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The Cook Islands

Life in the slow lane.

storm 29 °C

Our trip to Rarotonga was with Air New Zealand, via Auckland. Sadly, this airline was very much the weak link in the Star Alliance package (which includes Virgin and the excellent Singapore Airlines), with old planes, no seatback video and on both legs of the journey our meal consisted of a meat pie (including Heather's, despite the fact that we'd registered her as a vegetarian).

Our overnight flight from Rarotonga to LA only strengthened this view; still no seatback videos - and the individual overhead lights were stuck on so it was like trying to sleep in Stalag 17!

Our Beach House in Rarotonga (through Rarotonga Backpackers) was, at 30 pounds a night, very reasonable. It was old and full of character (not to mention geckos, mosquitos and the occasional rodent), and was located away from any resorts, so it was just like having our own private beach - along with our own private army of hermit crabs.

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For the first five days of our stay we were battered by storms from Cyclone Betty, which passed to the north of The Cook Islands. It was only on the last three days that we could go snorkelling.

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So we hired a little car and explored the island.

Rarotonga (means "Down South") is the archetypal volcanic tropical island; 20 miles in circumference with a very steep, all but impenetrable forested interior and sorrounded by a beautiful coral reef.

There is basically one road which runs around the coast.
People drive on the left.
Very slowly.
There are a lot of very big people on very small motor bikes - Pacific Islanders are, by repute, very heavily built (the King of Tonga weighed 80 Stone!!). Certainly slim Rarotongans were very few and far between (thin on the ground?).

Eating out is fairly expensive but the seafood, as you'd expect, is delicious.

The population is about 14,000. There is a bit of an old fashioned village atmosphere about the place (we had to stop the car once to let a sow and her young piglet cross the road!). As a resort destination it is (happily) far less developed than I'd expected, perhaps partly due to the fact that property can not be bought or sold - only inherited.

The reef in front of us was too shallow to swim in but a pleasant 500 metre walk along the beach took us to the nature reserve near the Rarotongan Resort, where the water was a couple of metres deep, warm, clear and full of colourful fish. It would make a great place to learn to snorkel as you are never very far from shallow water, there are no waves or currents and the sea life starts as soon as you enter the water - in fact within 20 metres of the shore we found a couple of giant clams a metre wide.

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We went to an "Island Night", which started with the uncovering of the Umu. This is the feast that has been slow-cooked on hot rocks in the ground, covered with palm leaves, for over 4 hours. There were large joints of meat - pork, lamb and beef (and, in latter times, "enemy"), along with root vegetables.

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The feast was followed by a display of dancing. The Cook Islanders are reputed to be among the best dancers in the whole of Polynesia. Each of the Islands has it's own distinctive music, rhythms and dances.

Styles varied from grass-skirted girls doing slow, hypnotic Hawaiianesque hip-swaying dances to brightly painted men doing loud frenzied war dances (and looking hungry!).

This has been the shortest stopover of our journey. Although the weather was restrictive at first, and it was far too wet to fulfil my plan to walk the cross-island path, our stay has been really relaxing and we can recommend the island as a pleasant stopover between Aus./NZ & America, - although we suspect that if you stay in one of the resorts you may miss out on some of the laidback charm of the place.

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Posted by chaddo 04:58 Archived in Cook Islands

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