Rarotonga, Cook Islands
Statsraad Lehmkuhl visits Rarotonga, Cook Islands 13-15. June 2022.
Rarotonga is the largest of the Cook Islands, but still fairly small. Only 67 km², just a little bit larger than Manhattan. The 15 islands are an independent state in the Pacific Ocean, associated with New Zealand since 1965. The citizens are citizens of New Zealand, who also take care of foreign policy and defense.
Three quarters of the 17,000 inhabitants of the Cook Islands live on Rarotonga.
Rarotonga is a volcanic island, formed 2.3 million years ago. There is no volcanic activity on the island now, and weather and wind have reshaped the landscape into low hills connected by sharp ridges.
The highest peak is only 658 meters above sea level.
The inland is densely forested. All the settlements are along the coast, which are surrounded by a coral reef, 30 to 900 meters wide. The reef have several inlets, and it is inside such an opening that the port of Avarua, Avatiu and Ngatangiia are located. Avarua is the largest of them, and capital of the Cook Islands.
The lagoon inside the rest of the reef is shallow, only one and a half meters deep at most.
The Cook Islands were populated by people who traveled across the ocean from Tahiti and Samoa in large outrigger canoes. The oldest remains of settlements on Rarotonga are from the year 1000.
The first Europeans came here in the late 18th century. Throughout the 19th century, the island was widely used as a stop for merchant vessels and whaling ships, and Christian mission stations were established there. In the middle of the 19th century, the Europeans built trading posts, and when there were rumors that France was planning to conquer the island, it became a British protectorate in 1888, and annexed by New Zealand in 1901.
The Cook Islands was named to honor the British captain James Cook. In the 1990 the government planned to change the name to reflect the Polynesian heritage, but the proposals were turned down in a referendum in 1994. But the discussion continued, and a new referendum may be underway.
The mutineers from Bounty brought orange trees to Rarotonga, and several large orange plantations were established after World War II. The island also exports banana, papaya and vegetables.
The airport, built in 1944, made Rarotonga the gateway to the Cook Islands, and today tourism is an important industry.
Normal maximum temperature in June: 25 ℃
Normal precipitation in June: 110 mm