This is the quintessential South Pacific destination, white sandy beaches, clear blue lagoons, vibrant coral, and iridescent tropical fish. The 15 Cook Islands are spread over 2 million square kilometers of ocean south of Hawaii, west of Tonga and east of Tahiti. Cook Islanders are generally happy, laid-back and (as they admit) God-fearing with a strong sense of culture - what's not to love about this place!
Well, cyclones for one. The peak season is November to March. On average they get one big one about every 5 years – but that's just an average, in 2005 they got 5 in 5 weeks!
Like tropical destinations the world over the Cook Islands have had an upsurge in Dengue Fever. In May 2012 there were 3 cases reported on the main island Rarotonga. Not many, but the first since 2009. You'd have to be really unlucky to get Dengue Fever here, but slap on some insect repellent just to be sure.
Scams against tourists are unheard of, and petty crime is minimal, but don't tempt fate by leaving mobile phones and music players lying on the beach while you go off snorkeling. The most common petty crime is taking of cash and valuables from the storage bins on rented motor scooters – pop everything in your bag.
If you decide to rent a motorcycle or scooter to get around be very cautious. The roads can be bad - and worse at night because of poor visibility. Most accidents requiring hospital treatment involve motorcycles or scooters.
If you rent any type of vehicle (2 or 4 wheeled) you will need a Cook Islands driver's license. The rental company will issue you a temporary paper license valid until 12pm the next day. After that you need to get an official one from the police station in Avarua. Hand over $NZ20 and you get a nice plastic card with your photo on it – no test required. It's kind of an unofficial tourist tax. But don't skimp on the expense, police conduct frequent license checks and will fine you.
The license does not magically give you the right to ride a motorcycle legally if you do not have a motorcycle license from home. Ignore that at your peril – if you have an accident, medical treatment in Cook Islands is expensive and your travel insurance is very unlikely to cover you if you were riding illegally.
The speed limit on Rarotonga is 50 km/h, except when riding a motorcycle without a helmet when it's 40 km/h. Helmets are not compulsory here, but the safety benefits of using one are so universally recognised that failing to do so may cause you problems with your travel insurer if you are injured – they may argue that you didn't take all reasonable steps to ensure your safety – it could be tricky, so wear a helmet anyway.
The police are also pretty strict at making sure you stay within the legal drink-driving limit, but at 0.08 the Cook Islands limit is among the highest in the world.
Hospital and medical facilities are limited and anything complicated usually requires evacuation to New Zealand (read expensive – especially if you don't have travel/medical insurance). Hospital treatment for the uninsured often requires an upfront payment, and it isn't cheap.
For a magnificent dive site there is sadly no hyperbaric decompression chamber in the Cook Islands. Do your dive tables carefully or find yourself on a medical flight to New Zealand.
It's recommended that you drink only bottled water, or sterilize local supplies before consuming.
The Cook Islands are a long way from anywhere and spread out over thousands of kilometers of ocean, consequently the stores may have limited supply and selection of foodstuffs. If you've picked ‘self-catering“ accommodation you might not be able to get much in the way of your usual fare. Happily the rules for visitors bringing their own supplies are very generous. Savvy travellers bring suitcases stuffed with goods and vacuum-sealed packed meats. If you fancy your favourite cheese and nibbles at sunset you might have to bring your own.
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