The Cook Islanders that you meet in New Zealand will tell you that Rarotonga is a very quiet, small island with not a lot to do. Some are almost quite apologetic, but others boast about it and this was exactly what we were looking for. We didn’t want an actioned packed 3-week trip, we wanted our skin to soak up the hot sun and our feet to feel the graininess of the white gold sand. We looked forward to diving into the refreshing, transparent sea water and trying out all of the local delicacies…and this idyllic South Pacific paradise delivered all of that for us.
The Cook Islands (or the sometimes shortened form of “the Cooks”) were so named after Captain James Cook, another fellow Brit. It is made up of 15 [major] islands, and Rarotonga is the capital where we touched down on this balmy October night. We’d booked to stay at the Royale Takitumu Beach Bungalows in Titikaveka, an area which is a favourite amongst tourists and locals alike. The Bungalows sent a private air conditioned car to pick us up at the airport (an additional cost but so worth it after a late flight). It was lovely to have people waiting for us in a place we’d never been to before. In the traditional island style, they greeted us with fresh leis (local floral garlands generally made from freshly plucked exotic Frangipanis – the Tipani, or the fragrant island gardenias – the Tiare Maori). It felt like we were in one of those Elvis movies, particularly with a local welcoming us with his ukulele strumming and smooth crooning of an island love song as we disembarked the plane and made our way through passport control and customs. It seemed to add to that surreal vibe that you feel when you step into the tropics. Our driver further expounded that vibe when they offered us a glass of champagne or orange juice to enjoy on our ride, which was a lovely touch to our welcome. Kia orana!
The other Brit-Kiwi and I had been working in the office right up until a couple of hours before we left for the airport, and although it was a fairly short trip from New Zealand (4 hours), we were quite tired so we slept very well. After breakfast we headed over to the reception area and Mii (pronounced Mi-eeee), one of the hosts for the property explained what was what, and gave us some very helpful tips for exploring the island.
We spent some time exploring the luscious green grounds with the towering coconut trees and ponds which led out onto the spectacular Titikaveka beach. There we had our choice of hammocks, sun loungers and kayaks that were available for our use at no cost. I’d thought that these would be snapped up by the early risers, but there wasn’t a rush of people using these at all so these were always available whenever we wanted to use them.
The beach was deserted much to our delight, and we made the most of being in the lovely warm water. It was like our own private beach. We swam, sunbathed, read and explored all day, leaving the beach only to venture back to our bungalow every so often to top up our homemade Mojitos.
Mii had offered to take us to the supermarket to get some supplies, but we’d already come prepared with a suitcase of snacks etc, having been forewarned about how expensive imported food is to buy on the island. However, Mii’s offer was just one of many examples of how friendly and helpful the Cook Islanders are.
We visited the local Saturday market in the town centre where we sampled traditional Cook Island food and drank from coconuts. I also purchased a beautiful handmade faux- floral headpiece to bring home, and proudly wore it around the island. It felt like I was wearing a crown, it was gorgeous.
We hired a scooter to get us around the island. They seem to be so relaxed about it here. As you’ll read in thousands of other blogs, their “test” is literally you driving the scooter down the road and back. If you don’t fall off and pay the $90 fee, then you are gifted a Rarotongan motorbike license. Also, not wearing a helmet isn’t an issue here, but we’ve heard many horror stories about motorbike accidents, so if you come and decide not to wear a helmet, you do so at your own peril - we would advise against it!
Most of our holiday was centred around water activities and/or food. We snorkelled at the Fruits of Rarotonga which was fantastic, but snorkelling outside our hotel in the lagoon was just as good. We also headed up to the Wigmore Waterfall and enjoyed a good few hours letting the cool water rain on us. Having the fresh water wash over our bodies was both relaxing and invigorating. A definite must for all visitors to this paradise.
Even our delicious dinner at the Sandals Restaurant (Pacific Resort) on Muri Beach involved water – there was a rain storm hammering down around us, bringing some light relief from the tropical heat. I loved that even this small island nation had a good selection of vegetarian options, which were delectable, and nicely rounded out with the obligatory cocktails.
A visit to the Cooks isn’t complete without an “Island Night”. A traditional island cultural dance show which is held in various hotels. We attended one on Muri Beach, and enjoyed the dinner and floor show which entailed island dancing, island drums, guitar and ukulele maestros. The island drums are made from a hollowed-out Coconut tree and have a distinct sound under the right hands. There is no other culture on this earth that drums the way the Cook Islanders do. The ukuleles are made from the trees of the mango, breadfruit, teak etc, and these also have a very distinct sound and way of playing it (very fast!).
The hula dance is known as the “hura”. Hawaii, Tahiti and the Cook Islands all utilise this style of dance, but they each have their own flavour of that dance which the locals can tell apart – but to the untrained eye such as ours, we wouldn’t know the difference.
The dances tell a story through their graceful movements. It could be a story about one of the local legends, or budding romance, a lovers’ tiff, or the tears of a mother farewelling her son. The dance ranges between the slow undulating of the hips, to the frenzied shake accompanied by the same tempo of the music. It is certainly mesmerizing to watch and I couldn’t help but be a little envious of the rhythm of these dancers.
It was with a lot of reluctance that we embarked our flight back home to NZ. The two of us were very relaxed and our short stint in this island life really suited us. We completely fell in love with this secluded island paradise. The pure fresh air, stunning scenery – both oceanic and the lush green, the friendly easy-going manner of the locals, and the relaxed vibe makes for a perfect island getaway. This is one place on earth we’d be happy to visit again and again.