Avarua Commonwealth Walkway

Cook Islands / The Pacific

THE COOK ISLANDS There are 15 Cook Islands, seven northern coral atolls and eight larger southern ones, all originally governed separately by Ariki (high chiefs).  The Cook Islanders were accomplished seafarers.  In about 900 AD, a Polynesian voyager from Hawaiki landed on Aitutaki with a canoe filled with relatives and twenty well-born young women.  Two other colonists arrived later, and from the intermarriages between these families descend the tribes of Aitutaki today.  In about 1200 AD, a Tahitian exile called Tangiia and a Samoan explorer, Karika, met at sea on their way to conquer Rarotonga.  They settled their differences and divided the island between them.   The first European to arrive there was Alvara de Mendana de Neira (1542-95), the Spanish adventurer, in 1595.  He spotted Pukapuka.  James Cook arrived in 1773 and 1777 without landing.  In 1798 Captain Bligh sighted Aitutaki, not long before the mutiny, but sailed on.  Philip Goodenough discovered Rarotonga in 1814 when searching for sandalwood.  There were brawls and some were killed, but he managed to make peace with the tribes by the end of his three-month stay.  In 1821 Rev John Williams (1796-1839), of the London Missionary Society, landed two lay missionaries on Aitutaki.   Two years later he established LMS headquarters on Rarotonga.  Many of the Ariki and their subjects converted to Christianity by 1840. In 1888 six of the larger islands were formed into a British protectorate with Frederick Moss (1827/8-1904) as British Resident until 1898.  A federal government was created, led by Queen Makea Takau Ariki (1839-1911), Sovereign of the Cook Islands.  Richard Sedden (1845-1906), the New Zealand premier, visited in 1900, at which point the Ariki from Rarotonga, Atiu, Mauke and Mitiaro joined the British Empire.  The eleven other islands soon followed suit.  Lt-Colonel Walter E. Gudgeon (1841-1920) became Resident Commissioner and replaced the Ariki, putting the Cook islands under colonial control.  He was retired in 1909. The Cook Islands Act was passed in 1915, establishing a ministry for the Cook Islands within the New Zealand Cabinet. After 1946 local participation in government was increased, with half the legislative council elected.  There was some dissent in the 1950s and 1960s, Albert Henry (1907-81) (later the first premier) demanding better pay for the islanders, and establishing the Cook Islands Party.  In 1962 the New Zealand government asked the Cook Islanders to choose between Independence, integration with New Zealand, self-government in association with New Zealand or Federation with other Polynesian groups.   The Cook Islands are part of the realm of New Zealand, its citizens also being citizens of New Zealand, with their own parliament of 24 members running their internal affairs since 1967.   The main activities of the island are tourism, agriculture (notably tropical fruits), fishing, handicrafts and pearl farming. The first-ever royal visit to the Cook Islands was that of the Duke and Duchess of Kent in 1967.  The Duke of Edinburgh and Lord Mountbatten came in February 1971 and the Queen visited the Cook Islands on 28/29 January 1974 to open Rarotonga International Airport, accompanied by the Duke of Edinburgh, Princess Anne and her then-husband, Captain Mark Phillips.   AVARUA Avarua is the national capital of the Cook Islands and is based in the north of Rarotonga.  The name means ‘Two Harbours.’  The International Airport is nearby and so is Avatiu Harbour.

1.2 miles / 2 kilometres

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