The Cook Islands is an island country in the South Pacific Ocean in free association with New Zealand.Cook Islanders regard themselves first and foremost as true Polynesians connecting directly back to the finest seafarers of the vast Pacific. It is due to their sophisticated navigation that took them fearlessly through vast ocean tracts in search of new lands that the Cook Islands came into being. Captain James Cook, the great explorer who, on the orders of his country, was voyaging the South Pacific for possible land acquisition, In 1773 he sighted Manuae, then subsequently Palmerston, Takutea, Mangaia and Atiu in 1777. As a counterbalance, the first Christian missionaries followed some decades later in 1821, their influence was immediate. Whilst their arrival did alter many aspects of the traditional way of life, somehow the Cook Islanders have managed to beautifully preserve their proud Polynesian heritage and blend it with their Christian faith. Originally named the Hervey Isles after a British Lord, interestingly it was the Russians who named them the Cook Islands in honour of the famous captain in 1823. In 1888 they became a part of the British Dominion largely due to fears that France may do so first. But in 1901 New Zealand decided to annex the country despite opposition from the traditional chiefs. A treaty was signed in June, 1980 with the United States in which all claim to the islands of Penrhyn, Pukapuka, Manihiki and Rakahanga was relinquished by the Americans and a treaty with France delimited the boundary between the Cooks and French Polynesia in 1990.The call of the drum is loudest in the Cook Islands – the rhythmic pounding of a tattoo on hollowed out tree trunks is a talent taught from childhood. Music is a part of life, from the chants and songs of the Kaparima, hymns heard harmoniously echoing in the hallows of the churches; from the choirs on Sunday to the string bands and their combos of electronic and traditional ukuleles made from coconut shells that pulsate from the night clubs all over this part of the Cook Islands. Wood carving is revered. The Tangaroa is the symbol of the Cook Islands and a favourite subject. Many wonderful examples are found in the museums along with other replica wood carvings like huge hollowed out bowls, story boards and war clubs as well as the inevitable spears and fish hooks. According to folklore, the ancient islanders carved the poles of their huts, their canoes and of course their weapons. The patterns used are much the same as those for tattooing, tapa and indicating family symbols. with a population no bigger than a small New Zealand country town, 15,000 souls. These unique and friendly Polynesians have their own language and government and enjoy a vigorous and diverse culture with significant differences between each island. Despite some 100,000 visitors a year to the capital island – Rarotonga – the Cooks are largely unspoiled by tourism. They offer a rare opportunity for people from the cities of the world to experience a different type of vacation. There are no high-rise hotels and very little hype. Ideal for travellers seeking more than the usual clichés associated with the South Seas, each island has its unique qualities and offers the visitor a special experience.