Friday, July 04, 2008

The Cook Islands - Rarotonga

It was a cold winter's morning in Sydney when we headed to the airport for our 3 hour flight across the Tasman to Auckland. Then, after a one hour wait in transit, it was another four and half hours to Rarotonga in the Cook Islands. We arrived to balmy 26C at 10:30pm on the night before we left! Sometimes the international dateline thing can be very confusing. Immigration and customs formalities were quickly and smilingly dealt with at the small international airport and we were soon on our shuttle and heading for our hotel.
The 15 islands of the Cooks fall into two distinct groups scattered over two million square kilometers of the Pacific Ocean, roughly half way between Fiji and Tahiti.
Rarotonga is the capital and lies in the southern group as did our ultimate destination, Aitutaki.
Total population of the group is around 13,000 and declining. Some islands only have a very small number of inhabitants. I noticed in the phone book that Palmerston Island, population 60, only had two phones, both public. Tourism is the main industry with 80,000 visitors annually.

The country is uniquely Polynesian with an independant government in free association with New Zealand. This means that all Cook Islanders carry New Zealand passports and that country takes responsibilities of foreign affairs and defence.
Maori is the official langauge but English is commonly used.
The southern group consists of the volcanic Rarotonga and a number of raised reef, atoll and sand-cay islands. Rarotonga is about 32 km around and is fringed by an amazing lagoon which is protected from the huge Pacific swell by a coral reef. Within the lagoon are small unihabited islands called motus.

The island interior is very rugged with thick jungle and craggy volcanic mountains. It can be accessed only by walking tracks and to a limited extent by four wheel drive. There is quite an adventure tourism niche being developed for that area. The island has one main road which circles the narrow coastal plain. The main township is Avarua which is a thriving little place with lots of restuarants, cafes, jewellery stores (black pearl culture is a major industry) and tourist clothing shops and of course commercial and government buildings.

We arrived at our hotel, the Moana Sands, which sat right on the beach, around midnight. We could just see the waves breaking on the reef in the moonlight and it was great to hit the sack with the roar of the surf in our ears. We were anxious to see what daylight would bring us.
And below is the view from our balcony!

After breakfast we attempted a beach walk but strong winds thwarted our efforts so we headed back to the room for some reading and possibly some TV viewing on the nation's one channel.
The Cooks are a devoutly Christian community and Sunday is basically a closed day. Very few shops and restaurants are open and public transport runs on an extremely limited timetable early in the morning and late afternoon.
Luckily for us our hotel had one of the few restaurants open, the Pawpaw Patch, and they run a Sunday night BBQ which is very popular with residents and visitors. They offered grilled steak, sausages and fish with a huge range of salads as well as some good old fashioned desserts I have not seen since I was a kid. All this was washed down with a good New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. Entertainment was an island string band who played some great stuff. It was also the first restaurant I had ever been to where they say grace before serving the meal. And it was here that K was introduced to Ika Mata. This is chunks of raw fish, usually tuna (but can be other) which is is marinated in lime juice, has onion, chilli (and sometimes cucumber and tomato) added and is served cold with coconut cream. This was to become one of her favourite starters during the trip.
We sat at a table with a young Californian couple on their honeymoon. He was a computer nerd (in the nicest way) and she was a nurse of Korean origin who had gone to the USA to study and never returned home. They had an interesting story to tell about conflict of cultures and the reaction of her family to her total change of life. Reminded us in a small way of another couple we were well acquainted with.
Next morning we were up bright and early and, after brekkie, we were on our way back to the airport to catch our flight to Aitutaki.

1 comment:

CLM said...

You know how to live! Wow!