Cook Islands Maori is the official language of the Cook Islands, but there are various dialects spoken including Rarotongan, Aitutakian, Mangaian, Pukapukan etc.
The 'ei katu floral garlands worn by Cook Islanders depicts our culture as of Eastern Polynesian descent, an aspect that indigenous people are immensely proud of. Our customs and culture are more similar to Fr. Polynesian (Tahiti, Tuamotu, Rurutu etc). than other ethnic group in the Pacific. I have never seen anyone who includes lettuce leaves in a floral garland! The visitor who wrote this is very much mistaken about our flora. Perhaps the traveller mistook wild basil which is prolific and is used in floral garlands as a salad vegetable??
The Cook Islands have officially used the New Zealand Dollar since 1995 and all New Zealand notes and coins can be used in the Cook Islands. However, the Cook Islands do have some coins and even notes that are still in circulation and can still be used as legal tender in the Cook Islands. The rare $3 note is a sought after collectors item but the unusually shaped $1, $2 and $5 coins are pretty easy to come by and make a great souvenir, especially the odd triangular $2 coin.
US$1 - NZ$1.34
€1 - NZ$1.89
AUS$1 - NZ$1.37
£1 - NZ$2.20
CAD$1 - NZ$1.39
Unfortunately I can't upload a photo as the coins that I took from the Cook Islands were later stolen along with my camera later on my RTW trip :(
There are 5 languages spoken throughout the Cook Islands but Cook Islands Maori and English are the two official languages. Cook Islands Maori is the language most often heard on Rarotonga along with English which is widely spoken. The language is closely related to New Zealand Maori and some words are very similar including Kia Orana (meaning 'hello') which is very similar o the New Zealand variant 'Kia Ora'.
While English is widely spoken by the population a few basic words of Maori will endear you to the locals.
Kia orana - Hello
Aere ra - Goodbye
Meitaki - Thank you
'Ae - Yes
Kare - No
As well as English, the other official language of the Cook Islands is Cook Islands Maori (also known as Rarotongan).
For those that need a quick recap on their Rarotongan, here are a few words that will likely come in handy during your stay in the Cook Islands:
Hello - Kia orana
Goodbye - Aera ra
Thank you - Meitaki
Yes - 'Ae
No - Kare
Happy - Makaora
Today - Teia ra
Tomorrow - Apopo
Sun - Ra
You will find that most people in the Cook Islands are very "makaora" and that the "ra" shines brightly most days!! :-)
It is a sad day when you have to say "aera ra" to this wonderful country!! :-(
Don't worry......all signs and menus are written in English!
One of the local customs in the Cook Islands is for women to wear a wreath consisting of flowers and lettuce (yes, lettuce!) around their head. Despite its vegetal quality, it actually looks quite attractive and has the extra bonus that. if you got hungry without warning, you could start picking at your headgear (though I'm sure their must be some Polynesian etiquette rules frowning on that).
When visiting Rarotonga you escape time. This is a fabulous place but leave the stress behind. The best way to descibe the feeling and culture is to describe a clock at a hotel I visited. All the numbers were jumbled on the face. Underneath was a sign saying "Rarotongan Time".
A prime example of this was a trip to an outlying island including barbeque of fresh fish for lunch, that I had booked at our hotel. We got up especially early and made our way across the island to where we were told the tour would depart. All we found was a chap sitting on his verandah sipping a beer. "No don't feel like it today - we go tomorrow - OK?" We had no choice.
Similarly you need to be laid back about the transport. Sure you can hire a car but if you don't then you need to rely on the one bus that goes around the island. You can wait for it for an hour to find it simply sails past you with a wave from the driver! In the end, it is probably quicker and certainly more relaxing just to walk.
If you go to Rarotonga - then be prepared to let go, relax and take every moment as it comes.