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The Cook Islands (map) is a self-governing island country in the South Pacific Ocean in free association with New Zealand. It is an archipelago with 15 islands spread out over 2.2 million km2 of ocean.
*Northern Cook Islands (map). Low coral atolls close to the equator. The islands are sparsely inhabited and difficult to travel to.
*Southern Cook Islands (map). Mostly volcanic and hilly islands, with a few atolls. These islands host most of the population and includes the two main destination islands of *Rarotonga (map) and *Aitutaki (map).
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The first European contact with the islands took place in 1595 when the Spanish navigator Álvaro de Mendaña de Neira sighted the island of Pukapuka, which he named San Bernardo (Saint Bernard).
Many Cook Islanders will tell you how there are more Cook Islanders living in mainland New Zealand and Australia than in the Cook Islands. The population of the Cook Islands is less than 15,000 but there are over 50,000 Cook Islanders living in mainland New Zealand, and over 30,000 in Australia.
Cyclone season is November to March, but there’s a large cyclone only once every five years or so.
When you book a flight to the Cook Islands you must also book your onwards ticket. The Cook Islands issue entry permits, not visas. On arrival a bona fide visitor is granted a 31-day entry permit that may be extended up to a maximum of 6 months by application to the Cook Islands Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Immigration. You are not permitted to work if you are in the Cook Islands as a visitor.
Rarotonga International Airport is the main gateway. There are daily services to Auckland (3½ hours) and weekly services to Sydney and Los Angeles.