Kia Orana and hello from the Cook Islands!
Leaving beautiful New Zealand behind, I was off to the stunning island of Rarotonga, the largest of 15 islands that are scattered over a vast area, together making up the Cook Islands. Despite my arriving at the airport at 1 am, a straw hatted Islander was standing in the corner of the arrivals area in Rarotonga airport strumming Polynesian love songs on a banjo, as tourists like myself queued up (for minutes, not hours!) to get our passports stamped. Immigration and custom officers were extremely friendly, welcoming me with words that quickly become familiar because everyone greets you with them… “kia orana” meaning “may you live long”. I immediately knew I was going to love it here.
If you haven’t heard of the Cook Islands, you’re not alone. This destination was highly recommended to me by my cousin Shauna who had visited the easy going island of Rarotonga last year. The close proximity to New Zealand (4 hour flight) made it easy for me to combine this trip with my New Zealand adventures.
The Cook Islands is a self-governing island country in the South Pacific Ocean in free association with New Zealand. Cook Islanders are citizens of New Zealand yet they have the status of Cook Islands nationals, which is not given to other New Zealand citizens.The Cook Islands’ main population centres are on the island of Rarotonga, with a population of around 15,000 people. This is where I spent most of my week long holiday, enjoying the sun and beautiful beaches.
My beachfront hostel was perfect and full of other great travellers. I quickly got to know everyone at the hostel (roughly 15 of us in total). Our hostel soon became known as the “hospital hostel” with 4 doctors and 3 nurses (including myself) staying there. It was neat sharing our stories and comparing the health care systems in different countries (we also had a pilot and a lawyer staying with us, amongst many other professions).
My first day in Rarotonga was spent hiking 4 hrs across the island. A group of travelers from my hostel (3 Germans, 1 from Hong Kong & 1 from Chez Republic) were planning to hike while I was eating breakfast so I decided to join in and make the most of my first day on the island. The popular cross-island walk connects Avatiu Valley with the south side of the island. It passes the Te Rua Manga, a prominent needle-shaped rock visible from the air and overlooking a canopy of native trees 400 meters below. In the distance, beautiful blue water could be spotted. The walk was quite difficult and dangerous (sorry mom) at times but well worth the effort (and cuts to my elbow and leg) once we made it to the top. The tree covered mountains and crystal blue waters made for spectacular views. There were even roosters, goats, cows and pigs crossing our paths during the hike, making for some laughs and great stories.
For my adventures the second day I decided to partake in a fun tourist opportunity and apply for my Cook Island scooter license. After renting my scooter for the following 6 days, I was given a brief lesson on a back road, showing me how to operate the scooter. This was EXTREMELY scary as I really had no idea what I was doing. After a few practice trips up and down the back road next to the rental shop, I was off to the local police station to apply for my official Cook Island Motorbike license. Once at the police station I had to fill out some forms and was taken to a back room where I completed a written test regarding the laws of the road. The test consisted of 15 multiple choice questions and 10 short answer. A score of 23 out of 25 was needed to pass and luckily I scored 23!!! After filling out some further paperwork I had to drive through the city to a school where the basketball court was turned into a practical driving test area. Here I had to drive several times around some pine cones, demonstrating to the police officer that I could turn in both directions, stop at a line, do a figure eight shape, and worst of all, weave back and forth through a line of closely placed pine cones. Unfortunately my friend from the hostel hit a cone while attempting to weave, resulting in a immediate fail. Luckily, they didn’t mind me going slow so I managed to miss the cones and passed ! Yay!!! I then went back to the police station to get my picture taken and get my official Cook Islands motor vehicle license !!! I was quickly off to navigate the roads of Rarotonga on my own and enjoying the slow paced roads and novelty of driving my red scooter. Luckily, driving on the left hand side of the road came natural after spending so much time as a passenger on the roads of Australia.
For my third day on the island, I traveled to the famous Aitutaki Island. To get to that island, I took a 45 minute plane ride. I was immediately greeted by turquoise blue waters you’d only see in advertisements or postcards. The self titled “Honeymoon Getaway” was beautiful. I spent the day on a lagoon cruise around the island with several stops on beaches, each beyond beautiful. Some highlights of the day were visiting the island where one season of the tv show Survivor was taped, snorkelling with Giant Trivially fish that were 1/2 the length of me, and visiting the famous One Foot Island where I was able to get my passport stamped. After a fun filled afternoon with endless breathtaking sights, I took the 45 minute plane ride back to my hostel in Rarotonga.
For my final 4 days I spent my time sleeping in until 9 am (quite a treat after all my 7 am early morning starts in New Zealand), socialising with friends at the hostel, driving my scooter around the islands and hopping between beaches to snorkel and relax in the sun. One of my favourite things to do was spend my afternoons at the nearby Rarotogan Resort. I was able to use the resort’s beach for snorkelling and use their comfortable blue lounge chairs situated all over the beach, without having to pay the nightly cost of $600!
The local Muri Bach Night Market also became a favourite for many of my new friends at the hostel. On nights that we weren’t cooking group meals, a group of usually 5 or 6 of us would ride our scooters to the market, 20 minutes from our hostel. Once there we would try the chicken kabobs with mushroom sauce or the famous Salt and Pepper squid and coconut smoothies which quickly became our favorite – yumm!!
My week long trip quickly came to an end and before I knew it I was flying back to Brisbane to start back at work. I was extremely fortunate to visit Rarotonga and Aitutaki and meet so many incredible people during my short time there. The Cook Islands will always have a special place in my heart.