American Express -- The Cook Islands have no American Express representative.
Area Codes -- The Cook Islands do not have domestic area codes. The international country code is 682.
Bookstores -- Bounty Bookshop (tel. 26-660), next to the main post office in Avarua, and the Cook Islands Trading Corporation (C.I.T.C.; tel. 22-000), on the waterfront, both sell paperback novels, maps of Rarotonga and Aitutaki, and books about the Cook Islands and the South Pacific in general.
Business Hours -- Most shops on Rarotonga are open Monday to Friday 8am to 4pm and Saturday 8am to noon. Some small grocery stores in the villages are open in the evenings and for limited hours on Sunday. Most government offices are open Monday to Friday 8am to 4pm.
Camera & Film -- A reasonable selection of color-print film is available at many shops in Avarua. One-hour processing of color-print film is available at Cook Islands Trading Corporation (C.I.T.C.; tel. 22-000), on the waterfront. Color slides are sent to New Zealand for processing.
Currency Exchange -- Westpac Bank, ANZ Bank, and the Bank of the Cook Islands have offices west of the traffic circle on the main road in Avarua. Westpac and ANZ have ATMs. Banking hours are Monday to Friday 9am to 3pm (4pm at ANZ). GlobalEX, in Mana Court west of the traffic circle (tel. 29-907), changes currency and travelers checks, often at better rates than the banks.
Customs -- Customs allowances are 2 liters of spirits or wine, 200 cigarettes or 50 cigars, and NZ$250 (US$200/£100) in other goods. Arriving passengers can purchase items from the duty-free shop and change money before clearing Immigration. Firearms, ammunition, and indecent materials are prohibited, as are live animals, including pets (they will be placed in quarantine until you leave the country). Personal effects are not subject to duty. All food and other agricultural products must be declared and will be inspected.
Drug Laws -- Dangerous drugs and narcotics are illegal; possession can land you in a very unpleasant jail for a very long time.
Drugstores -- C.I.T.C. Pharmacy (tel. 29-292), in the C.I.T.C. shopping center west of the traffic circle, and Cook Islands Pharmacy (tel. 27-577), beside the stream east of the traffic circle, dispense prescription medications and carry toiletries. Cook Islands Pharmacy has a small outlet at Muri Beach (tel. 27-587). The clinics on the outer islands have a limited supply of prescription medications.
Electricity -- Electricity is 230 volts, 50 cycles, so converters are necessary in order to operate U.S. appliances. The plugs, like those of New Zealand and Australia, have two angled prongs, so an adapter will also be needed. If your appliances or the table lamps in your room don't work, check to see whether the switch on the wall outlet is turned on.
Embassies & Consulates -- The New Zealand high commissioner's office is at the traffic circle in Avarua, but no other foreign government maintains an embassy or consulate here. In case of a problem, seek advice from the travel facilitation and consular officer in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (tel. 20-507). The U.S. embassy in Wellington, New Zealand, has jurisdiction.
Emergencies & Police -- The emergency number for the police is tel. 999; for an ambulance or the hospital, tel. 998; for fire, tel. 996. The non-emergency police number is tel. 22-499.
Etiquette & Customs -- Dress in the Cook Islands is informal. Shorts of respectable length (that is, not of the short-short variety) can be worn during the day by both men and women, but beach attire should stay at the beach. Nudity is illegal, as is topless sunbathing, though some European women do it anyway. The colorful wraparound pareu is popular with local women. Evenings from May to September can be cool, so trousers, skirts, light jackets, sweaters, or wraps are in order after dark. The only neckties to be seen are at church on Sunday.
Eyeglasses -- Cook Islands Optics (tel. 26-605), in the Mana Court shopping center, west of the traffic circle.
Firearms -- Don't even think about it -- they're illegal.
Gambling -- There are no gambling casinos in the Cook Islands, but you can bet on the Australian and New Zealand lotteries at the C.I.T.C. shopping center.
Healthcare -- The hospital, behind the golf course (tel. 22-664, or 998 in case of emergency), has a 24-hour emergency room. Ask your hotel to recommend a doctor in private practice.
Hitchhiking -- It's not illegal, but is frowned upon by the government.
Insects -- There are no poisonous insects in the Cook Islands. Mosquitoes are plentiful, especially during the summer and in the inland areas. Insect repellent and mosquito coils can be bought at the pharmacies and most village shops.
Internet Access -- All accommodations have Internet access for their guests. Avarua has several cybercafes including Telecom Cook Islands (tel. 29-680; www.telecom.co.ck), the country's sole communications provider. It has access in its main office and in its TelePost outlet in the C.I.T.C. shopping center (tel. 29-940). The main office is open 24 hours a day. TelePost is open Monday to Friday 8am to 4:30pm and Saturday 8:30am to noon. Access at both costs NZ$6 (US$4.80/£2.40) for 30 minutes.
Wi-Fi-capable laptops can tune in to hot spots in Telekom's two offices and at Avatiu Harbour, the airport, The Rarotongan Beach Resort & Spa, and the Edgewater Resort. The Pacific Resort Rarotonga has its own system. More hot spots are being added; look for the black-and-white bull's-eye signs. You must buy a prepaid wireless access card, available from Telekom and many shops. The cards start at NZ$15 (US$12/£6) for 50 megabytes of downloaded data (they're priced by the amount of data moved, not access time), which I found more than sufficient to check my e-mail and do my banking over 10 days.
Or you can sign up for a snail's pace "Temporary Oyster" dial-up account at Telecom's main office. There's a one-time NZ$25 (US$20/£10) connection fee, plus NZ$7 (US$5.60/£2.80) per hour spent online, which can be billed to your major credit card. In addition, your hotel will tack on the cost of the local phone calls and, quite likely, a surcharge. Sign up in the customer service office, which is open Monday to Friday 8am to 4pm.
Laundry & Dry Cleaning -- Snowbird Laundry & Dry Cleaners has 1-day laundry and dry cleaning service at its main plant in Arorangi (tel. 20-952) and a small laundry opposite Avatiu Harbour (tel. 21-952). It will pick up and deliver if you or your hotel staff calls in advance.
Libraries -- The Cook Islands Library and Museum, in Avarua near the Cook Islands Christian Church (tel. 26-468), is open Monday to Friday 9am to 1pm and Saturday 9:30am to 12:30pm, with additional hours on Tuesday from 4 to 8pm. The library has a fine collection of works on the South Pacific, including many hard-to-find books.
Liquor Laws -- The legal drinking age is 21. Bottled liquor, beer, and wine are available from several stores. Bars and nightclubs close promptly at midnight Saturday. Hotel bars can sell alcoholic beverages to their guests all day Sunday, and restaurants can resume service on Sunday at 6pm.
Mail -- Cook Islands Post is located at the traffic circle in Avarua. Hours are Monday to Friday 8am to 4pm and Saturday 8am to noon. There's a branch office opposite Titikaveka College on Rarotonga's south coast, which is open Monday to Friday 8am to noon and 1 to 3:30pm. Each of the other islands has a post office. There is no mail delivery, so every address includes a post office box.
Newspapers & Magazines -- Two local newspapers, the Cook Islands News (www.cookislandsnews.com) and the Cook Islands Herald (www.ciherald.co.ck), contain local, regional, and world news; radio and TV schedules; shipping schedules; a weather map for the South Pacific; and notices of local events, including advertisements for "island nights" at the hotels. Copies are available at the Bounty Bookshop and the large C.I.T.C. shopping center in the center of Avarua.
Radio & TV -- Rarotonga has one AM radio station and one FM radio station. Programming is in both English and Maori. One TV channel broadcast news, entertainment, and innumerable rugby games. Most hotels subscribe to a satellite service carrying CNN International and other channels.
Safety -- The streets here are safe. Burglaries and other property thefts can occur, however, so don't leave valuables in your hotel room or your belongings untended elsewhere.
Smoking -- Smoking is legally prohibited in many public buildings but not at hotels, businesses, and restaurants. Ask for a nonsmoking room at your hotel and an outside table at restaurants.
Taxes -- The government imposes a value-added tax (VAT), which is included in the price of most goods and services. You should ask if the VAT is included in the rates quoted by the hotels and hostels, or whether it will be added to your bill when you leave. Unlike in Europe, the VAT here is not refunded at the end of your visit. The departure tax on international flights is NZ$30 (US$24/£12) for adults, NZ$15 (US$12/£6) for children, which you can pay at the airport or in advance at Westpac Bank in Avarua.
Telephone -- Land-line telephone service is provided throughout the country by Telecom Cook Islands (TCI; tel. 29-680; www.telecom.co.ck). Although calls are exorbitantly expensive, it's a modern system.
To call the Cook Islands: Dial the international access code (011 from the U.S.; 00 from the U.K., Ireland, or New Zealand; or 0011 from Australia), the Cook Islands country code 682, and the local number (there are no area codes within the Cook Islands).
To make international calls from within the Cook Islands: First dial 00, then the country code (U.S. or Canada 1, U.K. 44, Ireland 353, Australia 61, New Zealand 64), and then the area code and phone number. International calls cost NZ$2.14 (US$1.71/85p) per minute to North America, NZ$3.20 (US$2.55/£1.30) to the United Kingdom and Europe. Rates to Australia and New Zealand are NZ$1.05 (US85¢/40p). Those are the per-minute fees, but you can talk up to 1 hour for NZ$10 (US$8/£4) before the minute rates resume.
Local access numbers: You cannot use a credit card to make calls in the Cook Islands, but several long-distance carriers have access numbers their customers can dial from within the Cook Islands to have international calls billed to their credit or prepaid cards, including AT&T (tel. 09111) and MCI (tel. 09121). You'll pay the regular local call charges on top of the international rates if you dial them from your hotel room.
To make domestic calls within the Cook Islands: No prefix or area code is required for domestic long distance calls, so dial the local number.
For directory assistance: Dial tel. 010 for domestic information, tel. 017 for international numbers.
For operator assistance: Dial tel. 010 for operator assistance in making a local call, tel. 015 for the international operator.
Toll-free numbers: Calling a 1-800 number in the U.S. or Canada from here is not toll-free. In fact, it costs the same as an overseas call.
Pay phones: Public pay phones use a Kia Orana prepaid card. Cards are sold in NZ$5, NZ$10, NZ$20, and NZ$50 denominations (the equivalent of US$4, US$8, US$16, and US$40/£2, £4, £8, and £20) at Telecom post offices and many shops.
Cellphones: Telecom Cook Islands rents mobile phones, and it sells prepaid SIM cards for unlocked GSM cellphones and airtime cards for NZ$25 (US$20/£10) each. Incoming calls are free, but outgoing airtime counts NZ$2 (US$1.60/80p) a minute against the cost of the card.
Time -- Local time is 10 hours behind Greenwich Mean Time. That's 2 hours behind California during standard time, 3 hours during daylight saving time. The Cook Islands are on the east side of the international date line, which puts them in the same day as the U.S. and a day behind New Zealand and Australia.
Tipping -- Tipping is considered contrary to the Polynesian way of life and is frowned upon.
Water -- Generally, the water on Rarotonga is safe to drink from the tap. It is filtered but not treated and can become slightly muddy after periods of heavy rain. If in doubt, boil it in the electric "jug" in your hotel room. Many hotels have their own filtration systems, and you can buy bottled water at most grocery stores and village shops. The tap water on Aitutaki is not safe to drink.
Weights & Measures -- The Cook Islands use the metric system.