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Cook Islands

Main attractions

Te Manga, Rarotonga
Te Manga mountains, Rarotonga / Marcus Gleinig, Wikimedia Commons. CC BY-SA 3.0

The diverse Cook Islands represent a true spirit of southern seas - on many of these islands people still are living slow paced and tasty lives amidst beautiful scenery. As always, there is the other side of coin: frequent warfare in the past, terrible hurricanes and worries about rising sea level. Islands are associated with New Zealand - but nevertheless they represent an independent nation.

Landmarks

Caves

  • Anatakitaki - Atiu. Approximately 1 km long cave with beautiful stalactites, stalagmites. Several sinkholes open to the cave. In this cave is nesting the rare and endemic Atiu Swiftlet (Aerodramus sawtelli).
  • Motuanga Cave - Mauke. Impressive cave system with 8 chambers, last two are underwater, reaching under the reef.
  • Vai Nauri - eastern side of Mitiaro. Large cave chamber with a pool in it, one of the most beautiful sights in Cook Islands. Water falls in the pool from stalactites like a rain.
  • Vai Marere - Mitiaro. Large cave chamber with numerous stalactites. At the bottom deep blue pool. Water here reportedly has curative powers due to high sulphur content.
  • Vai Tamaroa - Mitiaro. Submerged cave. It has an vertical opening with 10 m tall walls.
  • Rimarau Burial Cave - Atiu. Cave with ancient burials, hundreds of human bones.
  • Tautua Cave - Mangaia. 335 m long cave with high cultural importance to Tonga'iti tribe. It was used as refuge during the wars and contains stone-faced platforms - marae and place for playing tupe disk game. In the far end of cave two burials.
  • Te Ana O Rakanui - Atiu. Ancient burial cave and former homestead of Rakanui family. Large cave consisting of many corridors and chambers.
  • Teruarere Cave - Mangaia. Beautiful, more than 791 m long cave with stalactites and stalagmites, flowstone formations, cascades and curtains. Ancient burial cave with at least 7 skeletons in it. Contains also a cultural layer left by Polynesian settlement - this cultural layer contains bones of birds which are extinct now.
  • Touropuru Cave - Mangaia. 587 m long burial cave of Totongaiti tribe, contains at least 31 skeletons. Some of deceased lie in canoes - they were buried here before Europeans came.
  • Tuitini Cave - Mangaia. 830 m long cave with four ancient burials.

Trees

  • Aitutaki banyan tree tunnel - east part of Aitutaki island. Giant banyan tree with asphalted two-way road going through its countless aerial roots. Road goes 53 m under the canopy of this tree.
  • Mauke Island Banyan Tree - interior of Mauke. Enormous banyan tree. Crown of this tree takes some 6,000 m². Stem of the tree consists of countless aerial roots creating phantasmagoric landscape.
  • Seven palms in Avarua - Rarotonga, centre of Avarua. Unique group of seven coconut palms growing in a perfect circle, all grown up from a single seed.
Te Rua Manga or Needle, Rarotonga
Te Rua Manga or The Needle in Rarotonga / dustinpsmith, Flickr. CC BY 2.0

Other natural landmarks

  • Fossil dog of Pukapuka - Pukapuka. Here were found remnants of dog who died around 300 BC. This dog was neither Polynesian dog nor Australian dingo. There are no finds of similar sized dogs elsewhere in Pacific and south-east Asia and it is discussed whether this is an aberration. This find testifies also that the island was inhabited earlier than other islands of region.
  • Te Rua Manga (The Needle) - Rarotonga. Impressive rock spire on the top of hill, top is 413 m above the sea level. This formation is seen almost from any location in Rarotonga island.
  • Wigmore's Waterfall (Papua Waterfall) - Rarotonga. The only waterfall of significant size in Cook Islands. Water is sliding down along steep cliff, height - approximately 15 m.

Man made landmarks

Arai te Tonga, Rarotonga
Arai te Tonga, Rarotonga / Robert Engbert, Flickr. CC BY 2.0
  • Ara Metua - Rarotonga. Ancient, approximately 29 km long ancient road, located inwards from the present road. Untill the middle of 20th century road for most part was paved with basalt and corall slabs well fitted together, in villages there was kerbing as well. Road served as the central element in spiritual, administrative and economical life of island. Possibly built as early as around 1050 AD.
  • Arai te Tonga - north-east of Rarotonga. Most sacred marae in Rarotonga, developed roughly in 1250 AD. Not much is visible above the soil. Includes also koutu - a meeting ground. It is not allowed to step on marae - it is still sacred.
  • Te Pare Fort - southern part of Mitiaro. Remnants of the only fort in Cook Islands, built during the wars between Atiu and Mitiaro. Remain 3 - 10 m tall walls of coral slabs. Fort has also a refuge cave for women and children.
  • Te Poaki O Rae - Aitutaki. One of several marae - ceremonial platforms on the island, with enormous upright stones installed. Te Poaki O Rae marae is the only cleared marae. It has up to 2.8 m tall standing stones, its area is 1.6 ha.
  • Treasures of Suwarrow - Suwarrow. There have been several treasure finds in this little island, and part of these treasures have been lost again and still are hiding on this island. In the 1870s here were found remnants of, presumably, European built structure of mysterious origin. Here was found also a skeleton: it was holding iron bolt.
  • Vaerota Marae - Rarotonga, Muri Beach. Well preserved marae where the seafarers received the blessings for success of their missions. Also human sacrifices were given to gods here.

Unique animals and plants

Numerous species of animals and plants are met only on Cook Islands. Beautiful green colored Cook Islands Fruit-dove (Ptilinopus rarotongensis) and Rarotonga Monarch (Pomarea dimidiata) is met only in Rarotonga and Atiu. Rarotonga Starling (Aplonis cinerascens) lives only in Rarotonga - some 100 birds still remain.

A small bird - Cook Islands Reed-warbler (Acrocephalus kerearako) - lives on some islands, mostly Mangaia and Miti'aro. The beautiful Mangaia Kingfisher (Todiramphus ruficollaris) is met only on Mangaia. Atiu Swiftlet (Collocalia sawtelli) is found nesting only in some caves of Atiu island.

Numerous endemic sea fishes, insects, land snails are living in Cook Islands.

Here are found 33 endemic species of plants, among them Rarotonga Ground Orchid (Habenaria amplifolia), up to 20 m high tree Homalium acuminatum and up to 25 m tall palm Pritchardia mitiaroana which grows only on Mitiaro island.

List of described attractions

ArrowAra MetuaIndustrial architecture, Megaliths
ArrowArai Te TongaAncient shrines, Megaliths

Map of Cook Islands

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