13th – 26th March 2011
After making a mess of the 13th March in New Zealand, the fickle finger of fate pointed us over the International Date Line and gave us another stab at it, hopefully to do a better job this time!! We grasped the opportunity and declined the free alcohol on the flight.... well Ellie did, Steve broke after only an hour and ordered himself a cheeky chardonnay! Luckily it was only a short flight so before we knew it we were being greeted by the heat and a ukulele player at Rarotonga airport. We later found out that this chap was Jake Numanga MBE and he has been there to greet and bid farewell every flight for the past 25 years.
We soon found our rental car with their instructions of ‘parked by the hedge, name on the windscreen and key under the front mat’ - it was a very stylish Nissan Micra soft-top which would be ours for 2 days – and got on the road towards our house. In true Cook Islands style, the owner of our rental home had forgotten to put the key under the mat for us to get in so we
ventured to the local takeaway, where they let us borrow their phone and before too long, we we’re in the house and noshing down on corned beef sandwiches (we had picked up supplies on our way to the house) before an early night.
It was an early start the next morning as we went to pick Ellie’s parents, Steve and Jane, from the airport but we ended up being half an hour late as we couldn’t find the way in - we were just stuck on the main road doing laps until we eventually found the entrance!! The four of us squeezed into the Micra, with all of Steve and Jane’s luggage before dropping it at the house and heading straight back out to the supermarket. We had a small hitch on leaving the house, whereby we locked the key inside, so Steve Snr’s first job on the Cook Islands would be to break in through the kitchen window courtesy of a ‘leg up’ from Steve Jnr. After that minor setback we were soon on the road to the Island’s main supermarket in the ‘city’ (as the locals called it) Avarua – it was however more like a very
small town or big village as far as we were concerned. To put the Cook Islands into perspective the population of the whole country is 20,000, with half living on the largest Island, Rarotonga.
We stocked up on a lot of alcohol and a little bit of food and then it was back to the house for some drinks and to enjoy the wonderful ocean view from our back garden. It was then time for a dip in the beautiful blue water of the lagoon at the back of the house where the two Steve’s also went exploring towards the reef on the canoe with the boogie board being towed behind. After a day of merriment and catching up it was a very early night for Snr and Jane as the 48 hours of travelling and jetlag had caught up with them.
Day 2 was all about trading in the Micra for two mopeds, which would be ours for 8 days. As Snr has a British motorcycle licence he was exempt from having to take a driving test but Jnr was not so lucky. It got off to a bad start for Jnr when he careered across the
road with no control until he remembered how to bring it to a standstill. The examiner was in a forgiving mood however and was bent over in hysterics before informing Ste that he hadn’t yet failed his test. 10 minutes of riding later both Steve’s were issued with temporary drivers licences which they would have to make permanent at the police station within 24 hours. Interestingly, motorcycle helmets are not generally worn on the Cook Islands, but people wearing them are allowed to travel at 50kph as opposed to 40kph, the maximum for non helmet wearers. It was a strange feeling travelling on a moped without a helmet as we would never do the same at home, but with everyone else doing it, it didn’t feel so wrong. The rest of the day was spent cruising the island and getting ourselves booked up for various activities for the next week as well as a fair amount of drinking, including happy hour (which was in fact 3 hours) and pool at Hidie’s bar in ‘the city’.
Day 3 was Snr’s birthday and he was woken at 6am for a sunrise eggs Benedict breakfast by the beach before later in the
morning Snr and Jane were taken to a mystery location for a birthday surprise. This location was the airport, which we managed to find first time, where they would be taking a scenic flight of the island in a four man Cessna plane. As it was Snr’s birthday we decided that party hats must be worn at all times when travelling on the mopeds – this got quite a few laughs and a lot of greetings from passers-by. It also made us look like nutters but it was fun all the same.
Our next stop was Avarua where we grabbed a quick lunch and then headed for one of the 2 breweries on the island to sample some Cook’s lager. Needless to say, it went down a treat so we bought a few bottles. The evening would be spent at a Cultural Island Night, with dinner and show at the Highland Paradise up in the mountains, and the dress code was ‘Island style’. We went to the ‘Flowery shirt and Pareu’ shop where the Steve’s picked up some very fetching flowery shirts and Ellie and Jane got a Pareu - which is a local dress a lot like a
sarong - and flowers for our hair.
We were collected by the bus and the driver said that we would have to select a leader for our group of about 15, which would be called the yellow vaka (a vaka is a style of canoe used by the original tribes). When no-one came forward, Jnr was selected but quickly advised that as it was Snr’s birthday, surely he should have the honour of ‘skippering’ the vaka. Our group wholeheartedly agreed so Snr was handed a very fetching ‘leaf necklace’ and what looked like a weaved handbag which he later presented to the Chief in a ritual ceremony. It was then time for a big feast of island food which saw our plates filled with Ika Mata (raw fish in coconut milk), taro, pawpaw, salads, spinach in coconut milk and loads of other delights. The winner of the evening however was the chicken and pork cooked in an Umu which is a traditional underground oven which was then finished with a large selection of deserts, many of which were coconut or banana based and all of which were delicious.
The dinner was followed by a dance and drumming performance
which provided a good insight into the Islands culture and history. Our MC for the evening was an Islander called Danny who was a great entertainer and introduced us to the traditional drum called the Pate which is kind of like an elongated horseshoe and was used a lot during the show. The night also featured the three Vaka captains, including Steve Snr, who delivered an occasional icy glare at Jnr as he was made to join in with the traditional dancing.
After all the activity on Snr’s birthday we all felt that a rest day was long overdue so the next day was spent at the beach and in the lagoon. When we got bored of resting, we jumped on the mopeds to sample some local alcoholic treats. First stop was the Banana Wine tasting, where a bloke makes wine using bananas as a base and then adds whatever fruits in season at the time – when we visited it was a small tropical berry. The wine was very tasty, but more like a liqueur. Our next stop was the island’s other and original brewery, Matutu. They have a lager and pale ale both of which are very
Just picked up the rides
Jnr clutching his pass certificate
tasty, but the lager was a real hit with all of us – it blew Cooks Lager out of the water. We stocked up and headed back to the house to enjoy some more Matutu and also discovered a love of mixing rum and coconut which would feature heavily throughout the rest of the holiday.
Day 5 we had ourselves booked onto a Coconut tour where we would explore the island in 2 person buggies, led by Tony – a short, chunky and very entertaining Rarotongan. Our first stop on the tour was the Noni juice factory where we were made to hold out our hands while he squeezed some of the fruit pulp into them – this was not a nice experience as the fruit smells like vomit mixed with cheesy feet. They make this into a juice which is supposed to be very good for you and is very popular in Japan. However, when we tasted it we decided it was an experience that should not be repeated, however good it is for you. It was then into the interior of the island where we sped around on our buggies through muddy and wet trails before taking
on the ultimate puddle, which Tony called ‘lovers lake’. With this, you are supposed to drive it in the same way that you love your partner – full speed and no brakes – which results in both driver and passenger getting coated in muddy water and if you’re screaming, like Jnr and Ellie, a mouthful of mud. Our last stop of the morning would be Wigmore’s waterfall, which is the largest on the island and gave us an opportunity to remove at least some of the mud from ourselves before heading back to the house for a proper shower. We had a late lunch of Wahu (a delicious pacific fish) with cocktails and wine by the pool of the resort next to our house before relaxing in the garden for the rest of the afternoon.
Day 6 was a Saturday and therefore market day at Punanga Nui Market in Avarua. One of the main attractions of the market for us was the plethora of stalls selling island food so we got on with tasting straight away, this included delicious chicken kebabs, a crepe with smoked tuna mornay filling and Ika Mata. We then settled down to watch a dance
show where the MC was our mate Danny from the Island Night and during the performance one of the male dancers managed to husk a coconut with his teeth – it was insane as we had been using knifes and sticks to do to the same thing only days before. We stocked up on yet more Ika Mata (probably our fav island food) and also some Poke which we hadn’t tasted before but we’re told it was banana cooked with starch in an Umu and then mixed with cooked coconut cream. The result is a delicious pudding.
The next morning would be our earliest start yet as we were going deep sea fishing with Captain Moko. So the alarm went off at 4.45, we had a quick brekkie of peanut butter toast and then headed to the harbour. After all our efforts of getting up super early, Captain Moko was not even nearly ready to leave – he didn’t even have petrol for the boat! – and he then announced that we should wait until sunrise before we leave which was another 45 minutes away. However, we were soon on the water but we couldn’t have got off to
Hooning around island
Check out the birthday 'helmets'
a worse start with Captain Moko. He gave some rather conflicting instructions to Jnr, who was at the front of the boat, and when Jnr got the task wrong, Moko shouted ‘Oi F**ker’ and then some expletives about him not listening and putting us at risk. After Jnr shouted a few expletives back we got on track towards the reef, which was an incredibly rough and scary journey through the breaking waves in our little boat. Not long later, Moko was at it again and abusing his crew – when Snr was taking some photos from the boat Moko shouted ‘Put your camera away... we’re fighting for our lives here!!!’ Needless to say the camera was put away sharpish and we all fell silent with the fear of annoying our captain. After clearing the reef, Moko gave Jnr the opportunity to redeem himself by steering through the choppy waters and that seemed to be the turning point in our group’s relationship with Moko as he was impressed. It was then time to get on with some fishing but not before all of us suffered from a bit of sea-sickness. Jnr managed to escape actually throwing up but Jane threw up
enough for the both of them, with Ellie and Snr putting on a good show themselves! Before too long we had managed to bag ourselves three massive (well they were to us but not to Moko) yellow-fin tuna. Happy with our catch and concerned about what shade of green Jane might turn next, we headed back to shore. Back on solid land and while Moko’s wife made tea and coffee to help us recover, Moko filleted one of the fish for us to take away with us, and gave us a little sashimi taster of our catch – it was amazing eating what we’d caught and it was seriously delicious.
Back to the house and we were all feeling a little worse for wear after most of us lost all stomach contents so it was time for a quick dip in the sea before a nap in the garden then the rest of the day involved a tuna lunch (sashimi) and a tuna dinner (bbq’d) separated by lots of Matutu beer and rum in coconuts – well deserved we thought!
The next day we felt in an investigative mood so hopped on the mopeds for a day of
exploring the interior of the island. It was amazing to see the difference between the coastal part of the island (developed for tourism) and the interior, where the Island people actually live. On our search for a lunchtime break we were drawn in by the aromas of an Indian restaurant and proceeded to sweat our way through a delicious curry meal in tropical heat – but well worth it we all thought. That evening looked promising for a lovely sunset so we headed to the north-west of the island and were not disappointed as it was beautiful.
Day 9 was to be our most active day on the island as we trekked through the rugged interior up to ‘The Needle’. This is a high point on the island that is at the end of a difficult walk (according to the leaflets we had) and they recommended taking a guide with you – advice that we neglected! It was a tricky walk up due to the varying gradients and no obvious footpath as we had to negotiate huge tree roots and killer heat. The view from the top however made it all worth it so we sat around with the
resident chicken for a while before we eventually had to face the fact that we would have to head back down the treacherous terrain. To make matters worse, as we began our descent the heavens opened and in true tropical style it rained very heavily for 10 minutes –just enough time to make the tree roots and muddy floor slippery and incredibly dangerous. Needless to say, Ellie and Jane took a careful approach spending much of their time crawling down but we got to the bottom eventually and grabbed ourselves a well deserved burger for lunch before settling in for an afternoon of drinks.
Day 10 was Snr and Jane’s last full day on the island so we decided a bit of canoeing and snorkelling was in order. In the morning we hired a couple of 2 man canoes and headed out towards the outlying islands, on the other side of the lagoon. This was going very well until the two Steve’s fancied taking on the very choppy water of the reef head on. Three waves in and they were in the water, both swimming after the boat which was headed back to the main island at great speed,
grating their bodies on the harsh rocks in the shallow waters. We soon got back on course and managed to navigate ourselves back to the base against the current, with only seconds to spare before being charged for more time. After a light bite for lunch we got on the mopeds to the south of the island for more snorkelling. We were told this was one of the best places on the island to snorkel but we found that the visibility in our lagoon by our house in Muri was much better. It was with great sadness that we then handed back the mopeds which had been loyal servants over the last 8 days.
To celebrate our last evening together, Snr and Jane took us out for a nice dinner at a local restaurant on the beach. The evening began with a cocktail each - true to form Jnr ended up with the most feminine looking drink of the bunch capped off by a suggestively positioned banana on the rim. For starters we had a sharing platter, which consisted of a variety of local dishes, some of which we had tried before and some of which were new to
Us with Jane and dancers, MC Danny is in the middle-ish
us but all were seriously delicious. Jnr and Jane then went on to have a trio of pacific fish (tuna, wahoo and mahi mahi) again which were delicious. After the meal, it was back home to partake in some Matutu which we had got in especially for the occasion and had a good old night.
For Snr and Jane’s very last day, we had a nice relaxing morning, before Jnr picked up yet another vehicle (this time a Micra with a roof –no fun!) to get our bags to our new hostel for the next 2 nights, and to get Snr and Jane to the airport. We went to a tropical garden for lunch and a wander around their grounds, a fitting end to a lovely holiday with Steve and Jane. After a teary farewell, they headed onwards to Auckland for the next leg of their journey, and we headed to the hostel. We had dropped our bags off in our room earlier in the day and so were surprised on our return when he told us that he still trying to find beds for us as it was overbooked. It turns out because of the International Date Line,
The British way
people often arrive 24 hours earlier than they have booked for. When he told us this had happened we were not too happy and after 3 hours of sitting around not having a clue what was going on, we were allowed the room we were originally given. We found out the next morning some people had been forced to sleep in the corridor!
The next 2 days were just spent relaxing and not spending money as we felt we had done everything we wanted to on the island and were only there because there is only 1 flight a week to LA.
So at 11.15pm on Saturday night, we boarded the plane to the sound of Jake Numanga strumming away on his Ukulele, a wonderful farewell from a fantastic island.
Now on to the States......
S & E xx
p.s Sorry to Ellie's Dad for the Senior references - its not because we think you are old!
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