Date of stay: November 2011
Where you stayed: with Friends
Tour or pre planned: Preplanned
Having finished working in Sydney and planning my move to London, I had decided that I needed a few months to travel, unwind and see the world. After my first stop to New Zealand to say goodbye to friends and family, I set off to Rarotonga to see my good friend who had moved to the Cook Islands 6 months previously.
Landing in Rarotonga after midnight and greeted by the token guy playing his guitar (apparently he is at the airport to welcome every plane in) I didn’t get a chance to see what beauty lay around me. My friend Charlotte had a family home right on the beach, so I awoke to the waves crashing on the beach and ROOSTERS. Very crow happy roosters that felt the need to cock-a-doodle-doo through the whole night. Safe to say I got used to sleeping with ear plugs in.
This is where my tough life started, sitting on the balcony eating fresh papaw with the tall jagged peaks behind us and the sea only 20metres away. This was going to be a very hard month! We set off on the scooter (main mode of transport on the island) down to Muri Lagoon where my friend runs Workout on Water - a yoga class on stand up paddleboards (SUPs). Having never been on a SUP before, it was so surreal to be floating out on the picture perfect lagoon, with tropical fish swimming beneath you as you went through a series of yoga poses. Muri Lagoon has a number of water sports available like kite boarding, kayaking, SUP hire to cruises that take you to a protected snorkelling spot as they sing you traditional island songs on ukulele’s. A great spot to relax and take in the scenery at Muri is Sails restaurant.
Rarotonga is one of the bigger islands of the Cooks, but it only takes around 40mins to go around the whole island by scooter. Setting off from Muri Lagoon we started our island ride anti-clockwise on a beautiful morning, first stop at Avarua, the islands capital. Everyone is so lovely and friendly in Rarotonga, and with the sale of tip-top ice cream and bluebird chips, it would be easy to confuse yourself with being in a small New Zealand community.
Continuing past Avarua, you pass the airport, where the road passes between the sea and the runway, making it popular for people to come and stand in the jet stream if you know the plane schedules. 5 minutes around from the airport is “black rock” – which is a black rock jutting out from the white sandy beach, sitting about 3 metres above the sea. Having gone there one occasion with Charlotte’s cousin, he told me stories of jumping off the rock when he was younger on holiday on the island. After much discussion with who was going to jump in first, we decided to test the depth. Greatest idea of the century as the water was not even up to his waist.
Around the island further you pass numerous resorts and beaches, one being Aro’a Beachside Inn, which is home to Shipwreck Hut – one of my favourite bars in the world. It sits on the beach, with the most amazing sunsets. The owners are so friendly and chatty and the drinks are served in jam jars. It is really something to remember. Other spots on the island to look for are Marie Nui Gardens, a restaurant/café set back off the road in beautiful gardens, with tiki torches and fairy lights making the trees glow at night. Beaches of Rarotonga have amazing clear waters and white sandy beachers full of tropical fish for snorkelling. If there has been rain recently, you can head up the road behind the abandoned Sheraton hotel and check out the waterfall. Those who are more game may want to take a dip, but make sure you’re covered head to toe with insect repellent!
You can head to the local markets in Avarua on a Saturday morning, which is a social event for the locals, with stalls of food, juices, breads, and local crafts to island pearls. Food you have to try is Ika Mata, the local dish. Made with fresh raw fish, the citrus juice that it is marinated then cooked so it is so tender and melts in your mouth. You can get it from the markets or almost any restaurant/café on the island. If you are starving, especially if it is 2am and you’ve just left the nightclub, check out Palace Burger. For $10NZD you can get a burger that is literally the size of your head, and tastes good (even when you’re sober).
Nightlife on the island mainly starts at Trader Jacks, then across to Whatever then finish off at Rehab. Pretty good name for a nightclub I reckon! Clubs close every night at midnight except for Fridays, when they close at 2am. This leads to “afters” which are after parties that are decided on the night usually. Sunday is a pretty quiet day on the island with almost everything except eateries being closed until 5pm.
I went out on a sunset cruise on the sailboat the Southern Cross, which has an amazing view back on to the peaks of the island. Had I been a few weeks earlier, it would have been more of a whale sightseeing cruise, but unfortunately I had just missed them. For those who like to walk, there is a cross-island walk, which you can do, but since I was there for R and R, I just stuck to lying on the beach and going out on SUPs.
Spending a month on an island of 15,000 people was the perfect start to my world adventure. It is such a beautiful island with beautiful people. One regret that I have from my trip to the Cooks is not getting to one of the other islands, Aitutaki is a short flight away and is apparently amazing. I cannot wait to get back there!
Would you recommend this destination: Yes
Would you recommend your tour: N/A – Self guided
Would you recommend your hotel: N/A – Stayed with friends
Overall rating destination: 5 out of 5