N.B. We are now in New Zealand and having a marvelous time. To my great frustration, I have had trouble finding reliable connections with which to upload photos and work on blog editing, not to mention computer programs that are making me do extra work. Hence the delay in posting about our time in the Cook Islands. Rest assured, I am working to keep the story going. Thanks for your patience and I hope you enjoy!
Our time in Rarotonga was spent alternating between walking the beach, swimming, lounging in our apartment, napping, and various activities out and about. We enjoyed our accommodation at the Tree House B and B. I found it on Airbnb, but it’s also on Tripadvisor. There are two one bedroom apartments in the ground floor of the host’s home. They can also be rented as one larger unit. Ours had a bedroom, bathroom, small living area and kitchenette with microwave, mini fridge, and two-burner electric hob. There was also a shaded porch with a gas bbq, and a small table and chairs. It was well supplied with cutlery, plates, glasses, and pots and pans, so we were able to do a bit of cooking for ourselves. I think the other unit has a full kitchen, but I’m not sure as we didn’t see it. A real bonus was the filtered water from the bathroom tap and the Brita pitcher in the fridge. Elsewhere, we were told not to drink the tap water in the Cook Islands and so had to purchase bottled or filtered water. But at the Tree House, this was not an issue. I could refill my water bottle to my heart’s content!
The location of our accommodation was excellent. The Tree House is down a driveway just off the main road, about 5 or 6 kilometers out of the main town of Avarua on the western side of the island. There is only one main road on the island which follows the coastline right around the whole thing. There is also a smaller ring road that is a bit further inland, but it’s more of a side road. The whole circumnavigation of the island on the main road is about 32 kilometers, so it’s totally manageable, however you choose to travel. There is a very convenient bus service that runs in both directions around the island every hour. It stops anywhere you like – you just flag it down. This was our chosen means of transport. So the first morning after our arrival day, we walked out to the road and waited for the bus. Before the bus had a chance to arrive, a local woman pulled over in her car and offered us a lift! She was very nice and drove us into town where she was headed as well. It was a great start to our experience of the friendly, helpful, and downright lovely people of the Cook Islands. In town, we stopped at the iSite information centre to ask some questions, checked out some shops, had a delicious breakfast at Salsa Café, and bought a voucher for WiFi at the Bluesky telecom office. The Tree House has a Bluesky WiFi hotspot but you need to purchase a voucher to login. At the Foodland grocery store, we got some supplies and then found the bus again. Your choices for buses are Clockwise and Anti-Clockwise. We decided to take the long way around the island to get the lay of the land and see a bit of the scenery. The whole trip only takes about 50 minutes. Though there seem to be more tourists than locals on the bus, there is a mix of both. The drivers are quite accommodating and attentive to their passengers’ needs. One of them even likes to sing and tell stories while he’s driving! I think he fancies himself a tour guide. Though there is a written schedule for the bus, as you can imagine, sometimes it is running on island time. It really worked quite well for us, but you have to be prepared for some waiting if you plan to use it as your main means of transportation. That night we walked down the road to the Kikau Hut restaurant for dinner. It was a good meal, especially the gluten free, orange almond coconut cake we had for desert. We also enjoyed watching a gecko warm himself on a globe light while taking advantage of the tasty bugs the light attracted!
The next morning was windy and overcast, not the best beach weather. So we decided it might be a good day to do the Raemaru Track. There are several hiking trails on the island, including a cross island track which takes 3 – 5 hours and can also be done as a guided hike. We opted for a shorter hike to the top of a mountain, closer to home. We started by walking about 1.5 Km down the road to the trailhead. The scenery was very tropical. We passed pigs and goats in fields, saw many of the wild chickens so ubiquitous to these Pacific islands, admired the colorful flowers, and coveted the various fruits in the trees.
Then it was up, up, up into the jungle, along a knife-edge ridge, and finally, a climb with ropes and metal hand holds to the very top of Raemaru Peak. The sun came out making it a lovely day with spectacular views. We were grateful that the canopy of the forest provided shade for most of the trek as it was relatively steep and strenuous. Switchbacks were not an option in a lot of places, so there weren’t any! We were also glad to have brought along a pair of trekking poles, which we shared.
I am not a big fan of the edge of any cliff, finding it to produce rather unsettling sensations, so the walk along the ridgeline with slope on both sides was a bit exciting for me. I made it though, and eventually we found ourselves, hot and sweaty, at the almost top of the mountain. When I first saw the ropes hanging down, and beyond them, permanent metal rungs for assisted climbing up the rock wall to the very top, I thought “No thank you! Not my cup of tea.” After a brief rest, Michael went up the climb while I stayed below.
On his way up, he met some other people coming down. We hadn’t been able to tell there was anyone else up there! The others were a middle aged couple with a local guide. The guide was wearing flip flops! I can’t imagine how he did the trek in those, never mind the climbing! He was instructing the lady exactly where to place her hands and feet as she came down, so I got a tutorial from below. It really didn’t look so hard. So after they had left, I decided I should give it a go. Time to test my limits, suck it up, and not let fear rule my choices! I left my pack behind and started to climb the rock with the assistance of the ropes. As I went up, I heard Michael calling down that he was on his way back. I yelled back “No, no! I’m on my way up!”.
After the ropes and rungs, there was a steep bit of trail where I hung on to roots and trees, and then it opened up to a gently sloping, wide, open area with footpaths. The mountain had a little flat top! The view was indeed excellent, however I had left my camera with my backpack, so I didn’t get any good photos from the top. Sorry! We stayed long enough to admire the view and catch our breath. Then we started back down. I was a bit worried about the descent, thinking it could be scarier than going up, but it really wasn’t too bad. I had a huge sense of accomplishment as we geared up for the walk back down the trail and the impending sensations of jelly legs and sore knees. Even the ridgeline seemed like child’s play after my daring adventures on the rock wall! A rock climber I will never be, but I was glad I had pushed myself. At the bottom of the hill, we started up the main road back to our rooms feeling quite worn out. An ice cream from a local shop helped, and we also picked up a chicken to cook for dinner that night. Michael did an excellent job grilling it on our deck.
The next night we celebrated Michael’s birthday with a special meal prepared by our host, Carlo, who is an Italian chef. Carlo retired from a restaurant at a nearby, high end resort. He and Roberta, his wife, also had another restaurant on the island at one time. They have been in Rarotonga for fifteen years. A candlelit table was set on our porch where Roberta served us. For a starter Carlo prepared bruschetta with eggplant, tomato, and onion, followed by broadbill fish with lemon caper sauce and vegetables.
For desert, he made a special chocolate birthday cake in the shape of a scallop shell. Delicious! I’m so glad I arranged this special birthday treat for us. After dinner we enjoyed talking with Carlo and Roberta for a while.
Our next adventure was a 4-wheel drive tour of the island with Raro Mountain Safari Tours. I’m not really into a lot of tours, but this one was fantastic. We had a really special morning and it was a good value with the included lunch, given the price of food on the island. We met our tour guides next door at the Edgewater Resort and, after some confusion about where we belonged, ended up in a vehicle with 3 children and 3 adults who were part of a larger school group from New Zealand. In all, there were four vehicles. One of the other vehicles also had some Chinese, some Australians, and another American. Normally, the idea of going on tour with a bunch of kids might not have appealed to me (no offense to children). But as it turned out, sharing our tour with the Kiwi school group only enhanced the experience. They were from the Te Kao elementary school, which is the furthest north school in the country! It’s a small school with perhaps 30 or so students I think. The “field trip” to the Cook Islands involved the whole school. I think the youngest children did not come, but most of them did. They were absolutely lovely people. We had some good laughs with the ladies and children in our vehicle and all the children were really well behaved. At the end of our tour, they even sang a traditional song for us, all together, with hand motions too. We enjoyed spending time with them, and when they found out we were coming to New Zealand, they invited us to visit the school!
The tour itself was excellent. Our guide and driver was Captain Useless. They like to use nicknames here such as Useless, Hopeless, and Oops! It took some effort to tune into his speech patterns, but he was very knowledgeable, had a good sense of humor, and kept us entertained. On the tour we stopped at a waterfall, a beautiful beach, a couple of culturally significant spots, and drove up into the mountains to view the Needle which is a rock spire at the center of the island. Along the way we learned about the plants of the area, the local culture and history, and heard some great stories. The tour finished off with a bbq lunch of local foods by the beach. The food was delicious and our guides entertained us by playing guitars and ukuleles and singing. One of the things I hadn’t realized is the close cultural connection between the Cook Islanders and the Maori of New Zealand. One of our stops was at the launching point of seven canoes of Cook Islanders which sailed to New Zealand sometime around 1350.
Since most of the school group appeared to be Maori, the guides did a great job of explaining and highlighting the connections between the Cook Islanders and the Maori. It was fascinating. There are similarities in language and cultural tradition, and quite a few common place names.
All in all it was a fantastic time and we were glad we did this tour. After 6 nights on Rarotonga, we took a small plane to another of the Cook Islands, Aitutaki. There we found an incredibly blue lagoon, white sand beaches, and a slow pace of life. I have many photos to share from that lovely place so stay tuned for the next installment.
Until then, see you down the road!