested to join in saying grace before eating. Although some people may find this uncomfortable, make an effort to join in and see is it as a cultural experience. Most Cook Islanders adhere to the Christian faith and attend church on Sundays. Most places are closed for business with the exception of a few bars, restaurants and shops.

Though the survey form given on arrival (and collected at departure) is optional, the airport staff will be very disappointed if you do not complete it. In case you've misplaced it, additional ones are available at the airport at departure.

Connect

Not all islands have internet, and some not even mobile phone reception. Check the appropriate island articles.

The Amateur Traveler talks to Melanie Waldman of TravelsWithTwo.com about a recent trip to the Cook Islands in the Pacific. Think of the Cook Islands as Tahiti without the French language and using the New Zealand dollar to make it more affordable. Melanie tells us about this corner of Polynesia with beautiful resorts that she and her husband visited for their 10th anniversary. They hiked the mountainous spine of Raratongo with Pa who knows all of the plants and their uses and cruised the small outer islands of Aitutaki with a guide named Captain Awesome. They also took an archeology tour, drove the ring roads, shopped in the farmer’s market and just hung out on the beach drinking the cocktails of the moment.

HERE ARE 35 places around the world to strap on your GoPro, do some underwater exploring, and come back with amazingly clear imagery.

1

Linapacan Island, Palawan, Philippines

MatadorU Photography faculty member Scott Sporleder shares this image from Palawan, the Philippines' most remote province and home to many beaches with super clear water.Photo: Scott Sporleder

2

The Maldives

The 26 atolls that make up the Maldives sit in the Indian Ocean about 400km southwest of the tip of the subcontinent. Abundant reef wildlife (including whale sharks) + incredibly clear waters bring in a lot of tourists. It's also one of Matador's 9 places to experience now before they literally vanish.Photo: Rishwan (Richy)

3

Dog Island, San Blas, Panama

Another from Scott Sporleder, here is a shot from one of Panama's San Blas Islands, the largest of the politically autonomous reservations of the Kuna Indians.Photo: Scott Sporleder

Intermission 181

35 places to swim in the world’s clearest water

by Hal Amen

25 places we’re dying to explore right now

by Matador Team
35

How to: Independently trek Nepal’s Annapurna sanctuary

by Matt Huntington
4

Cayo Coco, Cuba

A resort island on Cuba's north coast, Cayo Coco is linked to the mainland by a 27km causeway. The adjacent reef and clear waters have earned international recognition as a dive destination.Photo: O.Taillon

5

Cala Macarelleta, Menorca, Spain

At the south end of the Mediterranean island of Menorca, the beach at Cala Macarelleta can only be reached on foot or by boat -- probably one of the least-crowded beaches you'll find in Spain.Photo: visualpanic

6

Sua Trench, Samoa

We sent MatadorU student Abhimanyu Sabnis on a photojournalism assignment to Samoa. He came back with this insane gallery.Photo: Abhimanyu Sabnis

7

Crater Lake, Oregon

Visibility in Crater Lake has been measured at 43.3m -- among the highest in the world. Photographer Rhett Lawrence adds this note about swimming here: "[It's] allowed, but there's only one access point down to the lake -- a steep, mile-long trail (it's easy enough on the way down, but my then-4-year-old daughter did not appreciate the climb back up). Since that's the only access point, you've got to really want to jump in the lake to do it -- especially since it's so damn cold -- but it is permitted by the Park Service."Photo: Grant Montgomery

8

Bak Bak Beach, Borneo

A shot from the northern tip of Sabah, Malaysia, near Kudat Town. From the photographer: "It takes 3 to 3 1/2 hours' drive from Kota Kinabalu city. I wanted to shoot a longer exposure but I had a difficulty judging the light or maybe because I was lazy ? kidding. I had to go further the beach, thigh deep and very clear water. Stacked 2 Cokin GND filter P121s, manual exposure 0.25sec, F13."Photo: Nora Carol

9

Jiuzhaigou Valley, Sichuan, China

In the north of Sichuan province, the Jiuzhaigou Valley is a national park, nature reserve, and UNESCO World Heritage Site. In addition to several crystal-clear lakes, it's a region of multi-tiered waterfalls and snowy mountains. Tourism arrived late but is growing strong, and while swimming isn't allowed...there's always night-time skinny dipping.Photo: Who is taking pictures?

Intermission 445

10 volunteer opportunities for free travel

by Matt Scott
10

Your top 20 bucket list trips

by Joshywashington
2

Banff and Lake Louise might be the most gorgeous places to ski on the planet. Here’s proof.

by Ailsa Ross
10

Sabah, Malaysia

Another one from the remote Malaysian state, which covers the northern portion of Borneo and is ringed by reef-rich islands. This photo was taken near Semporna, which is a hub for people who come to dive Malaysian Borneo.Photo: Zahriel

11

Jenny Lake, Wyoming

Jenny Lake sits right below the peak of Grand Teton and is a landmark for many hiking trails, backcountry trails, and climbing routes. Despite the fact that motorboats are allowed on the lake, its waters are still considered "pristine."Photo: Jeff Clow

12

Rio Sucuri, Brazil

Located in the Pantanal region of Brazil, Rio Sucuri is a spring-fed river that has some of the measurably clearest water on Earth. Multiple tour outfits run trips that let you snorkel the river.Photo: Luiz Felipe Sahd

13

Calanque de Sormiou, France

Calanques are steep-walled coves, and there's a series of them along the 20km stretch of coast between Marseille and Cassis. Sormiou is one of the largest of these, and it's popular for its nearby climbing routes as well as its beach.Photo: Paspog

14

Panari Island, Okinawa, Japan

Panari, also called Aragusuku, is one of the Yaeyama Islands, the most remote area of Japan. The photographer notes: "The islands are also known as one of the world's best diving destinations, having a number of coral species and marine lives as large as those in the Great Barrier Reef. (Over 400 types of corals, 5 types of sea turtles, manta rays, whale sharks and all kinds of tropical fish species all live around Okinawa.)"Photo: ippei + janine

15

Puerto Ayora, Galapagos

The most populous town in the Galapagos still sits right up next to some amazingly clear ocean water. Even here in Academy Bay, you can see pelicans, iguanas, sea lions, herons, rays, and other iconic wildlife.Photo: Bill Bouton

Intermission 1K+

20 awesomely untranslatable words from around the world

by Jason Wire
3

9 places to visit before they change forever

by Morgane Croissant
4

20 charming illustrations of Christmas traditions from around the world

by Ailsa Ross
16

Lake Tahoe, Nevada

The photo above was taken in the Bonsai Rock area, on the east shore of the lake, which apparently flies under the radar. Says the photographer: "30 years in Tahoe, and until this winter I'd never heard of it."Photo: SteveD.

17

Cayos Cochinos, Honduras

Rounding out the Sporleder collection, this one comes from the central Caribbean coast of Honduras. For more images, check out the full photo essay.Photo: Scott Sporleder

18

Primosten, Croatia

On the Adriatic Coast north of Split, Primosten is most famous for its vineyards, in addition to beaches that have been voted the best in the country.Photo: Mike Le Gray Photography. See more at his website.

19

St. George, Bermuda

The oldest continuously inhabited English settlement in the New World features many historic forts, like the small Gates Fort pictured above. Also: some damn clear water.Photo: JoshuaDavisPhotography

20

Hanauma Bay, Oahu, Hawaii

Visit on a weekend during high season and you'll be surrounded by busloads. If you can get it on a slow day with clear conditions, though, it's some of the best snorkeling in Hawaii.Photo: ThomasOfNorway

21

Pupu Springs, New Zealand

At the very top of the South Island, on Golden Bay, the photographer says: "14000 liters of crystal clear water comes out of these springs per second!"Photo: pie4dan

22

Calanque d'En-Vau, France

Another calanque on the southern coast of France, d'En-Vau has a narrower, steeper channel than Sormiou, giving a real feeling of seclusion and emphasizing the clarity of the water in this cove.Photo: afer92 (on and off)

23

Rio Azul, Argentina

Put in to the Confluence section of the Rio Azul near El Bolsón, Patagonia, Argentina. Matador Senior Editor David Miller notes, "This was the first river I've ever paddled, played, and swam in where the water was clean enough to drink. The entire Rio Azul watershed is born in the glaciers and snowfields of the Andes and the water is incredibly clear and pure."Photo: David Miller

24

Corfu, Greece

Corfu sits in the Ionian Sea, off the northwest coast of Greece. Prior to the 1900s, most of the tourists that visited were European royalty. Today, its clear waters draw a lot of package-tour-style action.Photo: smlp.co.uk

25

Aitutaki, Cook Islands

Matador Co-Founder Ross Borden visited the Cook Islands for a week and came back with images and video of epicly clear water.Photo: Ross Borden

26

Koh Phi Phi Don, Thailand

Made famous when its smaller neighbor, Koh Phi Phi Leh, was used as the filming location for The Beach, the main island sees a lot of traffic from both backpackers and luxury travelers these days. Water like this is a big part of the draw.Photo: mynameisharsha

27

Playa Blanca, Colombia

This is a 45-minute boat ride from Cartagena and well worth the trip. In between swims in that crystal-clear blue water, be sure to snag some fresh ceviche from one of the vendors walking up and down the beach.Photo: Ross Borden

28

Blue Lake, New Zealand

One of many bodies of water in this list that someone or other has claimed has the clearest water in the world, Blue Lake is located in Nelson Lakes National Park, in the Southern Alps of New Zealand.Photo: Kathrin & Stefan

29

Königssee, Germany?

This one's made the rounds on the internet, but no one really seems to know where it was taken, or by whom. The best guess I found was the Königssee, a lake in southern Bavaria, near the border with Austria. If you have any info, clue us in.Photo: ??

30

Valle Verzasca, Switzerland

The clear waters of the Verzasca River run for 30km through this rocky valley in southern Switzerland. A dam of the same name, featured in the James Bond movie GoldenEye, blocks the river's flow and forms Lago di Vogorno. Just downstream from it, the river empties into Lake Maggiore.Photo: http://i.imgur.com/ukgxS.jpg

31

Tioman Island, Malaysia

This photo comes from the town of Kampung Genting on Tioman Island, off the east coast of peninsular Malaysia. Away from its beaches, there's significant rainforest terrain in the interior, where you can see the endemic soft-shelled turtle and the Tioman walking catfish.Photo: Chang'r

32

Belo Sur Mer, Madagascar

Ross Borden explains: "I started in Moronvada, on the west coast of Madagascar and hired a boat and driver to take me down the coast to Belo Sur Mer, a super-isolated section of coastline known for diving, fishing and the fact that almost no one makes the trip down there. Belo Sur Mer is amazing on its own, but when the owner of the eco-lodge there told me about a string of uninhabited islands 80km off the coast, we jumped back in the boat and pointed it west, towards Mozambique and mainland Africa. What we found was four uninhabited gorgeous islands and one that had a tribe of "sea gypsies" living on it. These fascinating and hospitable people live off the rich fishing stocks of the Mozambique channel. We camped and lived with them for two days and they even took me along on an all-night fishing expedition in one of their sailboats in the middle of the Indian Ocean. It was one of the most amazing travel experiences of my life. During the day I would go snorkeling. Shoving off these tiny islands the water gets several hundreds of feet deep very quickly; I was out there with massive schools of deep ocean fish."Photo: Ross Borden

33

Lake Marjorie, California

From the photographer: "Lakes in the High Sierra come in a number of colors. Lake Marjorie, at 11,132' has an aquamarine "swimming pool" tint. Crater Mountain dominates the skyline, with Pinchot Pass to the south. I was happy to see clouds at dawn, but by noon a fast moving storm was spitting hail, thunder, and lightning as we cleared Mather Pass. Damn, this spot is gorgeous."Photo: SteveD.

34

Bodrum, Turkey

Along the southern coast of the peninsula of the same name, Bodrum has an ancient history and was the site of one of the 7 Wonders of the Ancient World (the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus). It also has some amazingly clear water. From the photographer: "[It's] so clear at certain places that boats appear to be floating in mid-air! It reminded me of Luke's Landspeeder from Star Wars."Photo: Oky - Space Ranger

35

Mystery spot

Another unidentified location. Anyone have an idea?Photo: Imgur

Lonely Planet Rarotonga & the Cook Islands (Country Guide)

Oliver Berry

Dreaming of a Polynesian paradise? Welcome to the Cook Islands: secluded beaches, cultural riches and the most spectacular scenery in the South Pacific. From bustling Rarotonga and beautiful ’Atiu to far-flung Pukapuka, let Lonely Planet help you find your own place in the sun.Be Spoilt For Choice – includes coverage of all 15 islandsDon't Get Lost – unless you want to: 34 maps to point you in the right directionGet Active – if that’s your thing: all the details on diving, snorkelling, trekking, windsurfing and cyclingSleep Soundly – the very best resorts, hostels and everything in betweenBefore You Book – find out what our author thought of your resort – get the honest scoop

Papa Mike's Cook Islands Handbook

Mike Hollywood

In 2005 The Cook Islands were the target of five cyclones in an incredible two-week stretch. The capital island of Rarotonga sustained substantial damage, and several of the outer islands sustained far greater damage. This second edition of Papa Mike's Cook Islands Handbook has up to date information on all the post cyclone changes in lodgings and restaurants, as well as expanded coverage of all outer islands in both the Southern and Northern group of the Cook Island Chain. So travel to a South Pacific Paradise that has changed little in the past century, to the islands of beautiful beaches and the friendliest people in the world. This guidebook is written in a relaxed style, full of helpful information, presented with a touch of humor and the author's personal opinions. You will enjoy the lighter side of this well-researched guidebook as you discover the natural beauty of these islands. The second edition of Papa Mike's Cook Islands Handbook includes expanded evaluations on virtually all lodgings on Rarotonga, from budget to luxury, including mail, phone, E-Mail and web site listings. Revised and expanded coverage of all thirteen occupied islands in the Cook Islands chain, including inter island flight and shipping schedules. This guidebook offers trip planning from virtually anywhere on the planet to the islands, with over sixty maps and pictures to enable the visitor to experience the pristine lagoons, cultural beauty and kindness of the islands and the people that inhabit them.

Lonely Planet Rarotonga, Samoa & Tonga (Travel Guide)

Lonely Planet

Lonely Planet: The world's leading travel guide publisher

Lonely Planet Rarotonga, Samoa & Tonga is your passport to the most relevant, up-to-date advice on what to see and skip, and what hidden discoveries await you. Surf the swells around the southern coastlines, hike the challenging Cross-Island Track, or check out Tonga's 'Stonehenge of the Pacific'; all with your trusted travel companion. Get to the heart of Rarotonga, Samoa and Tonga and begin your journey now!

Inside Lonely Planet Rarotonga, Samoa & Tonga Travel Guide:

Colour maps and images throughout Highlights and itineraries help you tailor your trip to your personal needs and interests Insider tips to save time and money and get around like a local, avoiding crowds and trouble spots Essential info at your fingertips - hours of operation, phone numbers, websites, transit tips, prices Honest reviews for all budgets - eating, sleeping, sight-seeing, going out, shopping, hidden gems that most guidebooks miss Cultural insights give you a richer, more rewarding travel experience -history, etiquette, lifestyle, sport, arts, architecture, literature, music, dance, craft, tattooing, environment, geography, ecology, religion, myths & legends, cuisine, politics Over 30 colour maps Covers Raratonga, Aitutaki, 'Atiu, Mangaia, Samoa, American Samoa, Tonga, Nuku'alofa, Ha'apai Group, Vava'u Group, Ma'uke and more

The Perfect Choice: Lonely Planet Rarotonga, Samoa & Tonga, our most comprehensive guide to Rarotonga, Samoa and Tonga, is perfect for both exploring top sights and taking roads less travelled.

Looking for more coverage? Check out Lonely Planet South Pacific guide for a comprehensive look at what the whole region has to offer.

Authors: Written and researched by Lonely Planet.

About Lonely Planet: Since 1973, Lonely Planet has become the world's leading travel media company with guidebooks to every destination, an award-winning website, mobile and digital travel products, and a dedicated traveller community. Lonely Planet covers must-see spots but also enables curious travellers to get off beaten paths to understand more of the culture of the places in which they find themselves.

Papa Mike's Cook Islands Handbook, 3rd Edition

Mike Hollywood

Third Edition of this popular Cook Islands Guidebook, containing updated information on all populated islands of the Cook Island chain. The 3rd edition is the initial e-book edition, enabeling readers with a wi-fi connections to access Web sites and e-mail addresses by clicking on the text of the book. The guide includes complete lodging and restaurant information as well as guides to the various tours and island night performances. Also contained are inter-island flight information and schedules as well as Rarotonga bus schedules. This guidebook offers trip planning from virtually anywhere on the planet to the islands, with over sixty maps and pictures to enable the visitor to experience the pristine lagoons, cultural beauty and kindness of the islands and the people who inhabit them..

Cook Islands Travel Map (varying scales) (International Travel Maps)

ITM Canada

Folded travel map, scale varies 1:25,000/1:100,000. Legend includes tracks, accommodation, airstrips, beaches, caves, cemeteries, churches, diving/snorkeling sites, gas stations, golf courses, points of interest, restaurants, ruins/archaeological sites, view points, cliffs, reefs. Includes brief history of the islands and an inset of Avarua Town.

The Cook Islands: Rarotonga, Aitutaki & Beyond: Travel Adventures

Thomas Booth

The Cook Islands, named after the British Captain who seems to have been everywhere in the Pacific, are scattered like tiny jewels over a large stretch of sea between Tahiti and SamoaRarotonga, the principal island, is 2,500 miles due south of Honolulu - as far south of the equator as Honolulu is north of it - a similarity that provides both places with ideal climates. But that's as far as the similarity goes, for in spite of their recently built international airport, the Cooks remain off the beaten path. Even Avarua, the port, capital, and mecca to these 15 islands, is little concerned with tourists. Here there are no buildings taller than the highest palm, no traffic lights, and the people - who speak English with a New Zealand accent - are friendly and don't regard visitors as walking money. All amenities, all reasonable comforts are available, and everything seems to work. You can drink the water, eat the vegetables, be addressed in English, there's no tipping, and happily for Americans the US dollar goes a fairly long way. The natural beauty, particularly on Rarotonga with its forest-covered mountains, verdant coastal plain, and fringing reef, is profound. It'll take your breath away when first seen and some insist that Rarotonga is a miniature English-speaking Tahiti. The population of these islands comes to a mere 18,000. On some of them there are 50 people, on others 700, a few are uninhabited, and, until recently, another had a population of just one. On Rarotonga, the largest island, there are 9,300 people. This independent nation may be small in population, but it is large in area. Cook Islanders are Polynesians, handsome light brown Polynesians, who refer to themselves with pride as the original Maoris - the ones who made the ancient voyage of discovery to New Zealand. They are outgoing people, hospitable and warm, but not nearly as animated as their Tahitian cousins who speak the same language.

Lonely Planet Rarotonga & the Cook Islands

Errol Hunt

This text explores the reefs, jungles and mountains of this island chain as well as details on how to reach isolated destinations. Historical and cultural background and coverage of important traditional and music festivals are also included.

NZ Frenzy South Island New Zealand 3rd Edition

Scott R Cook

The NZ Frenzy guidebooks are New Zealand's most comprehensive outdoors guidebooks. These aren't the typical Lonely Planet-type Travel Guide filled with hotels, tours, restaurants, museums, etc etc. The NZ Frenzy guidebooks are exclusively Outdoors guidebooks filled with walking trails, waterfalls, hot springs, beaches, caves, wildlife viewing, etc, etc. NZ Frenzy details the most-popular tourist attractions, but more importantly the guidebooks contain a myriad of off-the-beaten-path locations that local Kiwis consider the real New Zealand. Using NZ Frenzy will get you off the typical well-beaten tourist pathways and into a jaw-drop landscape away from the hustling tour buses. If you're going to New Zealand to travel on a guided tour bus, or planning to stay in just one location...then NZ Frenzy won't help you too much. But, if like most travelers, you are going to New Zealand to see and explore one of the world's most incredible and varied landscapes...then NZ Frenzy will be the best money you spend on your NZ adventure. NZ Frenzy will make your NZ travels far more unique and unforgettable than any other Travel Guide you'll buy.

Exercise normal security precautions

The decision to travel is your responsibility. You are also responsible for your personal safety abroad. The purpose of this Travel Advice is to provide up-to-date information to enable you to make well-informed decisions.

Crime

Petty crime occurs. Ensure that your personal belongings, passports and other travel documents are secure at all times.

Transportation

Traffic drives on the left. Coastal roads in Rarotonga are paved. Driving at night can be dangerous due to poor visibility and road conditions.

Consult our Transportation Safety page in order to verify if national airlines meet safety standards.

Swimming and water sports

Injuries and fatalities have occurred due to tidal changes and breaks in the reefs. Seek local advice on which parts of the lagoon are safe for swimming. Reef shoes are recommended.

Sports and aquatic equipment may not meet Canadian safety standards and may not be covered by your insurance. Ensure that your travel insurance covers these activities if you decide to rent equipment or take classes.

Health

Related Travel Health Notices
Consult a health care provider or visit a travel health clinic preferably six weeks before you travel.
Vaccines

Routine Vaccines

Be sure that your routine vaccines are up-to-date regardless of your travel destination.

Vaccines to Consider

You may be at risk for these vaccine-preventable diseases while travelling in this country. Talk to your travel health provider about which ones are right for you.

Hepatitis A

Hepatitis A is a disease of the liver spread by contaminated food or water. All those travelling to regions with a risk of hepatitis A infection should get vaccinated.

Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is a disease of the liver spread through blood or other bodily fluids. Travellers who may be exposed (e.g., through sexual contact, medical treatment or occupational exposure) should get vaccinated.

Influenza

Seasonal influenza occurs worldwide. The flu season usually runs from November to April in the northern hemisphere, between April and October in the southern hemisphere and year round in the tropics. Influenza (flu) is caused by a virus spread from person to person when they cough or sneeze or through personal contact with unwashed hands. Get the flu shot.

Measles

Measles occurs worldwide but is a common disease in developing countries, particularly in parts of Africa and Asia. Measles is a highly contagious disease. Be sure your vaccination against measles is up-to-date regardless of the travel destination.
 

Yellow Fever Vaccination

Yellow fever is a disease caused by the bite of an infected mosquito.

Travellers get vaccinated either because it is required to enter a country or because it is recommended for their protection.

* It is important to note that country entry requirements may not reflect your risk of yellow fever at your destination. It is recommended that you contact the nearest diplomatic or consular office of the destination(s) you will be visiting to verify any additional entry requirements.
Risk
  • There is no risk of yellow fever in this country.
Country Entry Requirement*
  • Proof of vaccination is not required to enter this country.
Recommendation
  • Vaccination is not recommended.
Food/Water

Food and Water-borne Diseases

Travellers to any destination in the world can develop travellers' diarrhea from consuming contaminated water or food.

In some areas in the Oceanic Pacific Islands, food and water can also carry diseases like hepatitis A. Practise safe food and water precautions while travelling in the Oceanic Pacific Islands. Remember: Boil it, cook it, peel it, or leave it!


Insects

Insects and Illness

In some areas in the Oceanic Pacific Islands, certain insects carry and spread diseases like chikungunya, dengue fever, Japanese encephalitis, lymphatic filariasis and malaria.

Travellers are advised to take precautions against bites.


Malaria

Malaria

There is no risk of malaria in this country.


Animals

Animals and Illness

Travellers are cautioned to avoid contact with animals, including dogs, monkeys, snakes, rodents, birds, and bats. Certain infections found in the Oceanic Pacific Islands, like rabies, can be shared between humans and animals.


Person-to-Person

Person-to-Person Infections

Crowded conditions can increase your risk of certain illnesses. Remember to wash your hands often and practice proper cough and sneeze etiquette to avoid colds, the flu and other illnesses.

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and HIV are spread through blood and bodily fluids; practise safer sex.


Medical services and facilities

Medical services and facilities

Medical and dental services are available on Rarotonga, including hospital and emergency services. Two pharmacies are available for prescription medicine. Hospital and medical facilities on the outer islands are limited. The Cook Islands are not equipped with hyperbaric chambers. In the event of a major accident or illness, medical evacuation may be required. Medical transport is very expensive and payment is often required up front.

Keep in Mind...

The decision to travel is the sole responsibility of the traveller. The traveller is also responsible for his or her own personal safety.

Be prepared. Do not expect medical services to be the same as in Canada. Pack a travel health kit, especially if you will be travelling away from major city centres.

You are subject to local laws. Consult our Arrest and Detention page for more information.

Laws

A valid Cook Islands driver’s licence is required for all drivers and can be obtained from the police station in Avarua upon presentation of your own licence. The cost is NZ$20.

Homosexual activity is illegal.

Culture

Dress conservatively to avoid offending local sensitivities.

Money

The currency is the New Zealand dollar (NZD), supplemented by Cook Island dollars and coinage for local use. Major credit cards are accepted at most hotels, shops and restaurants. Traveller’s cheques are accepted at the main shops and hotels. Automated banking machines are available on Rarotonga, but are extremely limited elsewhere.

Climate

The rainy (or monsoon) and typhoon seasons in the South Pacific are from November to April. Severe rainstorms can cause flooding and landslides, resulting in significant loss of life and extensive damage to infrastructure, and hampering the provision of essential services. Disruptions to air services and to water and power supplies may also occur. Keep informed of regional weather forecasts, avoid disaster areas and follow the advice of local authorities.
 
During a typhoon or monsoon, hotel guests may be required to leave accommodations near the shore and move to safety centres inland. Travel to and from outer islands may be disrupted for some days.

Consult our Typhoons and monsoons page for more information.