Cook Islands Facts
The Cook Islands belong to an area in the Pacific known as Polynesia. (The islands of the Pacific are usually divided into three areas: Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia).
Polynesia, which means many islands, is a name covering over a thousand islands between Hawaii, New Zealand and Easter Island. The Cook Islands, French Polynesia, Niue, Samoa, American Samoa, Tokelau, Tonga, Tuvalu and Wallis and Futuna are in this grouping.
The Cook Islands consist of fifteen islands spread over more than seven hundred and seventy thousand square miles in the South Pacific.
The highest point in the Cook Islands is Mount Te Manga (652 m) on Rarotonga.
Early inhabitants on the islands were Polynesians.
Thor Heyerdahl, the Norwegian who made the famous "Kon-Tiki" Expedition in 1947, thought that people might have migrated from South America to Polynesia. He built the famous raft Kon-Tiki and sailed from Peru across the Pacific to prove such a voyage was possible.
In 1990 the Oxford geneticist Bryan Sykes tested the mitochondrial DNA of the Polynesian inhabitants of the Cook Islands (between Tonga and French Polynesia). It was concluded that the ancestors of the Cook Islanders came from Asia.
In 1596 Alvaro de Mendana, the Spanish explorer, was the first European to sight the islands.
The islands are named after Captain James Cook, the eighteenth century English navigator, cartographer and explorer.
Captain William Bligh of the famous ship HMS Bounty visited Rarotonga at the end of the 1780s.
The Reverend John Williams of the London Missionary Society arrived in the islands in 1821.
The Cook Islands became a British Protectorate in 1888.
At the beginning of the twentieth century the islands came under the administrative control of New Zealand. In 1946 the Cook Islands were given direct representation.
The Cook Islands became a self-governing territory in free association with New Zealand in 1965.
The territory of Cook Islands is an Associated Member of the [British] Commonwealth.
The Rarotonga Treaty, creating a South Pacific nuclear free zone, was signed in 1985.
At the end of 1997 at least six people died when Cyclone Martin hit the Cook Islands; many buildings were damaged and the black pearl industry suffered losses. Further damage was caused by cyclones in 2005.
In 2017 the Cook Islands opened the world's largest marine reserve covering one million sq km of the Pacific Ocean.
The Cook Islands will become increasingly affected by climate change: rising sea levels, flooding and more violent storms.