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Countries Information & Lifestyle
 Cook Islands Cook Islands

Country Information & Lifestyle

 Tomorrow is another day, make it worth looking forward to

Tomorrow is another day, make it worth looking forward to

Kia Orana - Welcome to the Cook Islands, a widely scattered group of 15 islands located in the south-east Pacific Ocean approximately half-way between New Zealand and Hawaii.

Over some 2 million square kms, they lie in the centre of the Polynesian triangle, flanked to the west by the Kingdom of Tonga and the Samoas and to the east by Tahiti and islands of French Polynesia.

The climate is tropical, the pace of life slow and "Island Time" is as much a part as palm trees and clear blue waters. Relax, leave your stress behind, unwind and let the islands wash over you.

The Cook Islanders are Polynesians who are closely related in tradition, language, culture and customs to the Maoris of New Zealand and although English is the official language Maori is also spoken. The people are very friendly, with a vibrant local culture of dance, music and crafts, and the islands have a low crime rate.

The Cook Islands lifestyle exudes warmth, happiness and respect and they are a proud people with a rich culture and a lush tapestry of traditions that entwine their daily lives, so come and share some of this with them.

Rarotonga is the vibrant centre of the Cook Islands and where the government resides. It is dominated by high mountain peaks from which lush rain forests cascade and provide a dramatic backdrop to a palm-fringed shore. The island is almost encircled by a reef which harbours a lagoon of clear turquoise waters and many inviting white sand beaches.

Avarua is the capital and is the commercial centre of the Cook Islands with a friendly bustling atmosphere during the day and a good selection of banks, shops, restaurants and visitor facilities.

Acatiu Harbour has a constant stream of yachts calling in from all parts of the world, fishing boats, diving charters, inter-island freighting and many cruise liners frequenting the port.

Sample the local cuisine where locally caught fresh fish and seafood are excellent, for example "Ika Mata" is a delicious South Pacific favourite made from raw fish marinated in lime juice and served cold with coconut cream, absolutely superb.

In 1595 the Spanish navigator Alvaro de Mendala became the first European to sight Pukapuka the Cook Islands and the Portuguese Pedro Fernandez de Quiros who sighted Rakahanga in 1606.

There was no further European contact until over 160 years later in 1773 when Captain James Cook, for whom the island group was eventually named, sighted Manuae atoll which he named Harvey Island. On a later voyage he also discovered Palmerston, Takutea, Mangaia and Atiu in 1773. The islands became a British Protectorate in 1888 were annexed to New Zealand in 1901 and became self-governing in 1965.

Rarotongas' official discovery is credited to Captain Phillip Goodenough in the Cumberland in 1814, whilst seeking sandalwood. A favourite stop for whalers in the 1850s the British flag was raised in 1888.

To experience Mangaia is to feel the true warmth of the people, past and present. This is the southernmost island, second largest in the Cooks and the oldest in the group renowned for it's "ei pupu" shell leis.

Lying roughly 176 km south east of Rarotonga and 45 minutes by air the island is incredibly serene and beautiful from its rugged coastline to the lush green interior. The surrounding reef has a shallow lagoon and a few sandy coves can be found tucked in the coastal makatea, secluded for swimming and sunbathing.

The island is peaceful beyond belief and a place where you can trek for miles along the coast or in the interior and not meet another soul, hear a vehicle nor see any dwellings, just plantations of pineapples, vegetables, tato, kumara and a variety of other crops.

One of the most fascinating features is an amazing series of caves that run throughout the makatea. In Teruarere Cave among the labyrinths is the last resting place for previous generations whose remains can still be seen by torchlight.

Atiu-Enuamanu, the island of birds and legends is the third largest in the group forming part of the southern section of the Cook Islands. Atiu is a small volcanic island with central elevated flat-topped mass of volcanic rock surrounded by a raised coral limestone reef called a Makatea. It is a fascinating destination riddled with caves, maketea, raised coral atoll, cliffs and white sand beaches. Orovaru Beach is where Captain James Cook landed in 1777.

The barrier reef lies close to the shore and the four main villages, Areroa, Tengatangi, Mapumai and Teenui are grouped together on a central plateau some 71 meters above sea level. Learn the legend of lovers Tangaroa, the God of the Sea and son of Rangi and Papa, and Inutoto, and their association with Anatakitaki Cave.

Visit Rak's Cave with its fifteen different chambers and learn about the generations of the Rakanui family who have lived and died in this magnificent hideaway inside the islands lush rain forest.

Mitiaro-Nukuroa is one of the cluster of islands in the Southern group called Nga Pu Toru, Atiu, Mitiari and Mauke, this island is the least visited by tourists. It has two freshwater lakes in the interior, Rotonui and Rotoiti full of Itiki, freshwater eels, that are considered a delicacy in the Cook Islands and a popular dish.

Renowned as one of the friendliest, village life revolves around the Christian Church Betela where visitors can experience the rousing hymns on Sunday service. A smattering of small sandy coves and beaches can be found along the coastline and the small tight knit community shows its pride in the neatness of the villages, Takaue and Arai, life is uncomplicated and the island produces tipoto, a fragrant lime

A visit to the Cook Islands is not complete without seeing the beautiful island of Aitutaki Araura Enua, which is less than an hours flight from Rarotonga and lies 220 km north of Rarotonga.

The island is partly volcanic and the breathtaking allure of its crystal turquoise waters and sparkling white beaches this is a place of unsurpassed natural beauty and tranquillity. Captain Bligh and HMS Bounty landed on the island in 1798.

Legend has it that Maungapu, Aitutaki's highest hill at one time resided at the top of Rarotonga's Raemaru Peak and was brought to Aitutaki by victorious warriors after a fierce battle.

The spectacular lagoon you view from the peak is abundant with coloured fish of many varieties and is perimeter is sprinkled with many small, charming and accessible, uninhabited islands(motus).

Frisbie's 'Island of Desire', isolated insular and renowned for its unusual social customs, Pukapuka lies far to the north-west, nearly 800 miles from Rarotonga and 280 miles north-east of Samoa.

Only recently opened up to air-services, the population have preserved innovative ways of sustaining a comfortable life almost oblivious to the outside world.

A substantially different dialect and a passion for Kirikiti (island cricket of Samoan origin) are two of the things that set Pukapuka aside from the rest of the Cook Islands.

Its remote location has kept the traditions and culture of Pukapuka largely unchanged for centuries and they are perhaps more similar to those of Samoa due to its relatively close proximity. This is a beautiful atoll with untouched white sandy beaches and has excellent swimming and snorkelling with a reputation for its finely woven mat.

Suwarrow was for many years the home of a New Zealand hermit, Tom Neale, who wrote of his life in a book - "An island to oneself". Today a caretaker and his family live on the atoll for most of the year, their solitude disturbed only by the occasional visiting yacht. Suwarrow is now a conservation reserve.

This is one of the few atolls in the Northern Group with an accessible lagoon and occasional cruising yachties are among the fortunate few to visit its pristine shores. A true atoll, Suwarrow has one of the best harbours in the Pacific. The islets are the original treasure islands with buried chests from Spanish galleons being found there.

The Cook Islands - live differently, fall beneath the spell of a master storyteller to hear words woven into magic and legends. The islands have so many great myths and legends, you will be fascinated.

The Cook Islands are a sanctuary of tranquillity, the beauty and charm of the islands is matched only by the friendliness of the people.

Purchasing a Property

Foreigners cannot purchase residential land per se in the Cook Islands. If a foreigner wishes to live in the Cook Islands and buy residential property they must invest in a business and hold it for five years prior to being granted approval to purchase residential property.


The present Government policy is that the present minimum of investment is $NZD 1.000000 in Rarotonga and/or 4NZD 500.000 for the outer islands. The exception is that a foreigner may buy an existing business for less than the above stated capital expenditure if no local person wishes to do so.

Before either purchasing a business or commencing a new business an overseas investor must obtain approval from the Development Investment Board which is a Government agency monitoring foreign investment and requires any foreign enterprise to obtain registration prior to commencing a business or effecting the purchase of an existing business.

A foreign enterprise is a person who is not a Cook Islander or a company in which one-third more of the shares are owned by or controlled by non-Cook Islanders. Land is leased for a 6-year basis, the initial purchases of the goodwill is followed by a nominal rent paid to the landowner.

There are no government property taxes or "rates".

Leases must be reviewed by the Leases Approval Tribunal and confirmed by the High Court. Investment by foreigners is regulated by the Development Investment Board, commonly known as "DIB". It is generally a user-friendly process with investors background being checked.

If you have a criminal record you will not be allowed to invest here. Some economic areas are reserved for locals and other areas such as tourist accommodation allow some investment by foreigners.

When a business is purchased work permits are ordinarily issued by the Immigration Department in conjunction with the investment process. It is generally easier to purchase an existing business than to establish a new one from scratch.

It is essential that you obtain professional advice before entering into any kind of agreement.

Fees & Taxes

A resident Domestic Limited Company pays corporate tax of 20% on worldwide profits. A non-resident Domestic Company pays corporate tax of 20% on profits derived from income sourced in the islands.

There is no capital gains tax.

Stamp duty is payable on certain documentary transactions in the Cook Islands.

Withholding taxes of 15% are payable on any dividends, interest or royalties paid by Cook Island companies to non-residents of the islands the rate of withholding tax for payments to residents is 5%. Interest payable to non-resident depositors by banks is free of withholding tax.

Domestic companies must pay corporation tax at 20% on a bonus issue to shareholders.

Business licenses are required to operate domestically but not by offshore companies. Certain domestic activities are reserved to Cook Islanders.

Personal income tax between 20-30% depending on income.


The Entry, Residence and Departure Act of 1977 states that anyone other than a Cook Island citizen or permanent resident who wishes to live and work on the islands must first obtain a work and residence permit.

If you wish to live for an extended period of time then the Ministry of Immigration will grant a month by month permit up to a maximum of six months, and then you would have to leave for 24 hours before returning again on a visitor permit.

The Cook Islands does not readily accept people for citizenship. If you are a non New Zealand citizen then before you can get permanent residency you must have lived for ten years, otherwise if you wanted residency you would have to work here or own or manage a business.

For short term entry a passport, proof of sufficient funds and an onward/return ticket are required. For many nationals a visa is not required for up to 31 days.

Check with the Embassy/Consulate in your home country before departure.

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