The Cook Islands are a self-governing parliamentary democracy in free association with New Zealand, located in Polynesia, in the middle of the South Pacific Ocean, between French Polynesia (Society Islands) to the east and Tonga to the west.
This archipelago has 15 inhabited islands spread out over 2.2 million square kilometres of ocean with no land between the tropical Cook Islands and Antarctica.
Furthermore, with the same time zone and latitude (south, rather than north) as Hawaii, the islands are sometimes thought of as “Hawaii down under”. Though smaller, it reminds some elderly visitors of Hawaii before statehood without all the large tourist hotels and other development.
Named after Captain Cook, who sighted them in 1770, the islands became a British protectorate in 1888. By 1900, administrative control was transferred to New Zealand; in 1965 residents chose self-government in free association with New Zealand. New Zealand handles defence, foreign affairs (including issuing passports) and currency; otherwise the islands are self-governing. This includes immigration, which is strictly controlled — even for non Cook Island New Zealanders.
Many Cook Islanders will tell you how there are more Cook Islanders living in New Zealand and Australia than in the Cook Islands. The population of the Cook Islands is less than 15,000. However, there are over 50,000 Cook Islanders living in New Zealand, and over 30,000 in Australia. Those remaining have often spent time in Auckland, Melbourne or Sydney before returning home.
Tropical, moderated by trade winds. Rarotonga has average maximum temperatures of around 25°C (77°F). In winter (May-October) and 29°C (82°F) in summer (November-April), temperatures in the northern islands are several degrees higher. Rainfall mostly occurs in summer, usually in the form of afternoon storms. Cyclone season is November to March, although the islands are hit by a big one only once every five years or so.