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Handy Things to Know About
the Cook Islands



Park your car or scooter under a coconut palm.
The ripe fruit - the brown ones - can drop without notice and give the vehicle a fair old dent.
Also, be wary standing under the trees for the same reason, although locals assure us no one has been killed by a falling coconut.


A few handy Cook Island words
Getting Around Rarotonga

Visiting the Cook Islands is easy if you live in Australia or New Zealand.

The Islanders speak English well, the NZ dollar is used and ... they drive on the left-hand side of the road!

Couldn't be easier.

For those wanting to use laptops, recharge camera batteries or use hairdryers, the power supply in the Cook Islands is the same as in Australia and NZ - 240V at 50Hz - and the electrical plugs are the three-prong variety.

If you are coming from other countries - such as Britain, European nations or America - you will need an adapter.

We were told all sorts of things about Rarotonga - it being expensive, you couldn't get things - but, in general things were not dissimilar in cost to NZ considering the thousands of kilometres shipping involved.

So don't waste time, money and effort bringing foodstuffs to Rarotonga.

However, dairy is very expensive, so much so the locals don't usually drink fresh milk - they use heat treated milk or milk powder.

Cheeses are not as pricey as they once were, but the cost of yoghurt will make you wince.

The main supermarkets in Avarua, the Town as it is known, are Cook Island Trading Corporation (opposite the port of Avatiu), Foodland (in the main street in the middle of Avarua) and Prime Foods, which is down a side street as you head from the main shopping precinct towards the port.

We do our weekly meat shopping at Prime Foods and also pick up our main greens there.

CITC and Foodland are good for you normal supermarket goods, with the larger CITC store having a much better range and selection, particularly of meat, fruit and veges.

The Punanga Nui market near the port is great for local produce on a Saturday morning and also for a host of locally produced crafts.

Down across the island at Vaimaanga - a beautiful spot - is the fabulous Wigmore's supermarket. There is another big shop Super Brown's near Matavera on the eastern side of the island.

Also be mindful of your arrival time in Rarotonga. Some flights get in at about 1am local time and, of course, you can't get food at that hour. So our advice is to have a few snacks packed.

Most tourists drink bottled water on the islands and what we tended to do was to make sure we had enough for our early starts by boiling a jugful of water in the hotel and then filling our bottles when it had cooled. That was not a cost-cutting measure, it just ensured we had plenty of drinking water on hand.

You can also fill your bottles with good clean drinking water at various water stations around Rarotonga.

Don't expect to have an amazing shopping experience on Rarotonga as things tend to be either touristy, and expensive, or else ordinary and cheap.

Beware some of the cheaper craftwork - such as carved shell and wood - as often things are made in Indonesia or China and then imported to the Cooks Islands to be sold to tourists.

That said the true Cooks shell carving is beautiful indeed and you will know the difference.

Do check out the black pearls though, they are magnificent and you can pick up some beautiful ones at reasonable prices.

Also worth trying are the local beers.

Our favourite - and the brewery closest to where we are - is Rarotonga Brewery. Top beer and reasonably priced. The brewery is walking distance from the airport.

Matutu also hits the spot very well.

Take in duty-free spirits - it's much cheaper that way - and wine is pretty pricey on Rarotonga with bottles $16 and well upwards, and specials often being around the $12 a bottle mark. The best place to buy wines is Bond, across from the Punanga Nui market, although keep your eye out for supermarket specials. Bond also has good prices for spirits.

One of the first things to do in the Cook Islands is to switch off and adjust to Island Time.

This means things get done at a relaxed pace.

You will need to queue for some things but, don't worry, enjoy the time out of the rat race.

Don't expect weekends full of shopping on Rarotonga.

There's the Saturday market in Avarua, but come 1pm most shops are shut.

Sundays are still holy days in the Cooks and you can forget going on a spending spree.

It does feel a bit strange, at first, but once you've cottoned on to the idea it makes you realise how much we miss when we have seven days a week shopping.

While we are on the subject, many non-resort eateries don't serve alcohol on Sundays.

That's all for the moment, we will add more things later as they come to us.

The main things to remember in the Cook Islands is to be respectful, patient and have a wonderful time.

The Cooks are a truly special destination.

- Richard Moore




Copyright 2011 RICHARD MOORE