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Posts from the ‘Pacific Islands’ Category

Raro last hurrah: day of the scooter

And so the inevitable last day dawned. Thanks to Air NZ rescheduling we were leaving at the convenient time of 1.30am. On the plus side, we had a full day to enjoy; on the less awesome side, we had to stay awake for longer than we’d managed on the whole trip to date.

After checking out and leaving luggage in the lock-up we nipped over the road to the Budget office. Before long we were the owners of temporary Cook Islands licenses – sufficient for a one day hire – and ready to unleash our two wheeled fury.

Easy Rider

Easy Rideress

No helmets required provided we kept to the slightly lower speed limit. It had been ages since I had ridden a motorbike and while these were humble scooters it was so much fun.

We spent a few hours just scootering around, stopping here and there on a whim for photos.

I'm a sucker for ruinous buildings

The flame trees were striking with their gorgeous flowers and distinctive canopy

One of many churches on the island

On the way into Avarua with its rugged backdrop

The large police station, no doubt funded by all the driver licenses they process

Near the mouth of Muri Lagoon

We nosied around the ruins of what I guess was a church

Across the road was this church

Lunchtime deluge

A nearby building

Raro dogs at Muri Lagoon

Somewhere on our scooter travels

Back of the abandoned resort from the road to the island's waterfall

More rustic buildings along a random inland road

An old roadside shop I think

We reluctantly returned the scooters to give ourselves time for a final snorkel back at the resort. After a big dumping of rain in the middle of the day it had cleared up nicely and we still had a few hours to kill. We enjoyed a cocktail by the pool and later found our last bottles of beer (not cold but drinkable) to keep us hydrated while watching our final island sunset.

Mike on the hunt for fishes

Found some

First cocktails of the trip, finally, though not from lack of trying

Enjoying the last Raro sunset

We miss this!!

Between dinner, internet and reading we hung in there til the shuttle’s arrival at 11.30pm. At the airport, the customs and security officials seemed a touch officious and once through that, we realised we had forgotten about the $55 departure fee (ouch) and so joined the hefty queue of similarly disinclined fellow travellers.

But waiting for the boarding call we could only look back on the past few days with a great deal of fondness. It was a fantastic holiday. With so many other travel plans we may not get back to Raro in a hurry which makes this trip all the more memorable.

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Raro day 5: exploring!

We had two full days yet before it was time to tootle back to reality. Lacking any real agenda we decided to make use of the half day of hire remaining on our bikes. So after the usual breakfast and checking-the-fish-off-the-deck routine, we prepped for some sightseeing accompanied by mild physical exertion. It shouldn’t be too much hard work with that battery assist, right?

Fishies waiting for some breakfast of their own

Off we went, zooming in the direction of town. At warp speed 5 the k’s ticked by quickly and I realised it wasn’t going to be a big deal to cycle through to Avarua. Mike’s bike had an indicator of battery life remaining and we felt pretty confident that there was enough juice.

Of course there was the occasional obligatory stop for photos.

A well cared for and colourfully adorned cemetery. Graves are mainly above ground here.

A less well cared for cemetery - apart from the white grave to the left which had a path cut through to it

Port of Avatiu, the main port of the Cook Islands

Our bikes along the top of the island - remains of a 1916 shipwreck (actually the ship's engine block) are visible in the far background

I was keen to complete the loop around the island but Mike didn’t think there was enough time. Luckily Mike won that conversation as not long after we had turned to begin the return leg, my battery ran out. I was dismayed to put it mildly but there was nothing else for it but to put in some good old fashioned leg work. It was a long hot slog especially given it was a heavier sort of bike anyway. I was happy when a few kms later Mike’s battery also expired, and I was even happier when we finally made it back to the rental shop.

After lunch we turned out attention to the water, starting with kayaks. Concerns that I would either paddle in perpetual circles, or somehow jump the reef and get swept out to sea, were unfounded. Skimming across the water with clear views of coral and fish was a really enjoyable experience.

A great way to view the lagoon through the amazing clear water

My, er, natural kayaking pose

It was time to move on to the next activity so we ditched the kayaks and Mike went to get some snorkelling kit. In a fit of reckless abandon I grabbed a set as well. Not being much of a water fan I hadn’t snorkelled before so I was a touch apprehensive. But I figured the resort area was fairly safe, given it is a lagoon and they sweep it for stonefish, so I stopped being a wuss and gave it a go. It was great!

Mike had bought an inexpensive underwater camera so taking photos gave it another dimension of fun.

The view underwater, or at least it was when one's mask wasn't fogged up

A whale in the lagoon, who knew?!

Late afternoon when it was time to start thinking about refreshments it began to rain. Not heavy but enough to throw a dampener on the wedding taking place at the beach gazebo just along from us. Instead of our usual place on beach loungers we settled for enjoying our bubbles and salt and vinegar chips from the covered patio just outside our room.

Yet another wedding

To our surprise, after the rain stopped some of the cloud cleared and we were rewarded with a pleasant wee sunset. Cue Hayley dashing back and forth along the beach with camera…

So we got an ok sort of sunset finally

Dinner was in Captain Andy’s Grill at the resort where we listened to the same drum and dance performers from the wedding two nights before (we didn’t pay to watch them again) and observed a teeny local scurrying near our table.

Only about the second critter I saw on the island and thankfully one I could cope with!

Only one day left – time was going way too fast.

Raro day 4: bikes, beaches & bubbles

Another relaxed morning in the tropics turned into a comparatively busy afternoon. The newlyweds were hosting a drop-in at their house and we had a bit of a quandary which I lazily pondered: how would we get there?

It was Sunday which meant a reduced bus service and an inconvenient one at that. It was too far to walk. Didn’t want to hire a car. We were saving a scooter rental until our last day. That left one cunning plan: bicycles. Mike was keen and there was a rental depot a) just over the road; and b) open – so off we went.

There was a little surprise in store for us. Push bikes actually transpired to be hybrid electric bikes. We initially weren’t sure about this but figured ‘what the hey’ and shelled out the $19 each for these power assisted pedalling machines.

Side note: no one wears helmets here. There are a ton of scooters (though nothing like the congested cities of Vietnam etc) and 99% of riders are lidless. If you wear a helmet you can ride 10kph faster – up to the speed limit of 50kph – but the preference far and away seems to be for the cooling effect of the wind through one’s hair…

So we declined the extra $1 for a helmet and got going. It was great! We fair zipped along with the battery adding a lot more momentum than if was just our own pedal power. The hot walk to the supermarket yesterday took only about 10 minutes on the bikes.

About the same distance again brought us to the beachfront house that Sally and Michael were renting where, in our perspiring glory, we joined the few people already gathered.

During our few days in Rarotonga I marvelled at the lack of bugs and nasty things. Didn’t even really get bitten. BUT since getting back home I have learned that Raro has its fair share! Oh yes, and particularly nightmare-inducing are the huntsman spiders and coconut crabs. Omg. I am so glad I was blissfully ignorant about these beforehand. Outside of the ‘sanitised’ resort I would probably have been paranoid visiting a private house as we did this day!

We partook of a sausage, checked out the beach and gawked at the lady exercising her arms while walking along the sand with her dogs. There are a lot of dogs here, some mangy but some lovely ones too. One of the girls was determined to open a coconut but eventually conceded defeat. It began to rain and we all scuttled under cover. It continued to rain, a respectable tropical downpour.

It cleared and the afternoon was marching on so we said our goodbyes and mounted our metal steeds for the brisk return trip. We wound them up to warp speed 5, about 30kph, so not too shabby. Back at the resort we squeezed them into a parking space amongst the hoards of fully motorised two wheelers.

It’s easy to cool down with the lagoon all around. I didn’t swim as such but at least got in the water. There was time before the activities hut closed for the day so Mike grabbed some snorkelling gear while I supervised from my lounger.

We had a couple of appointments to keep that evening. Sunset watch, ultimately futile, but accompanied by one of our duty free bottles of bubbly. Bubbles at the beach is one of life’s simple indulgences. With not much happening in the evening sky we headed along to the resort’s buffet roast night. We ate our money’s worth while the solo entertainer crooned along with his backing tracks.

Resort life winds down early so with full tums we retired for another dose of sitcom repeats.

The resort parking bay, scooters galore and two electric bikes

Out for a stroll in the lagoon

A sea slug - yickkkh

Snorkelers in front of the reef

Their turn today; our turn tomorrow

On sunset watch in between twilight bubbly and tottering off to dinner

Though this was about as good as the sunset got

Raro day 3: the markets and a wedding

Saturday arrived and with it the main purpose of the trip. First priority of the day though was to visit the Punanga Nui markets in Avarua. Billed as a must-visit we were keen to go but not at the expense of our holiday sleep-in!

The buses supposedly run twice an hour on market day but this wasn’t our experience and so we got there later than intended. First impressions made me itchy to start racing around – big open space, lots of craft and food stalls, lots of people.

It was hot, damn hot, and sunny. Though not for long. For lunch the hot chicken pita pockets called out to us and before we’d finished them it started raining. It was nearing midday and we scurried around the last few stalls, picking up a small wooden turtle as the traditional trip keepsake to take home.

Rain on the way?

The markets, a fantastic place for souvenirs, crafts and lunch

With the dubious bus schedule in mind and a wedding to think about getting ready for, we gathered at what we assumed was the bus stop where lo and behold, a service arrived on time.

Back at the ranch, or resort at least, I had enough time for a brief wrestle with the internet during which time it rained again. Still, this was the opposite side of the island to the wedding venue and given the nature of tropical climate rain, it wasn’t worth worrying about the forecast for later on.

Then it really was time to start the process of getting ready and I could’ve done with longer as rushed to get finished in time for our scheduled pick-up. With a couple of other collections along the way, we reached the venue with 45 minutes to spare so there was ample time to check the place out.

Tamarind House “is a beautifully restored heritage colonial house set on 2.5 acres of lawns sweeping down to the beach. … You can enjoy a feeling of nostalgia for a bygone era in the peaceful seclusion of our truly unique tropical setting.” Dating back to 1910ish it was first the residence of Union Steamship Company management and later the British Consul. Today it is a restaurant and a rather perfect wedding venue as well.

The other girls had also arrived and all looked gorgeous in their various dresses. It was hot and sunny and I kicked myself for not buying a woven fan from the markets as they had. There was a strong warm breeze which quickly dealt to the hair that I had carefully blown dry. O well.

Gradually the remainder of the guests arrived and all 50ish of us gathered near the deck above the beach where the ceremony was to be held. The groom and his best man (actually his son) were in position… and… waiting…

Tamarind House was a fabulous venue - beach and sea views out front and rugged hills behind

No matter where you go, coconuts are never far away

We didn't know whether to be amused or dismayed when a black cat wandered in and proceeded to make itself at home

The string band were ‘given the nod’ and resumed playing as the first of the flower girls peeked around the corner. One by one they walked in, followed by Sally’s sister as matron of honour, and then Sally with her dad. They all looked wonderful. Sally was never going to do the full white traditional thing and her silver dress was gorgeous and so very her.

After a brief pause while a tissue was procured for the emotional bride!, the ceremony got underway. It was relatively short and before long we had a newly married couple standing before us. Congratulations flowed and group photo organisation began.

We get our first glimpse of Sally

The ceremony gets underway

Sally and Michael, relaxed now that the first part is over

The flowergirls were the stars of the day

While the main wedding photos were being taken we did our best to keep cool

...Until it was our turn

As the afternoon turned to twilight we moved into the restaurant. Speeches were followed by a lovely meal. With darkness firmly ensconced we were then treated to a cultural show comprising drummers and dancers. I’ve always loved Cook Islands drums and really enjoyed this unexpected part of the night. The dancing was both traditional (everyone marvelling at the fluidity of the girls’ hips) and supplemented with fire sticks. Great skills.

Twas a beautiful calm night

The cultural show was a highlight, starting with iconic drums and hypnotic hips

Mike and I found ourselves part of the entertainment - and no we haven't since given up our day jobs

Most children are taught not to play with fire

The spectacular finale featuring all of the dance troupe

The rest of the night involved DJ tunes and dancing (of a different kind from before) for keen ones, or else just sitting around chatting and enjoying the setting. And if you were me, nursing a stupid headache. We had to be wrapped up before midnight and in the same way that the day started with a late bus, so it ended that way too. When it arrived we all crammed aboard for the clockwise procession of drop-offs.

It’s probably safe to say that every one of us was grateful to Sally and Michael for choosing Raro to have their wedding and making us all come to this fantastic place.

Raro day 2: relaxation & drinks with the girls

Day two dawned overcast and with the same breeze/wind as yesterday. I could see my opportunities to grab some colour before the wedding on Saturday dwindling. We did the breakfast thing and were greeted with rain spits on the way back.

With no particular plan for most of the day we hung around the resort. The weather obliged a little and there was some lounging around outside. I finished one book and discovered that the other book I brought I had read before. Hate that. We eavesdropped on the unit above us where a bride and her entourage were getting ready.

Pausing on loungers near the kayak station

One of the locally crafted artworks at the resort

Is this a hibiscus? I'm useless with flowers. There are loads of things in bloom here, tis all very pretty.

In clusters around the resort are tons of these stones which mark each wedding held here.

I also did a fair bit of wrestling with internet access. No matter where I sat the bloody wireless hotspot eluded me and I soon realised I should abandon any ambition of more regular blog updates.

There was a rough plan to catch up with Sally the bride-to-be and some of the (ex-)Wellington girls also here for the wedding. Eventually plans materialised and Sally picked me up on her rented scooter to meet the others at their resort. Drinks, nibbles and gossip ensued for a couple of hours until we headed out for dinner.

Sally arriving to pick me up. I did manage to fit on the back but not without sustaining a huge bruise in the process...

L-R: Megan, Danielle, Fleur, Michele, Glenda, Sally, me, Michelle

Huddled around Dan’s mobility scooter (...on account of her sprained ankle!)

Most of us continued on to a bar/restaurant located near the Avarua township. This turned out to be a $45 taxi ride which I think took us all by surprise as it was probably less than 10kms. Located right on the waters’ edge, Trader Jacks is a fairly rustic building and was rebuilt after a hurricane flattened it a few years ago.

We enjoyed a few drinks first and the girls were quick to scope out members of the French navy in town… Rarotonga is apparently a two day sea journey from Tahiti. But focusing back to the main reason for the outing: our meals were all seafood based and not only excellent quality but also excellent value.

On account of the wedding the next day it wasn’t a big night. The island buses run clockwise once an hour at night (Raro is only 32km full circle) so similar to when we arrived, my first exposure to the other half of the island was in darkness. I couldn’t wait to see it in daylight.

Sprung this fella crabbing through the closed downstairs cafe area on my way back through our resort.

Kia Orana! Rarotonga Day 1

After several months in the pipeline our first visit to the Cook Islands was underway. Mike and I gleefully left work early for the flight to Auckland. Once there we mooched around the international terminal for a couple of hours.

Killing time

The next flight was fairly full and noisy with one or two wedding groups aboard. Tis the season for it, and also our reason for going. We arrived in Rarotonga just after midnight.

No need for air bridges here!

The first order of business was a spot of shopping at what are apparently the cheapest duty free prices you can find anywhere. We finally checked in to The Rarotongan Beach Resort around 1.30am.

When we woke up to our second Thursday 3rd November – CI being 23 hours behind NZ – we got our first view of the place in daylight.

Our beachfront room was pretty much that

Surveying our patch of beach

The main resort area perched amongst white sand, clear water, blue sky!

Blue skies and sunshine were present as ordered. In front of the beach is a lagoon featuring fish and coral and other things of appeal to snorkelers. Beyond is a reef which the Pacific Ocean crashes against all day long.

We quickly located our breakfast food source, the main dining area which has wonderful views across the lagoon and the beach beyond the adjacent adults-only resort. Off the deck fish can easily be seen in the beautiful clear water.

The breeze was a bit more prominent than we might have expected but we lined up a couple of loungers just above the beach near our place and settled in for some reading and surveying of our surrounds.

Not sure I expected to see this

After lunch and some more being busy doing nothing, we went for a walk to find the supermarket. Mike at least knew which direction to head and we did find it after a hot 40ish minute walk made longer from our numerous deviations for photos and exploring.

An old store on the side of the road

Don't walk under the brown coconuts Mike

I was especially fascinated by the large resort complex abandoned during construction. It has an interesting history and was meant to open as a Hilton in 2009, but I guess that fell through.

Such exertions required rest and refreshments on our return, though Mike also summoned the energy to check out the marine life.

Later on just down the beach from us a wedding took place so we had a bit of a sticky beak at that and lingered to watch the sunset – though that didn’t amount to much.

A good place from which to survey wedding photos and sunsets

A good place from which to survey wedding photos and sunsets

The day’s walk and a poor sleep the night before made for a bit of an early one. Discovered this is the place to come if you want to watch reruns of American sitcoms – including The Dukes of Hazzard of all things.

Counting down to island time

Time has a habit of going fast enough these days without doing anything to encourage it, but we’ve just booked a holiday for November. This will further hasten the year along and be a nice reward after a busy few months ahead.

This short break is to Rarotonga in the Cook Islands. Most Kiwis that seek island sun go during the NZ winter, so roughly the middle of the year, however not us because we’re going to a wedding. Some of the wedding guests caught up today at a girls’ lunch in Wellington…

Girls' lunch featuring a number of wedding guests including bride-to-be Sally at bottom left

We were sitting with the travel agent confirming the booking when news of the Christchurch earthquake came through. In a split second our high spirits took a dive as it felt a bit off doing something so frivolous when people were trapped and dying. We completed our business there and went straight back to work to check the news.

Relaxation holidays – and no visit to the islands could be anything else – aren’t something I commonly do. I love them but when there is just so much out there in the world to see and do, they seem like an indulgence that get shunted down the priority list. But the wedding is a good excuse!

The only other time I’ve been to the islands was Fiji for a girls’ trip in about 2000. In honour of the approximately 10th-ish anniversary of that brilliant holiday I’ve scanned (scanned!) a couple of photos…

My friend Hannah and I at Plantation Island Resort, Fiji

Hannah and a little friend

A page from my photo album

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