In 1830, the name Cook Islands was first used by a Russian cartographer, 50 years after the death of Captain James Cook, who explored many of these islands. It is a unique Polynesian country with an independent government “in free association with New Zealand”. This means that Cook Islanders carry New Zealand passports and New Zealand takes on many of the responsibilities of Foreign Affairs, including defense.
The resident population is estimated to be around 13.000 but declining. Although only 80.000 tourists visit the Cook Islands annually, tourism is the most important money earner for the islands. The most common language is English and Rarotongan Maori, but there are different dialects on most islands.
We visited three of the fifteen islands that make up the Cook Islands: Rarotonga, Aitutaki and Atiu, all very beautiful and intriguing, but very different from each other. These 15 islands are scattered over an area close to the size of Western Europe. They physically and socially divide into the northern group of six islands and the southern group of nine islands. The islands we visited are all in the southern group, since these are much more easily accessible.