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Cook Islands - Enviornment

Cook Islands Environment

The Cook Islands are located in the South Pacific, about 1875 miles (3015 km) north-east of Auckland, 3100 miles (4985 km) north-east of Sydney, and 3610 miles (5815 km) south-east of Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea. The Cooks' nearest neighbours are Tahiti to the east and American Samoa to the west, each roughly 1500km (930mi) away. About equal in total land area to the Australian Capital Territory or the US state of Rhode Island, the Cook Islands are spread across some 2 million sq km (772,200 sq mi) of sea, an area as large as Western Europe.

The 15 islands form two groups, northern and southern, separated by as much as 1000km (620mi) of empty sea. The southern group, mostly young volcanic islands, are actually a continuation of the Austral chain in southern French Polynesia. The northern group are all older coral atolls. The largest of the Cooks is Rarotonga (67 sq km/25 sq mi); the smallest is Suwarrow (.4 sq km/.2 sq mi). The landscape ranges from mountainous Rarotonga to many nearly flat cays and atolls, invisible from afar and easily washed over by large waves.

Rarotonga has the largest variety of vegetation, including coconut palm-lined beaches, citrus groves and a central jungle of ferns, creepers and towering trees. The pandanus tree, whose leaves are important for traditional handicrafts (mats, baskets, etc), is common among most of the southern islands. On the atolls of the northern group, the soil is usually limited and infertile and there is little vegetation apart from the coconut palms.

The only mammals considered native are Pacific fruit bats, which are found only on Mangaia and Rarotonga. Rats and pigs were introduced to the islands; many pigs are domesticated by tying one of their legs to a coconut tree. Rarotonga also has many dogs, some cats and goats and a few horses and cattle. There are few birds on the islands; most are in the hills of Rarotonga. Many birds have been driven out by the frequently obnoxious mynah bird, introduced years ago to control insects. Among endemic birds are the cave-dwelling Άtiu swiftlet, the chattering kingfisher of Άtiu and Mauke and the Mangaia kingfisher. The Rarotonga flycatcher, or kakerori, is found only on a limited area of the island and is slowly making a comeback from the endangered species list. The waters around the islands are swarming with parrotfish, sea cucumbers and humpback whales, among others.

The Cooks have a pleasantly even climate year round. The mountainous interior of Rarotonga tends to be wetter than elsewhere in the islands, though it can rain for a week straight at any time. The wet season runs from December to March, which are also the hottest months (the islands are south of the Equator), when the average daily high reaches 29°C (84°F) in February. The coolest months are June through September, when the average daily high plummets to 25°C (77°F). Hurricane season lasts from November to March, though severe storms are rare, averaging once every 20 years.

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