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Published: September 11th 2007
As we boarded our Air New Zealand aeroplane in Los Angeles in preparation for our 10 hour flight to Rarotonga, it dawned on us just how much of an unknown quantity The Cook Islands are. Journeying through America was such a day-at-a-time quick-fire experience and distraction that to think ahead to the 'second leg' of the trip just didnt happen. So there we were, thrusting down the runway at LAX and then up and into the night sky to make our way to the collective dots of land that make up the Cook Islands, that are layed out in the middle of the vast South Pacific Ocean.
On arriving at Rarotonga International Airport, we received an instant indication of just how extremely different life was going to be for us on these islands as opposed to our time America. During the flight, I managed 1hr of broken sleep in the cramped Economy Class seats but that couldnt stop me breaking a wide smile as we entered through 'Arrivals'at 6:00am to be greeted and welcomed by the friendly Polynesian's playing traditional guitar and banjo songs in the tiny airport's baggage hall. Compared to the US, the relaxed atmosphere seeping through the
doors of the airport from the island outside smacked me on the head like a light duck-feathered pillow! It's just a different way of life here.
While in LA, we managed to sort out our accommodation in Rarotonga in advance. This afforded us an agent who met us at the airport and ushered Trung and I and the other new arrivals from the one-a-week flight from LA into a minivan and off to our hostel. When we were dropped off at sunrise, we were really happy to wander around our sleepy hostel, past the BBQ balcony/sundeck and down onto the beach where the sand and hammocks under the beach huts run from the still lagooned sea right up to the hostel's swimming pool.
True to the Polynesian's chilled out reputation, our room was not ready and we were asked to wait around 3hrs until 9:00am when the office would open. We took the chance to have forty winks on the couches and when the office eventually opened, we were asked to go away again for a few more hours until our rooms were made up.
With some time to kill, set off for the main road outside
Mav's Bar Open for Business - Awesome
Trung, Brad, Emily, Krista, Me and Mav
the hostel to catch the 'Anti-clockwise' bus that would take us to the main town in Rarotonga. There is one main road that follows the coast around the island. One bus states: 'Clockwise' on the front and another bus reads 'Anti-clockwise'. Sometimes they arrive on time, sometimes they don't. Nobody complains if the bus' turn up late, which they invariably do.
Our first stop in town was the Police station. We wanted mopeds and to obtain one, we would have to pass a moped test and attain our Cook Islands driver's licence. Of course, we needed machines to sit our tests, so the Police told us to go and hire some machines, drive back and then sit our test. Where else in the world would this happen?! The rental company had only one bike so I gave Trung a backie halfway around the island to another dealership. By the time we arrived for our tests, we were seasoned, veteran bikers and with the lack of sleep from the flight, pretty grizzly!
Three of us sat our tests and set off from the Police Station with a cop in chilled persuit. One guy completely disappeared while Trung went off
on the wrong direction. We all passed. Only in Rorotonga. Nobody really cares about trivial issues here. People just get on with it, when they feel like it and in their own good time. We wondered just what examples of trouble would be handled by the Police station, given that everyone loitering there was biting there nails waiting to sit their driving 'test', instead of waiting to be taken down to the cells as punishment for some sort of heanous criminal act.
The island itself is truely beautiful. It's approx 20km in circumference and more or less circular. A thin ribbon of beech wraps around the shore to create a sandy fringe that seperates the land from the sea. No matter where you are in Rarotonga - except the harbour - you can look out from the shore and see the ocean waves break against the reef that sits about one hundred metres from the sand. This creates the lagoon, which provides shallow, calm and warm water all around the island. It's the kind of place where you can sit and read a book in a hammock and the only sound that will break the silence or the whisper
of water gently lapping the shore is the thud of the odd coconut falling from a palm tree and burrying itself into the soft sand.
I like doing things for the first time on this trip. In Rarotonga, we strolled onto one of the beeches by a resort (no beaches are exclusive to any resort and are free for anyone to use if they please) and went snorkelling. As we kicked our flippers under a bar that overlooks the lagoon, one of the guys from the resort threw some bait into the sea over our heads. Within seconds, the water around us was teeming with shoals of flourescent fish. The surprising thing was that the fish didnt seem to care about us humans swimming there in the water alongside them. With the wind creating a relatively choppy surface across the face of the water, we ended up injesting quite a bit of the salty sea water but it was still a really good maiden snorkel.
Following on from LA, Trung and I resumed our roles as lead instigators for some evening's drinks with other folk staying at the hostel. It was great to land on our feet again
with another great bunch in the hostel and it was cool to be introduced to some Kiwi brew, in the form of Lion Red and Steinlager. Sometimes we'd venture into the town for a night out at Whatever! which is an open-air bar-come-disco. More often than not though, we'd spend the evenings in the hostel where the drinks and the chat were spot on. We were really lucky with the company at the hostel and it was a pleasure to meet and spend time with a load of friendly Kiwi's, who were out in the Cook Islands on holiday from New Zealand. Special big shouts out to Mav and Krista- we're missing you two!!
The food on the island was good too and we ate fresh fish most days which was a luxury for us. One evening, the owner of the hostel fired up the barby for a swordfish and chops feast. I've never had such a large swordfish steak - awesome. One weird aspect of the Cook Islands is how many goats and chickens just roam around the place, quite the thing. We ate outside a fried chicken bar one evening and it was a mind bender to
have chickens clucking around under out feet. It's the closest I've come to going veggie after that.
Inside the island, we ventured up side tracks on our mopeds to resume our new found hobbie of hill walking on the sharp jungle peaks. The first one we did together was really easy going but the second one I tackled alone was mental, really bloody tough going - check the video clip at the top of the blog. The last 45 minutes involved pulling and hoisting myself up vertical rope holders to get up the face of the mountain. Great views from the top though so there was an eventual dividend!
We also went to an Island night where dancers in traditional grass and coconut outfits danced and sang Polynesian and Mauri songs. To look at, the islanders can be quite overbearing. The men and the women are pretty big folk. In actual fact, they are just big, friendly giants. I managed to hitch hike home from the town one night and when we were struggling to walk in the sun to the airport with our heavy backpacks, a local fellow offered us a lift. He genuinely didnt want to
accept Trung's 'thanks' of money for a drink but we insisted.
Before leaving LA, we booked flights to Aitutaki, another group of lagooned atolls contributing to the Cook Islands group. After seven nights in Rarotonga, we strongly didnt want to leave the island, the hostel and our new found Kiwi mates but little did we know that Aitutaki would be a whole new different adventure in the amazing Cook Islands...
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