History & Culture


Cook Islanders have a heritage that links directly with the finest seafarers of the Pacific.

The Cook Islands first settled around the 6th century AD by the Polynesian people from Tahiti in the Polynesian exploration and migration period. The Maori migrations occurred to New Zealand from Rarotonga in the 5th century AD. Moari traditions state that the exploring canoes may have followed migrating birds as the long-tailed cuckoo comes to New Zealand from Polynesia in October. Over-population on many of the islands of Polynesia led to these migrations.

The first written history of the Cook Islands began in 1595, incited by the sighting of Pukapuka by the Spanish voyager Alvaro de Mendana. It took 150 years for the British to arrive, again with a sighting of Pukapuka in 1764. 

British navigator Captain James Cook arrived in 1773; he was an expert on navigating and mapping the whole region. The Cook Islands were named after Captain Cook when the name was first mentioned in an atlas called  de l'Ocean Pacifique  published by the German Admiral Adam Johann von Krusenstern. 

1821 was the arrival of Christianity; alongside the Christian faith the people of the Cook Islands are proud
of their Polynesian heritage and still practice their traditions.  

The total population of the Cook Islands is approximately 15,000. Most of the population lives on the
South Islands; this is where Rarotonga is located. Although, there are many Cook Islanders who live
and study overseas, there are approximately 50,000 in New Zealand.

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