(self-governing in free association with New Zealand; Cook Islands is fully responsible for internal affairs; New Zealand retains responsibility for external affairs and defense in consultation with the Cook Islands)
Capital | Avarua
Population | 11, 488 (July 2010 est.)
Area | 240 SQ KM
Official Language | Maori, English
Holidays | Constitution Day, fist Monday in August (1965)
Currency | NZ dollars (NZD)
Time Zone | UTC -10
Best Time to Visit | April to November (the dry season)
Connecting with the Culture | Hiking the lush mountain of Rarotonga. Taking a swim in the turquoise lagoon of Aitukaki. Whale-watching from any of the main islands. Spelunking the caves or Atiu, Ma’uke, Mitiaro and Mangaia. Taking in the scenery (and some pictures) from Rangimotia, the highest point on Mangaia
Read | An Island to Oneself, the account of hermit Tom Neal, who lived on Suwarrow Atoll.
Listen | to Drums, Songs and Chants of the Cook Islands, a great sample of local music.
Watch | The Other Side of Heaven, a delightful coming of age tale that was mostly filmed on Rarotonga.
Eat | ika mata (raw fish in coconut sauce) or anga kuru akaki ia (stuffed breadfruit)
Drink | at a tumunu (or bush beer-drinking session), akin to the ancient Polynesian kava-drinking ceremonies in Fiji or Samoa.
In a Word | Kia orana (may you live long!)
Characteristics | Saucy traditional dancing; pandanus-thatched roofs; deserted atolls ripe for diving; breadfruit served at every meal; tax-haven for well tanned fat cats.
Surprises | The stunning black pearl jewelry for sale; soulful Christian hymns sung in churches everywhere; beneath a Western veneer, layers of Cook Islands culture survive. Every native Cook Islander is part of a family clan, and each clan is connected to the ancient system of chiefs. Rarotonga’s six ariki clans are based on the original land divisions from when Maori first arrived on the island many centuries ago.