In the Cook Islands these are the two words we use to greet each other, at any time of day or night. Literally, it translates as, 'May you live'. Align this train of thought with idyllic tropical surroundings; a rich cultural heritage, and an enviable relaxed environment then you'll find yourself embracing our piece of 'heaven on earth'.
Rarotonga, situated in the Pacific is 1 of the 15 islands that make up the Cook Islands. Rarotonga is the largest island of the group and by this association the main island, where the seat of government and administration lies. Rarotonga, with its International Airport provides a gateway for its people to the rest of the world and for the people of the world, an entry point to the 15 islands of the Cooks.
Rarotonga has less than 8000 people living on it. You begin to wonder where they all are after you've been here a couple of days. Circling Rarotonga on the Ara Tapu (main coastal road) will see you travel through the 3 vaka or districts. (See Rarotonga's Traditional Side) You'll come across stallholders in the various villages, selling pawpaw, limes, lemons, grapefruit, oranges, drinking coconuts, star fruit, passionfruit, guava, mangoes and bananas. Most of these foods are seasonal. (See Local Food) Driving on the Ara Metua (inland road) will show you another side of Rarotonga that will have you see plantations of local produce, local flora and fauna and maybe a few more locals. Although this road does not go right around the island, just hop back on to the Ara Tapu and you can link up further along.
Avarua is the main town of Rarotonga and it is here that you will find Internet services, cafes, restaurants, bars, souvenir shops, supermarkets, money exchange, Western Union Transfer apolice station, shopping centre, cinema, banks and car and bike rental places. The restaurants here are well established are also, indulge in breakfast at Salsa Café renowned for its Smoked Marlin Hash with Poached Eggs. Lunch at the Tamarind House with Lasagna made from layers of Taro leaves; save some room for the best cheesecakes on the island. Dinner at Trader Jacks watching the O'e Vaka training in the harbor tops off the day.
There are 2 international airlines that fly here. Air New Zealand and Pacific Blue. Air NZ travels from NZ to the Cook Islands return and also NZ through to Cook Islands and onto Los Angeles, return at certain times of the year. Pacific Blue flies into the Cook Islands, via Auckland and return.
If you are not a Cook Islander or a resident of the Cook Islands you must have a return ticket before entering. Visitors are granted a stay of up to a month. It is recommended that you have your accommodation sorted before arriving. If you'd like to stay longer, extensions can be granted for a fee from the the immigration office. Apply for an extension prior to your date of departure, do not leave it to the last minute, stressing out in paradise is not a good look.
The 2 main languages spoken in the Cook Islands are Rarotongan Maori and English. You can pretty much get around without needing to know any Rarotongan Maori, although an honest attempt will never go unnoticed. In the glossary below, you will find a few words and phrases that may add to your Cook Islands experience.
We have two main seasons here on Rarotonga, summer and winter. Summer is from November through to April, and winter is from May through to October. Summer is generally our rainy season. Note that Rarotonga being on a small island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean is susceptible to changing weather. It can be sunny on one side of the island and rainy on the other. Temperatures range from 21 - 30 degrees in summer and 17 - 25 degrees in winter.
Rarotonga is divided into 3 vaka (tribes), Te Au o Tonga, Takitumu and Puaikura. Within each vaka are oire (villages) and within each oire are tapere (sub districts). Each vaka is headed by an ariki (high chief). Te Au o Tonga starts from Tuoro at the top of the west side of the island and continues clockwise across the top of the island to the end of Tupapa, at the top of the east coast. There are 3 ariki in Te Au o Tonga, Makea Nui, Makea Vakatini and Makea Karika. Takitumu starts from Matavera at the top of the east coast of the island and continues clockwise around the southern coast to the end of Titikaveka, which is the south west coast of the island. There are 2 ariki in Takitumu Pa Ariki and Kainuku. Puaikura starts at the south west coast of the island and continues up the west coast to Tuoro. The sole ariki for Puaikura is Tinomana Ariki.
Located in between Samoa, Tonga and Niue to the west and Tahiti and French Polynesia to the east, we are a group of 15 islands. Of these, only 12 are inhabited. We are geographically divided into 2 groups. The Northern group consist of 6 islands and the Southern group make up the other 9. Each island has their own identity, which makes them unique. Our population stands at 14000, with half of that amount living on the largest island Rarotonga, situated in the Southern group. As the capital and the gateway into the Cook Islands, Rarotonga is also the economic and administrative center. The Cook Islands is renowned as a popular travel destination that still remains a somewhat untouched paradise.
History speaks of the Pacific people navigating their way throughout the largest ocean in the world, discovering and settling on islands and then travelling back and forth between them. Using the sun, the stars, the currents and wind patterns, our ancestors asserted themselves as the greatest navigators in the history of mankind. Cook Island people were a part of this Pacific migration. Each island in the Cooks' can trace their origin back to those that first landed on them and even further back to where they had migrated from. The Cook Islands were not united as one country at this point, although contact was frequent as people sailed throughout the 2 million square kilometers of Pacific Ocean that surrounds us. Cook Islanders are a Maori people with close links and similarities to the indigenous people, culturally and linguistically, of the Eastern Polynesian islands of Tahiti, French Polynesia, Hawaii, Aotearoa / New Zealand and Rapanui / Easter Island. In 1901, afraid of being colonized by the French, Ariki (high chiefs) in Rarotonga chose to be annexed by New Zealand under the British Crown. It was at this time that all 15 islands were united as a country under one name. In 1965 the Cook Islands became a self-governing country with strong ties between the two countries, and this has enabled us to hold NZ citizenship.
The London Mission Society (LMS) missionaries first arrived in the Cook Islands at Aitutaki in 1821, with a Tahitian convert, Papehia. In 1823 they arrived in Rarotonga and set about converting people. From here the rest of the Cook Islands and other parts of the Pacific were converted. The Cook Islands adhere to Sunday as being a day of rest. The whole island comes to a standstill. There are 7 denominations that co-exist here. They are Cook Islands Christian Church (CICC), Latter Day Saints, Seventh Day Adventist, Catholic, Bahai, Apostolic and Assembly of God. When you drive around the island of Rarotonga, you will see large white coral churches. Our people built these CICC churches when the missionaries arrived here. CICC church services are a popular attraction with our visitors. Attending a service you will hear our traditional hymn (Imene Tuki) being sung. A polyphonic style of singing, the Imene Tuki will remain with you well after the service is over. You will marvel at the 'rito' hats worn by our women. Intricately designed, it is hard not to be taken in by their beauty. Sitting upstairs of the Avarua CICC church will give you a great vantage point to take in how our culture has survived within the church. The first Sunday of every month is white Sunday, where you can partake in communion. Visitors are always welcome to attend church services around the island. After the service all visitors are invited to have refreshments with members of the parish. Common sense prevails when it comes to attire.
Only in Paradise will you wear flowers and in the Cook Islands, we love them. The Tiare Maori (gardenia taitensis) is a favorite here, followed closely by the Tiare Taina (gardenia augusta) and the Tipani 'Ara'iti (frangipani). You'll more than likely see people wearing a flower in their ear or in their hair, or an 'ei katu' (floral headpiece) or floral necklaces. People will wear flowers at anytime of day or night. Wearing flowers here is not gender specific. Floral headpieces and necklaces can be purchased from the markets every Saturday morning.
While you are visiting here you may hear people address someone as Mama or Papa. This is a sign of respect we have for our elderly that has been ingrained in us since an early age. Actually, our culture is based heavily on respect. Here on Rarotonga, as is throughout the Cook Islands, local people will tend to bury their beloved ones on their own property. Graves are featured, and cared for to keep the deceased a part of the lives of those still living.
Rarotonga is home to many, some from the outer islands, some from further abroad. The term 'local' has many meanings. There are 'locals' who were born here and either have left and returned to live, or have never left to live overseas. There are 'locals' who were born overseas who have blood ties through parents or grandparents. There are 'locals' who have married someone who has blood ties to Rarotonga and so on. Some 'locals' have never walked out to the reef, some are afraid to swim beyond the reef. Some 'locals' have never worked in a taro plantation, or know how to put an umu down or husk a coconut. Some 'locals' don't speak or understand the Maori language and beyond all of this is the fact that all the locals want our country to remain the paradise that it is
The Punanga Nui markets are located two minutes from the center of town and are open from Monday - Saturday. From Monday through to Friday the permanent stalls at the markets open selling all matter of arts and crafts, as well as, food stalls. On Saturday morning the markets come alive as casual stallholders set up by 7am and locals and visitors alike flock in to scramble for seasonal fruits and vegetables, flowers, ei katu, fresh fish, with all sorts of meals. Try to get there early for the best flowers and produce.
There are 2 buses on Rarotonga, Clockwise and Anti-Clockwise. The drivers will tell you that they are the only one's who run on time. There is no bus station, just a bus stop, at Cooks Corner, located in Avarua next door to the main CITC store. They depart from there every hour on the hour to go 'clockwise', and 25 minutes after every hour, to go 'anti-clockwise'. Outside the main township of Avarua you will see the occasional bus stop. If you don't have one in your immediate vicinity and you see the bus coming, signal to the driver to stop.
Taxis' on the Rarotonga do not have a meter that ticks away cents and dollars. Rather you will be charged a set rate. Standard rates are $15 for every quarter of the island that you pass through. Check out the Yellow Pages in our Cook Islands Telephone Directory for phone numbers.
Scooters, motorbikes, bicycles, cars and vans are available for hire at affordable prices from various places around Rarotonga. Scooters are an easy and enjoyable way of getting around the island.
White sandy beaches and beautiful lagoons, with varied shades of blue, surround most of Rarotonga. Swim with tropical fish, in the best place for snorkeling, the Fruits of Rarotonga. You can find a quiet spot that will be yours for most of the day without seeing too many people. If you want to try kayaking in the lagoon, then drive over to Muri Beach where you can hire them from Captain Tama's Aquasports. Always wear a hat and sun block and take plenty of water with you. Tread carefully during the months of December and February. This is the breeding season for 'trigger fish'. If you walk close to where they lay their eggs, they will nip you. Just slap the top of the water to scare them away. It is advisable to wear reef shoes when going in the sea.
Nightlife here on Rarotonga is growing. Rarotonga's main strip of clubs and bars is in Avarua the main township. You can walk the whole strip in 15 minutes. Bars and clubs are licensed to serve until midnight Monday through to Saturday, except for Friday where they close at 2am. With Friday being the big night people usually hop from place to place. Some of our favourites include the fishing club, Trader Jacks, Whatever Bar and Rehab. Sunday is observed as a sacred day and therefore alcohol is not sold unless it accompanies a meal at a restaurant. Alcohol is also sold around the island in local shops, between the hours of 9am - 9pm and at the two liquor wholesalers in Town from 9am until 6pm.
A great way to get a broad idea of some of our musical traditions and culture is to go to an island night. Filled with great food, singing and dancing, island nights are not just for visitors on the island, but for locals as well, many of whom are or were dancers or musicians themselves. Island Nights are held at a number of venues around the island and one can be found most nights of the week. Most are a set price for a meal and a show. Sometimes for a reduced fee you are able to just watch the show.
Okay, you're on holiday. You've more than likely tried Spaghetti Bolognese, Sushi, and burgers. Be brave, try at least one traditional dish. Some of our foods are rich because a main ingredient in many of them is coconut cream. Traditionally, meals were cooked in an Umu or earth oven. Some still prepare their food this way and it is sometimes sold at the Punanga Nui Markets. At some 'Island Nights', an umu is prepared for dining guests.
The fish on Rarotonga is fantastic with it most of it being game fish such as Marlin, Wahoo, Tuna. There are a couple of fish shops in the Avarua area which sell fresh fish. Ask a local (see tan) for directions. Many restaurants have fish on their menu. Try the 'broadbill'. You won't be disappointed.
Rarotonga offers a variety of 'Tours' for you to experience more of our island paradise. Tours investigating the islands interior, our cultural and sacred places, the surrounding reef and shipwrecks, the outer islands, scenic flights, fishing tours, Night life. All these and more are available for the adventurous.
Rarotonga has a very healthy sports ethos. Volleyball, rugby league, soccer, rugby union, netball, boxing, handball, basketball, touch football, darts, lawn bowls, triathlon, swimming, outrigger canoe racing, sailing, golf, squash, marathons, athletics and tennis are all codes represented here. Usually people will play more than 1 sport throughout the year. Having a very competitive edge, sport in Rarotonga also has its social aspect. There are a number of sports that are played here that are quite new to the island, and we have welcomed the training given to us by visiting experienced sportspeople.
Traditional dance in the Cook Islands has always been an important part of our culture. Dance is encouraged at an early age and instilled throughout our lives as a reminder of who we are. Sensuous in its form, Cook Islands traditional dance continues to evolve, and yet maintain the essence of 'storytelling' through movement. Movement stems from themes such as, our environment, our history, our love, our tragedies, our day-to-day living, etc. It is hard not to be mesmerized, as a dancer lures you in and takes you on a voyage. Traditional dance can be seen at festivals, events and 'Island Nights'.
Traditional carving is preserved here on Rarotonga and throughout the Cook Islands through continued practice. Here on Rarotonga, master carver, Michael Tavioni works out of his studio in Atupa. Michael is renowned for his many commissioned works. Michael's knowledge of traditional designs and patterns ensures the art of carving will remain with us for some time. Some local businesses on the island employ carvers and their works can be seen in stores such as Island Craft.
The art of Tatau (tattoo) has gone through a revival since being abolished by the missionaries in the 1800's. There are a number Tatau artists' here on Rarotonga who continue to etch out designs, both traditional and contemporary. The most experienced of them Tetini Pekepo, or simply just 'T', is sought after by many locals and visitors, alike.
Tivaivai (traditional quilting) has created itself a niche within the tapestry of Cook Islands culture. Since its introduction by missionaries, the art of Tivaivai has drawn interest and popularity through the visual impact it commands. Intricate and bold at the same time, the Tivaivai capture glimpses of our environment with such detail, you can't help but admire them and all the hard work involved in hand sewing them. Traditionally, Tivaivai are used as gifts from mothers and grandmothers, to their children, as well as, to wrap the coffins of beloved ones who pass away. Tivaivai generally sell around the thousand-dollar mark. Some are priced even higher. There are contemporary versions of the Tivaivai and these tend to be machine sewn.
The art of weaving can be seen everywhere here on Rarotonga. From thatched roofs, to baskets, fans, wall coverings, mats, bags, hats and fans. Weaving is taught in schools here at an early age. There are a lot of woven products that are made in the outer islands of the Cook Islands, such as the Rito hats and fans from the northern group islands. Wander into Island Craft and Tarani's in Avarua to have a look at the workmanship.
The sound of Cook Islands Drumming is exhilarating and unforgettable. Made from natural materials, these drums evoke the passion that we have for dance. Back in the day, drums were used to inform people. There were certain rhythms that were used for sacred rituals such as an investiture of a new ariki. When listening to the sound of drumming, a higher pitch sound means that the item being performed or the group come from the Northern Group and the lower pitch brings it down to the Southern Group of the Cook Islands. This is another traditional art form that is being taught in schools.Cook Island Drum Sample
With increasing awareness of the contemporary visual arts scene here in the Cook Islands, Local and overseas-based artists' are establishing themselves here and abroad with increasing success. Among many are Ian and Kay George, Ani Dunn, Manavaroa Tim Buchannon, Bianca Whitaker, Eruera Ted Nia, Joan Rolls-Gragg, Varu Samuel, Jason Tini, Mahiriki Tangaroa and New Zealand based artists' David Te Ata and Sylvia Marsters. Accomplished local artists such as Manavaroa Tim Buchannon and Eruera Ted Nia may only exhibit once a year as their time is spent on 'commissions' for local businesses or visiting travelers'. Eruera has the'Inanui' art gallery in Avarua. It would be worth your while dropping in to have a chat with Ted and have a look around his gallery. Manavaroa works from his studio at home and can be called up to view his work. You can see his work at the Beachcomber Gallery, Sails Restaurant and the Bank of Cook Islands.
Focus on the Contemporary Arts by Pacific Peoples has grown over the last 20 years internationally. This focus has seen audiences, critics and art practitioners captivated with dance, visual arts, literature, performance, music and theatre from within the Pacific region. Here in the Cook Islands, our artists' both local and abroad, are contributing to this focus through various mediums.
Phonetic pronounciations in brackets.Kia Orana - (key or rahna) Tip - roll the rah | English 'Hello'