Cook Islanders live in harmony with their pristine environment
Tipani Tours
Snorkelling in the lagoon
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The geological landscape of the 15 islands making up the Cook Island group range from low lying coral atolls surrounded by outer reefs encircling turquoise lagoons in the northern group, to the verdant jungle clad peaks of Rarotonga and raised makatea coral islands of four of the southern group islands. 

All of our 15 islands were formed through volcanic activity.  Over time, a number of the islands sank below sea level, leaving a coral rim to form the distinctive lagoons the northern group are known for.  In contrast the southern group islands make up nearly 90% of the landmass in the entire group.  While Rarotonga is considered only a young island in geological terms, a number of the Cook Islands have existed for a very long time. Mangaia, the most southerly in the group is considered to be the oldest island in the entire South Pacific.

Due to their relative isolation the Cook Islands have only one native land mammal, the Pacific fruit bat, and while today there are numerous pigs, dogs, goats and a few horses and cows, these were all introduced largely as domesticated animals, and as a readily available food source.

Plant Life
While famous for its variety of tropical flora – the Cook Islands support over 400 different plant species, among them the Frangipani (Tipani), Bougainvillea (Taria), and the profusely scented Gardenia (Tiare Maori) – surprisingly very few of these colourful plants are native to the islands and most were introduced, including the resplendent orange-red flowered Flame Tree, a native of South America.  Despite being the national flower  Tiare Maori is not native to the Cook Islands.  There are however many native plants to be seen as well, especially in the mountainous central area of Rarotonga sometimes referred to as cloud forest.

Birds in the Cook Islands
Once, a greater proliferation and range of endemic birds existed in the forest regions of the islands, but with the introduction of the predatory black (ships) rat and the Indian mynah bird – brought in as a means to control coconut stick insects, as well as the sale of birds and feathers to collectors in the Victorian era, the native bird population suffered serious declines on many islands.  Some remaining birds of interest include the Cook Islands Fruit Dove, the Mangaia Kingfisher and the Rarotonga Flycatcher.

A growing concern for the ecological health of the native bird population saw the establishment in 1996 of the Takitumu Conservation area, a 155 hectare community-based protection area on the inland hills of Rarotonga.  This successful conservation initiative has heralded the comeback of the Kakerori or Rarotongan Flycatcher, a bird until recently on the verge of extinction. Breeding pairs of the Kakerori have now also been established on the island of Atiu, and guided walks enable visitors to see first hand these rare land birds either within the Takitumu Conservation area, or with Birdman George’s tour on Atiu.

In 1978 the Cook Islands also established a national park on the northern group island of Suwarrow, permanently protecting large breeding colonies of the Red-tailed Tropic Bird and the Lesser Frigatebird found there.

Cook Islanders have a history of living in harmony with their pristine environment, and consequently their islands are regarded as some of the best cared for in the Pacific. Traditional Ra’ui (protected marine reserves) have been put in place in parts of the lagoon around Rarotonga to allow the fish stocks to rejuvenate, and while swimming and snorkelling are allowed, all fishing and food gathering is prohibited in those areas.

Beautiful Sea-life
Within the sheltered lagoons of the Cook Islands live tropical fish and sea life of all colours and shapes, from the Vivid-blue Starfish which can be seen easily in the shallows near shore, to the colourful green and pink Parrot Fish, curious yellow Butterfly Fish and others you will see as soon as you lower your snorkel mask into the warm waters, to the Moray Eels and other curiosities which can be discovered hiding in crevices amongst the coral.

In the temperate ocean waters beyond the reef edge diverse and spectacular marine life flourishes with different species of sea turtle; Green, Hawksbill, and Loggerhead Turtle all regularly sighted outside the reef, as well as eagle rays, butterfly fish and reef sharks.  The Cook Islands is well known as a wonderful location for divers form all over the world.  

But to see truly impressive sea creatures, the months of July to October during the austral winter are the best time to catch the migratory visits of the Humpback Whales, as they pass close by on their seasonal journey south to the Antarctic. Usually with young calves alongside, these huge mammals often swim only a few hundred metres from the shoreline and are clearly visible as they playfully breach the surface.  Once hunted for their blubber during last century, the entire 2.2 million sq km of Cook Islands ocean territory has been designated as an official whale sanctuary since 2001, allowing the To’ora, the traditional Maori name for these large whales, to travel safely through Cook Island waters without being harmed.

Click here for more information on Cook Islands tours and activities with Tipani Tours.

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