The Southern Cook Islands


My first concept of the Cook Islands was that of a cohesive set of islands that all had similar cultures, customs and languages.

As I spend more time here (having just passed our four-month mark living on Rarotonga) I realize that the islands are vastly different and spread out over almost 2 million square miles of ocean. It seems that an outsider must have grouped the Cooks together,  and indeed they did, as the naming of the Cooks was in honour of Capt. James Cook who sailed in the late 1700s to the South Pacific.

Here’s a breakdown of some interesting facts of each of the volcanic, hilly Southern islands of the Cooks:

Rarotonga: the biggest and most populous of the Cooks with a total population of roughly 15,000. Most visitors will travel to Raro, or pass through on their way to the outer islands. The only Cook Island with an international airport and all government goings-on are based here. Home of the highest peak in the Cooks, Te Manga, which happens to be right behind my house!

My home, Rarotonga

Aitutaki: The second most-visited island and recently voted one of the 15 Best Islands You’ve Never Heard Of by CNN and where ‘Survivor: Cook Islands’ was filmed. Aitutaki’s population is around 2000, and has one of the best lagoons in the world – perfect for honeymooners looking for ultimate beach living! One foot island is a small islet within the lagoon, and is the inspiration for New Zealand author Graeme Lay’s Leaving One Foot Island.


Gorgeous Aitutaki

Atiu: Also called ‘Enuamanu’, or land of the birds, is best known for its bird sanctuary and the only place in the world where you will find kopeka birds.  A great island to explore caves and home of the infamous Atiu Coffee – of which I can’t seem to find any of lately!

Atiu's caves

Atiu’s caves

MangaiaOnly a short flight away from Raro, is the second largest and most southerly Cook island. Wikipedia states that Mangaia is at least 18 million years old, making it the oldest island in the Pacific being . The whole of the Pacific used to be one huge volcano that has slowly eroded and sunk into the ocean – mind-baffling to think of how many sunrises and sunsets Mangaia has seen!

Old Mangaia

Old Mangaia

Ma’uke: One of our closest friends on the island is from Ma’uke and he describes it as ‘nothing better to do than drink [expensive] beer and get in fights over girls – there’s so few to choose from!’ He follows this statement with shoulder-shaking, face-scrunching laughter and I wonder if everyone from Ma’uke is as good-natured and comical as he is?! A must-see while on Ma’uke is the church that is literally divided into two – apparently two villages could not agree on how the church should be designed, so each village designed half, resulting in two separate entrances leading to one half-and-half church!

Mauke's divided church

Ziona, Mauke’s divided church

Mitiaro: Something must be in the water on this island because Mitiaro tore up the stage with their electric dancing at Te Maeva Nui this year! Said to be one of the friendliest islands in the Cooks, a great place to find woodcarvings, weaving and traditional vakas (outrigger canoes).

Magical Mitiaro

Magical Mitiaro

Manuae: An uninhabited atoll and marine park for turtles. An atoll is a ring of coral reef that encircles a lagoon, so there is no land per se and is not considered an island.  Kind of makes you want to go there to see nature at its finest with no human influence!

Turtle heaven!

Turtle heaven!

Palmerston: This is actually an atoll, not an island. An This is the atoll where the Englishman Willam Marsters began his legacy of marrying several Polynesian women, having 17 children, 54 grandchildren and nowadays hundreds of descendants! Everyone on Palmerston are descendants of Marsters and it’s a rather common last name here on Raro too!


Marsters’ atoll

Coming up next…the Northern group!

*All photos found online and I’ve referenced the sites if you click on the pics.


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