A Travellerspoint blog

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 Comments (0)

Australia

So long and thanks for all the fish

sunny 26 °C

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We arrived to a bone-dry Victoria, suffering it's worst drought on record. Everywhere brown, dry and cracked. The last three weeks have seen some good rainfalls, though, and the worst does appear to be over.

Our first fortnight was spent largely with family in Gisborne, west of Melbourne, and catching up with relatives and friends. We spent a lovely weekend with old friends in Melbourne, whilst the kids played in the pool - BBQ, wine, beer, loud music and a lot of talking - amazing how you can meet up again after so many years and it might as well have been yesterday!

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The new freeway system in Melbourne is brilliant!

We spent an enjoyable couple of days in Anglesea, on the Great Ocean Rd; out of season and very quiet and peaceful (which we needed after the weekend at Gary & Gayle's!).

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On our second weekend we went to stay with my old friend Jack, up Upwey way in the Dandenongs. Very beautiful - feeding rosellas, kookaburras, cockatoos, butcher birds and possums from the balcony........

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We went to the Mossvale Music Festival in East Gippsland, home of the World's longest worms (not a lot of people know that!). There were more hats and beards than you could poke a stick at. Some excellent music - notably an American band called The Mammals, and blues singer Eric Bibb.

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Our last week was spent with Jack in the beautiful little town of Marlo, at the mouth of the Snowy River, about 400kms from Melbourne.

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We kayak'd on the river with the kids, went out fishing in the boat. We BBQ'd the fish that one of us caught (suffice to say that it wasn't Jack, Frith or the kids!), and had sundowners and dinner on the veranda of the Marlo Pub, overlooking the magnificent Snowy Estuary.

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Now we're getting ready to fly off to the Cook Islands tomorrow, it's was very nostalgic seeing old friends again and the hospitality has been fantastic. We'd like to thank everybody for making it such a magical holiday - and special thanks to Sheila and Bill for looking after us so well and for so kindly giving us use of their spare car(s) during our stay here.

Will miss:

Heather:

Woody & Tonka, Marlo, Family

Rhiannon:

Sunsets, Marlo, Birds, Possums

Frith:

Family and friends, Automatic cars, Marlo, Australian Bakeries, Cascade Light

Graham:

Best friends, Family, Marlo, The Dandenongs, Cascade, Wine shops.

Won't miss:

Heather:

flies, mosquitos

Rhiannon:

mosquitos, bee stings

Frith:

flies, Australian drivers

Graham:

Aus. TV.

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Posted by chaddo 18:45 Archived in Australia Comments (2)

But wait - there's more!

all seasons in one day 2 °C

Not about travel this time, but our good friend Lisa is participating in the Race For Life run for charity.

If anybody would like to sponsor her in this very worthwhile cause, please copy and paste the following link:

http://www.raceforlifesponsorme.org/rss/getfundraisingPage2.asp?EventGivingGroupId=601066

many thanks,
Graham, Frith and the girls

Posted by chaddo 19:26 Archived in England Comments (0)

Thailand - and finally.........

time to go.

sunny 34 °C

Thailand has been as wonderful as, maybe even better than, our last visit 13 years ago.

Thai people are gentle, elegant, friendly and very tolerant of others. Maybe this is an aspect of their Buddhist religion, or the fact that this is the only country in Asia (one of the few anywhere) that has never been colonised.

Life here is vibrant and colourful. Siam - the land of smiles, Thailand - the land of the free. Still my favourite country in the World.

Will miss:

Heather:

Elephant ride, beaches, dance, costumes, snorkelling, Shanti Lodge, swimming with monkeys, dragon statues, tuk tuks, James Bond Islands

Rhiannon:

Elephant ride, feeding elephants, Thai dancing, Jungle Pool & rope swing, lizards, Temples, forgetting all about T.V.

Frith:

Food, 25 degrees feeling cold!, snorkelling, peoples smiles, jungle thunderstorm, geckos

Graham:

Snorkelling, Khao Sok, Food, Thai people, driving with loonies, the heat

Won't miss:

Heather:

Jellyfish stings, bad smells, bug stalls

Rhiannon:

Spiders!!

Frith:

Thai radio, Thai roads, haggling, mosquitos

Graham:

Dido

Posted by chaddo 03:05 Archived in Thailand Comments (1)

Khao Sok - down came a spider

It's a jungle out there.

storm 35 °C

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We drove up to the Rainforest National Park in our hire car. Our route took us past a Police Launch at Khao Lak; left stranded where the Tsunami dumped it - 2 km inland. Due to a quirk of underwater topography, the wave topped 11 metres here and extended over 3 km inland, killing nearly 4000 people.

At Khao Sok we stayed at Arts Riverview Lodge in a wonderful location right by the river at the end of a jungle track. On the other side of the river the land rises in a shear cliff for hundreds of feet. We went on a 2 hour elephant trek through the jungle, following trails and creek beds. Although these huge animals are very sure footed (ever see an elephant fall over?), when they work their way down a steep river bank your perch on top can feel very tenuous!

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Although the Sok river was very low (there has been a drought here too) and we were unable to take any canoeing or rafting trips, there is a deep swimming hole under the cliffs, named the Monkey Hole, no doubt on account of the troop of Macaques that clamber down to drink and cavort, at the end of the day. A rope swing has been set up and the girls had a lot of fun swinging and swimming before dinner. We were told that there were leeches in the river, but none of us was bitten.

Just as we were about to head to the restaurant for dinner a huge thunderstorm hit, so we had to sit in the shelter of our balcony and watch the heavy rain fall.....

During dinner a spider fell down Rhiannon's neck and gave her a really nasty shock, it took her quite a while to calm down.

Later, we sat on the porch in the dark drinking Mekong and listening. The cacophony all around us was awesome! Every niche of pitch and tone seems to have been occupied and creatures strive to outdo each other. Take every jungle movie you've ever seen, combine the soundtracks and turn them up to 11!

We awoke (did we sleep?) to the same orchestra of insects, frogs, birds and gibbons and a hazy mist hanging over the river. After breakfast we took a trail to some caves in the limestone karst. We saw countless lizards (one flying!), butterflies, birds, etc. Heard gibbons again but didn't see them. Although we only walked a couple of kilometres, we returned drenched to the skin, it was so humid.

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We drove back inland along route 4118. This took us past a stunning landscape of jungle and huge limestone outcrops - the perfect setting for Jurassic Park or The Lost World.

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Posted by chaddo 01:12 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

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