There are five different languages in the Cook Islands, but English and Cook Islands Maori are the two official ones. Cook Islands Maori is called Rarotongan after the capital island and is the most widely spoken version of Maori in the Islands.
On the remote Northern group island of Pukapuka, the islanders have a unique language of their own called Pukapukan of which there is no written version. It is more like Samoan, and some of it cannot even be understood by other Cook Islanders. But even there, English is spoken as it’s taught in the schools as a legal requirement.
Try and learn some Cook Islands Maori before you go – it’s always good to be able to say a few words of the local lingo on your gap year.
At the very least, learn "kia orana" which means "may you live long”.
The currency in the Cook Islands is the New Zealand dollar (NZD), which is pretty handy if you're coming from there on your gap year!
The Cooks Islands also issue their own currency, but I wouldn't worry too much about it as it has an identical value to NZ dollars (again, pretty handy...).
Coins have values of 10, 20 and 50 cents, $1 and $2; notes have values of $5, $10, $20, $50 and $100.
They also have the unusual $3 note and the triangular $2 coin - well worth a souvenir!
There are a handful of ATMs in Rarotonga and two on Aitutaki. There are no ATM facilities on any of the other islands. Western Union has an office in Avarua offering money exchange and transfers.
Tax is included in every price for goods and services.
Backpacking and travelling in the Cook Islands is relatively cheap compared to Australia and New Zealand and you should budget approximately £800 per month, depending on your spending style.
Cook Islands time is 10 hours behind Greenwich Mean Time (GMT-10).
The Cook Islands use a 240V/50Hz plug with three pins – same as Oz and NZ.
Obtaining a visa for the Cook Islands is easy as long as you're on holiday or a gap year. All foreign nationals are granted a free 31-day visa for the Cook Islands upon arrival (bonus). The only things you need are a valid passport and proof of onward travel.
It's also possible to extend your stay on a month-by-month basis (up to five times) but you'll be required to show immigration officials that you have a return / onward ticket and adequate means of support.
A visa extension for the Cook Islands costs approximately NZ$70/120 for up to three / six months.
One of the great things about travelling to the Cook Islands on a gap year is the weather - there's never a bad time to go!
There are no extremes in temperatures; the drier cooler season runs from April to November when temperatures stay in the mid-20Cs. The warmer humid season starts in December and runs through to March with the average temperature being around 28C.
The Cook Islands has a pleasantly even climate year round, with no excesses of temperature or humidity, although it can rain quite often which can be a bit of a bummer.
The best times of year to visit are around the months of September and October, when there's a nice trade-off between warm temperatures and reduced humidity; March and April are also good months to come, as the cyclone season has passed and the skies are likely to be clear and sunny.
However, whenever you're travelling to the Cook Islands you're going to get good weather and clear skies at some point in the day!