Island Paradise: Cook Islands

After 6 months in the Americas I was quite sad to be leaving. The people I met had been so friendly and good fun; there seemed to be music, singing and dancing everywhere you went; the scenery was like nothing I had ever seen; a huge variety of always tasty food; and it was really cheap! But I was looking forward to my next few months in NZ, Oz and a couple of the Pacific islands if only for the reason I would be able to have a proper conversation in English with everyone I met instead of me blundering my way through in Spanish. I was also looking forward to a visit from the parents and Broseph who would be visiting for 3 weeks over Christmas.

So I made the trip over the Pacific from Los Angeles to the Cook Islands, on what was to be the longest flight of my life so far. But thanks to it being a night flight and having a nice array of films to choose from the time flew by and I was landing on the tropical island paradise of Rarotonga before I knew it. The island, which I would be spending a brisk three days on, is the main and largest of the 15 Cook Islands, which are well spread out across the middle of the Pacific. They are islands in the truest sense of the word due to their isolation from any other country; i.e. 2/3rds along the 6,500 mile stretch from Los Angeles to New Zealand, with nothing but ocean and a few rocky outcrops between.

The dark blue at the very edge is the end of the lagoon and the start of the ocean:

Centre of the island:

The island itself is circular in shape with large volcanic jungle covered rocks jutting up in the middle and a 100m lagoon bordering the coast like a moat between the beaches and the outer reef where the waves of the Pacific are halted in their tracks. This obviously is a treat on the eyes and the lagoon, which averages a couple of metres deep is a lovely turquoise colour thanks to the gin clear waters and white sands.

As this was the only flight each week coming from the east, outside the airport were a handful of local hoteliers looking for custom. I joined a bunch of other backpackers and went to Vara’s beachside hostel. It turned out to be a great choice as the lodge was right on one of the island’s prettiest beaches and there were a good crowd of people from across the global staying there.

After catching up on sleep I woke pretty hungry and having seen some of the prices in the restaurants on the way in I decided to make use of the hostel kitchen (which I had done about 4 times in the past 6 months, but would soon find out that it would be different in this part of the world) and get some groceries in. If I had been put off by the prices in the restaurants I was shocked by the prices in the shops: $5 (£2.50) for a tin of spaghetti hoops!! That would have got me a three course meal and drink in South America! I would have to get out of South America mentally pretty quick if I didn’t want to starve.

Anyway for the extra expense I was in an awesome spot and so I made the best of it by renting a bike for a very reasonable £6 the next day and took myself on a self-guided snorkelling tour of the island. A local guide pamphlet indicated the best snorkelling spots and so with my pack lunch, water, book, mask and snorkel I set off around the island. Thoroughly recommended if anyone goes to the island because with it being a round island there is one road which circumvents the coastline and means in one day you can cover the 32km choosing to stop 3 or 4 times at the numerous beaches along the way. I stopped at three top snorkelling spots, each one offering something different. The final one was cool because it was later in the day, and obviously the time where families of islanders head down to chill out in the water in big groups and just have a laugh.

Parrot fish:

Some sort of bright blue oyster:


The next day was spent chilling out on the beach, reading and more snorkelling on my local beach. In the evening a group of us from the hostel were shuttled to the local mini-golf site where it was ‘Backpacker night’ where you get beer vouchers and go around the mini golf course in groups. Alcoholic prizes were given for completing certain tasks and for winning; and afterwards we had a burger and a bit of a boogie.

The next day was more of the same until the afternoon when I caught the bus (they have two hourly bus services on the island, imaginatively called: Clockwise and Anti-clockwise) to the airport for my departure to NZ. It had been a great relaxing 3 days after the past 2 weeks which I’d spent on boats, buses and planes whilst recovering from water poisoning. What was very peculiar was that I was in Rarotonga in the run-up to Xmas, and as you can probably expect didn’t feel so Christmassy with it being a tropical island in over 30 degrees of heat. There were times when I did think about being back in blighty at a Christmas market with a steaming cup of mulled wine with a pang of envy…but those thoughts didn’t last too long!

A few days before Xmas swinging on the beach with a beer:


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. mum
    Jan 30, 2012 @ 11:41:37

    love idea of cycling around the island with snorkell and the swinging beer photo seems to encapsulate your year out – well free and happy.

    loved the gaynor and top bombing photos – can’t wait for NZ stories.

    Hope Fiji is brill.

    love from Mum xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx


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