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November 18, 2007

Avaiki: Cook Islands is pure pure Pacific

COLOURFUL markets entice the visitor to the
Cook Islands to part with a few spare dollars.
NEVER TOO MANY COOKS HERE

David Ellis

In the beginning, so legend tells us, there was Avaiki, the idyllic heaven from whence the first adventurers set forth to inhabit the islands that were to become the South Pacific.

And, say those same legends, in the case of the Cook Islands these voyagers carried with them a unique spirit of serenity and tranquility that became the beauty that has lasted in these islands to this today.

But just whether Avaiki lay on land, in sea or in the skies above, legend does not say – suffice that life was not always heaven on earth in these islands that laze in the sun just five hours or so to the east of Auckland.
PEACEFUL now, but folk once-feared what
may be around the corner on the Cook Islands
Warriors Trail

"We have a toast to our visitors," says a local, a grin as wide as the pink and gold sunset that Cinemascopes the sky behind him. "Today, we welcome you to sit at our table, because in days gone by we would  have welcomed you to be on our table!"

The London Mission Society first came to the islands in 1823, and within 10 years the entire population had been converted from cannibalism to Christianity; today there are eight denominations amongst just 18,000 inhabitants.

And while tourists can visit an ancient marae where the chiefs once held court and perhaps shudder a little at the sight of a crumbling stone 'offering table,' today's extremely religious guides talk only in offerings to the gods of fruits, coconuts and taro – not of the human kind.

History passed down by word of mouth says that the first settlers landed 'from Avaiki' around 800AD, and that in the 13th century Chief Tangiia Nui from Tahiti and Chief Karika from Samoa joined forces to capture the Cook Islands from these first Avaiki inhabitants.

RESORT to relaxation in settings
like this at Coconuts Bach Resort.
Years later the itchy-footed Captain James Cook happened along, and the island group was officially named after him, after he noted them in his journal in 1773.

The tranquil Cooks don't get the big visitors numbers of some other South Pacific destinations due to their remoteness, but visitors are rewarded with a wonderfully laid-back environment in which the locals welcome visitors much like long-lost relatives.

And the islands have plenty to amuse and occupy the holidaymaker – or to lull those to whom the ideal South Pacific holiday is a late breakfast, a good book, a hotel pool, a bountiful lunch, an afternoon kip, a leisurely dinner with a glass or three or red or white, and bed.

And rainbows of cocktails in-between, purely of course, to stave off dehydration.

For the more active there's deep sea or reef fishing, bushwalking (the main island of Rarotonga has 13 walking trails, including a 4.5 hour cross-island trek along the once-feared Warrior Warpath,) village tours, a sailing club, golf club, bowling club, diving and snorkelling.

ESCAPISM – the Cook Islands' beaches are
a place of serenity and tranquility
To get about you can hire motor scooters or rental cars, or take the island bus for the 31km trip around Rarotonga, and a must-do is to drop into the shops for unique colourful stamps and the rare black pearl grown in the islands… and to dine on fish 'n chips at the waterfront Trader Jack's.

Or to search for the unique Cooks Islands' $3 bills that are now virtually out of circulation – due to the fact most have been snapped up by tourists.

An interesting half-day tour is with 4WD Raro Safari Tours high into the hinterland for spectacular views of the coast and lagoons. Their driver/guides are a wealth of historical and cultural information: why is there a church in every village, why do they bury their loved ones next to their homes rather than in a public cemetery, what is this magic cure-all called Nono, did Avaiki ever exist…?

And from high atop Arore Hill they'll show you the channel through which seven great canoes set out on a voyage of exploration 700 years ago that led them to discover New Zealand.

For information about holidaying in the Cook Islands, see travel agents, call Coral Seas Travel on 1800 641 803 or check-out www.coralseas.com.au           

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