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Monday 10 April Auckland to Rarotonga, Cook Islands
Our flight to Rarotonga in the South Pacific was not part of our round the world ticket & Keef had to book this separately in England. The plane left Auckland at 4.30pm ( Virgin Australia) & it took 4 hours. We arrived at 10.30pm & apart from turning our watches forward 2 hours we had crossed the international date line. This meant we gained a day but would lose it on our return to Auckland – found it difficult to get my head round this time travel.
By the time we cleared customs & bio-hazard questions we collected our hire car which we’d booked in England. We were staying in the Raina Beach House, Titikaveka & it proved tricky to find in the dark as not well signposted. Eventually at midnight we found the right house & had a cup of tea as we were so thirsty (we were not allowed to bring any water into the country). Had a cool shower before turning in.
Monday again/ Groundhog Day
We all unpacked our bags. I did some laundry & we went for a dip in the lagoon right outside our holiday house. There was a narrow sandy beach at the bottom of some steps from the garden. Beautiful day. Chris got one of the 2 canoes from the garden & went off paddling. I saw lots of sea cucumbers on the sandy sea bed & had to be careful not to tread on them. The water in the lagoon was warm & the coral reef was some distance away but very loud surf. The wall of water breaking over the reef was visible from the shore. Chris, Allyson & Keef saw some brightly coloured fish.
After swimming we drove into Avarua, the main town in Rarotonga (also the capital of the Cook Islands). We went past the long white bungalow that was the Cook Islands Parliament. The Queen has a representative here although the Cooks became independent in 1967 (50 years ago). The NZ government helps to ‘administer’ & assist when required to do so. There’s also a NZ High Commission here.
We had lunch near the harbour sitting outside a small shack, next to lots of other eateries. The food was excellent – Chris & Allyson had fish of the day with rice & salad, Keef had chicken with peanut butter sauce, salad & rice & I had a toasted cheese & ham sandwich. Keef & I were very thirsty was it was getting very hot so we shared a litre of tropical fruit juice. We walked along to the small harbour with a few small ships moored. One ship was loading cargo to be shipped to one of the other 14 islands in the Cooks. Rarotonga is the main island in the group so has the post office & airport link with New Zealand. There was a cruise ship moored out in the bay.
We went to a supermarket for food shopping. Prices were high as most goods were imported apart from local produce. We returned to the beach house & had another swim in the lagoon. Snorkel equipment was provided @ $5NZ a day. The currency is Kiwi dollars apart from a one, two & three dollar coin. The $2 coin was triangular in shape (decided to keep one as a souvenir). We all sat out on the wooden decking – beautiful view of the lagoon & reef. Later on Chris & Keef had a toast sandwich but Allyson & I weren’t hungry. It gets dark about 6pm here but there was no sunset tonight. Apparently the best sunsets are on the east of the island. Lovely & relaxing listening to the waves lapping on the beach & the distant surf pounding on the reef. Chris did some star gazing when the clouds cleared.
Tuesday 11 April Rarotonga
The big waves crashing on the reef today meant that the sand was churned up in the lagoon. Also the sea came up almost to the top of the narrow beach. Chris, Allyson & Keef went snorkelling whilst I paddled. After breakfast & showers we drove back into Avarua along the west coast. We looked at the shops, including gift & pearl shops & saw the new Court House building. Also walked past Banana Court, which was a hotel built in 1905. In those days there weren’t many shops & houses & a photo board outside the building showed the main street in 1905 with mainly palm trees, vegetation & not much else.
The airport was built in the early 1970s which brought in more tourists, especially from New Zealand. Now the main street has one & two storey buildings, apart from the tall Court House. The people were very friendly & helpful. Went into the tourist info & Allyson looked at the pearl shops. The black pearls are cultured pearls farmed on one of the other islands. The locals all greet everyone with Kia Orana (hello) & many local women wear floral garlands on their heads. The language spoken is similar to Maori. Keef & I thought that Rarotonga looked more prosperous than Vanua Levu (Fiji), Western Samoa and Tonga & the homes looked more sturdily built with well-kept gardens. A lot of the locals use mopeds to get around & to go to work.
We went to Trader Jacks, a bar by the sea, & had some drinks & then drove back through town to a micro brewery run by a local family. On the walls were framed black & white photos of the town in the early days. There were lots of free range chickens wandering round the streets. Cockerels start crowing before dawn at 5am (I was woken up on our first morning). Not seen any pigs wandering about like they do in other Pacific islands.
There is one main road round the island which is 32kms long/20 mls & also an inner road which goes part of the way round. The island was once volcanic & has some tall peaks now covered in rainforest. We saw volcanic black lava remains on our local beach. The island is popular for weddings/ honeymoons & probably a lot of Aussies & Kiwis go there.
We drove back to the beach house & at 5pm started cooking the marinated chicken pieces we’d bought in the supermarket. The gas oven ignited but would not stay on so we had to use the electric oven to pre-cook the chicken before putting it on the BBQ. Had salad & some huge rolls from the local bakery with the chicken. Allyson & I wrote our diaries (I had to catch up since we flew from Auckland) & we read our Kindles. Raining outside so we sat indoors.
During the night there was a massive rain storm with strong winds. The torrential rain woke us up as well as the doors rattling. Keef got back to sleep. At 4 am I wandered round the house checking that the glass louvres on the windows were not letting the rain in. Still awake at 6.45am when the lightning started & then came the thunder at 7.30. Eventually I dropped off to sleep & slept in until 10.45am!! Before we left Auckland we heard about a tropical cyclone forming in the Vanuatu area expected to be Category 3. It was named Cyclone Cook but as it was much further to the north of the Cooks we were not bothered about it reaching us, although the stormy weather meant that we were getting the peripheral wind & rain. Before we booked the Cook Islands part of the trip I checked when the cyclone season started & ended - November- March.
Wednesday 12 April Rarotonga
Had a late breakfast. Chris & Keef went snorkelling but saw no fish as the strong winds had stirred up the sand in the lagoon. I read my Kindle on the chaise longue on the decking (Bill Bryson’s ‘One Summer’ about events in the USA in 1927. We all decided to visit the botanical gardens & walked there as it was near the beach house. Very tropical & well-kept even though the ground was a little soggy in places after last night’s storm. Most of the heavy rain had drained away – no wonder there is dense rainforest in the centre of the island. We took lots of photos then went to the café in the gardens to sample their ‘world famous’ lemon meringue cheesecake pie with two scoops of vanilla icecream & fresh tropical fruit slices – yummy. We all walked back to the beach house for a cup of tea.
At 5pm we set off by car to see a children’s singing & dancing show in Avarua. The lady at the tourist info centre recommended the show to us, as there would be traditional songs & dances by teams of local schoolchildren competing. We went to the second evening of the competition & the event was held in the Cultural Centre arena – a big building with a large stage, & tiered seating around three sides with wooden louvre shutters to let the breeze in & rows of seating in front of the stage. Lots of families were eating snacks from the food stalls outside the arena. The tickets cost $10 per person & although tourist info told us the show started at 6pm it didn’t start until 6.30pm. Chris & Allyson had booked us all in to a local restaurant called Little Polynesian (a small resort as well) at 7.30 so unfortunately we all had to leave after 45 mins during the intermission.
The competition was wonderful as the children of varying ages sang traditional Cook Islands songs & danced accompanied by drums & ukuleles. The boys & girls wore traditional Cook Islands grass skirts with the girls having flower garlands in their hair. A lot of women in the audience also wore floral garlands. We saw two school teams perform & they ranged in age from nursery to teens. The little 3 & 4 year olds looked so sweet in their grass skirts & most of them hadn’t a clue about the singing/dancing but stood near the edge of the stage with their teacher. The teachers & some of the teenagers stood at the back & played the music. The audience were told not to take photos or videos because of the young children performing. It was well worth seeing the performances even though it was cut short by our departure.
Drove back to the Little Polynesian & had a nice two course meal under an open fale with palm thatched roof on the terrace next to the swimming pool. I had smoked marlin fishcakes with a lime hollandaise sauce & homemade chutney as the starter & then chicken breast stuffed with island spinach served with rice & vegetables. We all enjoyed our mneals & then Keef drove us back along the main road to the beach house.
We had a cup of tea & Allyson & I caught up with our diaries. There was wi-fi at the house but there were charges so we didn’t think it was worth doing for 7 days & would probably have been too slow anyway. We could catch up with friends & family when we returned to Auckland. During the night there was more heavy rain drumming on the roof & the wind increased. Don’t think I’ve had a proper nights sleep since I arrived here due to storms, thunder & cockerels. Also I got badly bitten on my arms & legs when we were at the botanical gardens today & they were itchy at night. Keef didn’t sleep that well either.
Thursday 13 April Rarotonga
I was woken at 8.25am by the cockerel crowing in the garden. The chickens are free range & I’m thinking of guiding them towards the oven, especially that cockerel. Had a shower & sat on the decking & read my Kindle. The others all went snorkelling. Chris showed Keef & I some tropical fish on his underwater videocam. Rain showers.
The two guys next door who did the cleaning & changed the towels brought us bananas, coconut & today they brought another coconut & a large chunk of jackfruit. It was overcast & rainy for most of the day with the occasional dry period. Keef & I did some tourist stuff in the car & Chris & Allyson went for a long walk along the coast road & a road up to Wigmore’s Waterfall. It was named after a landowner here.
Keef & I drove along the coast road on the east side of the island through Muri, a tourist area with some small resorts, cafes, burger bar, beach bars etc. We stopped at a church in Matavera but it started raining again. We stopped in Avarua again & saw a very old church c 1834 which had walls 3 feet thick to withstand the annual cyclones. The local chief had a gravestone by the main door & his ‘Palace of Makea’ was a large wooden building opposite the church in a grassy field but this was closed.
We then went to the Museum of the Cook Islands (+library) in Avarua but this was closed for Easter. In the gardens there was an original outrigger canoe on display under cover. Across the road was the small University of the South Pacific which was also closed for Easter (students have to pay tuition fees there). We walked into the main reception area where there were some replicas of traditional wooden canoes & carved wooden statues, plus a board which listed all the graduates for that year. Obviously a very small uni as there were not that many names listed.
We drove to the Takamoa Theological College through impressive large wrought iron gates to a large lawned area by a car park. The white colonial building in the grounds was the original headquarters of the Church Missionary Society in the Cook Islands. On a stone monument at the front of the building was a list of all the missionaries & quite a lot of them were converted local people who were sent out to other islands to preach & convert the people. The monument listed several missionaries who were ‘martyred’ – i.e killed by the locals & eaten. Quite a dangerous career being a missionary in these parts. Sailors used to fear being shipwrecked on these South Pacific islands because they knew they would be killed & eaten – they called the islands the ‘cannibal isles’.
We visited the National Museum in another part of the main town and it was open today – hooray! We were hoping to find out about the people & their culture. Some interesting old black & white photos of local chiefs & missionaries – all in Victorian clothes & suits – how they managed wearing long sleeved heavy serge suits & dresses with jackets in the heat & humidity I don’t know. The Victorians loved to put their own cultural values above those of the locals – would the Cook Islanders be considered to be ‘converted to God’ by dressing the same as the British? Why didn’t the Brits relax their dress & wear loose linen clothes in this climate? Mad dogs & Englishmen phrase comes to mind.
We also saw some wood artifacts – carved statues, weapons, a stool with serrated shell tied on the front for scraping out coconuts (genius design) & some beautiful woven fine straw hats made by local crafts people. A lot of the museum had an exhibition about Cook Islanders who had served in WWI in France, Gallipoli & North Africa. A lot of them died of malaria & some died in the trenches in France. Some came from Rarotonga & a few were from the outlying islands & each soldier had a photo on the wall.
The Islanders were used as navvies to dig the trenches as the British did not want to train them to handle guns & Munitions. These men were very young and had all volunteered to go to war, even though it was on the other side of the world & in the middle of nowhere. Strange that they felt so compelled to enlist in a war that had no immediate effect on them, their families or environment & yet did they feel a sense of duty to the Commonwealth & Britain to do so? Some of the men were buried in war graves in France. Several received bravery awards – the Military Medal & Distinguished Service Cross. ANZAC day is commemorated in this museum in Rarotonga. Keef & I returned to the beach house around dusk & later Chris & Keef drove to get us all some fish & chips which we ate indoors.
Friday 14 April Good Friday Rarotonga
Weather still overcast & rainy but the sea was clear for snorkelling & kayaking. Chris & Allyson did a walk along the coast road to Muri & K & I drove around the inner road. We visited the same waterfall as C & A & there were people sitting in the pool on a ledge at the bottom of the waterfall, which was not very high. A girl told us that the pool was 8 feet deep & she dived off the ledge as the locals said it was OK to do so.
Along the inner ring road were houses, small fields of taro, papaya, cassava & orange trees. We saw a breadfruit tree with large fruit like melons. Also saw small goats, a couple of cows & some pigs tied to a tree with a long leash of rope. We noticed that so many houses had shipping containers in the front gardens. We thought that these were used as emergency quarters during a cyclone but would not be much good for a tsunami. There is a tsunami escape route on the south side of the island which is a road built especially towards higher ground. There are also tsunami sirens that act as a warning to the population.
We came out at Avarua along the inner ring road and passed a cinema where families were just leaving & tucking into fast food at stalls located outside. We took some photos of the Cook Islands Parliament building.
Drove back along the east coast looking for Chris & Allyson walking back as there were no buses on Good Friday. Didn’t see them, so we returned to the beach house & found they had just got back from their walk. Keef cooked spiced kumara (NZ variety of sweet potato) & omelettes & I made a salad using up the leftovers as we were returning to NZ on Sunday evening.
Saturday 15 April Rarotonga
Much better weather today (we must have caught the far edge of the Vanuatu cyclone to the NW of us. We had an early breakfast & drove into Avarua for the weekly market. Lots of colourful market stalls selling everything from black pearls/ shell jewelry, handmade ukuleles, straw hats, food, smoothies, beach wraps (pareo), clothing etc. There were performers who did a show on the raised stage – adults & older children who sang, danced & played various styles of drum. The drummers had won lots of annual music awards representing the Cook Is in South Pacific competitions, including every year for the past 5 years. There was a voluntary collection of money from the audience which went towards travel expenses of local children doing a school pupil swap in USA, Oz & NZ so they could see other parts of the world.
The entertainment was great, they allowed photos/videos to be taken & in between light drizzle showers the sun came out. Very high U.V & also became extremely humid. Had a lovely fruit smoothie at a market stall. Allyson bought some black pearl gifts for her family & some small artwork prints. We all walked along to the Tourist Info to ask about a music afternoon at the beach from 2.30-9.30 that we’d heard about. She wasn’t clear about it, so sounded a bit hit & miss. Walked on to Trader Jacks bar for a drink but they were closed (why on a Saturday afternoon?) Walked back to Foodland supermarket & bought some cereal & fruit juice, then drove to the lager micro brewery again on the outskirts of town.
Humidity today has been excessive & as we have no internet we’ve no idea of temperatures. Thought we’d return to the beach house & a welcome swim in the lagoon to cool off. Very refreshing having dripped sweat all afternoon.
Chris & Allyson decided to take the car & drive along the inner ring road which we said was worth an explore & told them about the missionary colonial building in Avarua. On the way back they had spotted a popular burger bar in Muri which would be ideal for the evening meal. We all had cup of tea & showers & went to the burger bar. Decided to bring the food back to the house as the wet weather had increased the mosquito population. Very nice burgers. We all did some packing, had showers again & went to bed.
Sunday 16 April Rarotonga to Auckland
Got up at 8am & the phone rang at 8.15. When I answered it was Tanya (the beach house owner) contacting us about our departure. Yesterday Keef had negotiated an extension to 11am for us to stay on longer than 10am as Tanya had told him that new visitors were arriving at 2pm today. She rang today to change this, saying for an additional cost we could stay until 7pm tonight. Our flight back to Auckland was at 11.15pm so it would be much better for us to stay here all day than to load up the hire car with all our bags & spend hours in a bar. C & A thought this was a good idea too, so we agreed to extend the rental until 7pm & then the male cleaners could come in then.
Keef & I went to put some fuel in the car at the local garage & shop. We bought 2 oranges (they were green on the outside but still looked like oranges inside). We heard singing in the local church which was beautiful, so got our camera & Allyson’s camera to take some photos of the locals in the church, one of the oldest in Rarotonga. We looked through the open windows & everyone was in their Sunday best with flower garlands/straw hats worn by the women. Saw some NZ tourists that we’d met on the beach the other day sitting on a pew.
Spent the rest of the day relaxing, taking photos, watching kite surfers, a canoeist on an outrigger canoe, beach walking & reading. For lunch we had smoked marlin slices on toast & leftover nibbles & fruit.
Keef & I had booked the restaurant at the Little Polynesian resort again for 7.15pm. We had showers, completed our last minute packing, then drove along to the restaurant. Had a nice meal & chatted to our waitress who was from Fiji. I had marlin fishcakes again, chicken salad & vanilla bean brulee with alcohol infused pineapple pieces. We set off to the airport. It was 28c & very humid. We’d had rain showers during the meal & at the airport. The plane was delayed an hour – it had come from Sydney via Auckland – so we didn’t leave Rarotonga until 12.15.
The airline was Virgin Australia & not much room in the seats or leg room. I was seated next to the window & as it was dark there was no view at take-off. Tried to sleep after completing the NZ arrival bio-hazard security cards with the long list of what you could not bring into the country. Probably managed about 1½ hrs sleep. The flight took 4 hours to Auckland & as we crossed the international date line again we lost a day – Easter Monday. When we landed it was Tuesday 2.30am.