Quick Facts

  • The Cook Islands population is about 17,791.
  • The capital city is Avarua, on Rarotonga.
  • Cook Islands Māori and its dialectic variants are closely related to both Tahitian and to New Zealand Māori.
  • Tourism accounts for approximately 75% of GDP; 115,000 tourists visit each year.
  • Cook Islands money is identical in value to New Zealand money; the coins and notes cannot be changed anywhere else in the world.
  • Land cannot be bought or sold, so ownership is changed through inheritance or marriage.
  • Rarotonga is the only island with an international airport, from which only two airlines fly (Air New Zealand and Pacific Blue/Virgin Australia).
  • The majority religion is Christianity, with about 70 percent of the population belonging to the Cook Islands Christian Church.
  • “Stone fish” (camouflaged like coral stone) are sometimes found in the lagoons. All visitors and locals are urged to wear footwear when swimming.

Language and culture

The official languages are Cook Islands Māori and English. Volunteers will receive basic language training at the start of the assignment and follow up as required. New Zealanders who speak Te Reo will have an advantage.

Music is an important part of Cook Islands culture, two key forms being traditional drumming and church singing. Woodcarving, weaving, painting and other handicrafts are important cultural activities as well as sources of income.

Housing and living conditions;

We provide volunteers with basic, furnished accommodation. Volunteers will have access to telephones, internet, restaurants, public transport systems and 24-hour power, although power outages occur occasionally. Volunteer housing will likely have gas facilities for cooking. The Cook Islands have the same electrical plug socket and voltage as New Zealand. Mains water supply may be fine for drinking but volunteers will often boil water, use a purifier or drink bottled water to be safer from contaminants.

Dress standards

Swimwear or skimpy clothing should not be worn when visiting town or villages. If attending church, women should wear a dress or skirt, and men should wear long trousers.

Traditional dress

Traditional dress for both men and women is a wrap-around piece of material called "pareu". This is worn casually or tied specially for more formal occasions.

Health

There is a hospital, emergency service and chemist on Rarotonga, and very small hospitals on Aitutaki and Atiu. Health services are limited on other islands. There are no venomous snakes or insects, but centipedes bite and the coral reefs (and stone-fish) should be treated with caution.

Safety

VSA provides all selected volunteers with a thorough security briefing that covers specific local issues prior to departure. In general, there are no problems moving around Rarotonga, although you will be given a more detailed security briefing upon arrival. Take care when walking alone and avoid this at night.

Banking and finances

ANZ and Westpac both have branches in Avarua. There are ATMs around Rarotonga and Aitutaki and EFTPOS in some hotels and shops.

Town amenities

Volunteers will live in Rarotonga but may visit outer islands. Most common goods and services are readily available on Rarotonga, usually at the same or slightly higher price as in New Zealand.

Cellphones and email

Telecom Cook Islands provides international telephone, mobile telephone, fax and internet services. Individual islands are connected by a combination of satellite earth stations, microwave systems, and VHF and HF radiotelephone; within the islands, service is provided by small exchanges connected to subscribers by open-wire, cable, and fiber-optic cable. There are internet cafes on Rarotonga and Aitutaki. WiFi is available at some resorts and hotels.