What We Did in Rarotonga

Rarotonga

If you live in New Zealand, you’ll probably end up having a holiday in Rarotonga. Last week, I began the story of my own Rarotongan holiday. (You should probably read that before reading this. Here it is.) This week, the relaxing adventure continues. Where were we? Oh, yes. The resort.

A white, sandy beach fanned by palm trees… Recliners and thatched huts overlooking a crystal-blue ocean… A pool with a waterfall… Endless cocktails… The Rarotongan was pretty much exactly what I’d always imagined a Pacific Island resort to be like. Bliss.

Sunset on a Pacific Island Beach, Rarotonga

Except the sand was quite painful to walk on. Not that anyone else thought so. Most of the tourists there were Kiwis, and Kiwis have toughened soles from walking around barefoot. Needless to say, I don’t. Happily, the resort had an activities hut you could borrow reef shoes from.

It also had a giant chessboard – always cause for excitement. (Although one of the bishops got beheaded before Tim and I went to play.) The bar provided nice food throughout the day. We went especially crazy for the prawn twisters. (Although they ran out halfway through our stay.)

Rarotongan Resort

The restaurant at the resort was okay, but, on the second night, we found somewhere much better. It was recommended to us by the lady at the local dive school. (I didn’t actually go diving myself, as I have ichthyophobia and am prone to panic attacks.) The restaurant was called Coco Putt.

You wouldn’t expect a restaurant-cum-mini golf course to have amazingly beautiful food, but this place did. The seafood was so fresh and delicate. For the first time in my life, I enjoyed the taste of scallops, and am now obsessed with the Cook Island speciality ika mata – raw fish salad.

Of course, we played a round of mini golf afterward. We’d already had an incredibly good cocktail served in a nu (young) coconut, and now we set off with a golf club in one hand and a G&T in the other. I’m not surprised I fell over one of the holes rather spectacularly – straight onto my arse!

To be fair, it was dark. I saved one G&T and managed to escape with only a bruise on my leg. (A pretty enormous bruise that I still bear.) Luckily, no trip to the hospital was required, as Rarotongan healthcare isn’t exactly the best. The Cook Islands are a third-world country, after all.

Rarotongan Court House

If you’re seriously injured in Rarotonga, you’re better off flying to New Zealand for hospital treatment there. That’s why you should never go without travel insurance. A man at the resort said he’d taken one of his kids to hospital, but wouldn’t even let them put a plaster on – it was so filthy.

But anyway. As I wouldn’t go diving, the others insisted I at least join them on a semi-submersible boat trip. As I stared through the glass at the ocean floor, an enormous fish – I swear it was almost as large as me – wriggled past. They’d started throwing food in to lure them. I looked away.

The guide told us a story that will no doubt fuel my nightmares for years to come. A stupid tourist wanted to film the fish feeding from underwater, so he jumped in with his camera and the fish mistook him for food. They took many large chunks out of him before he was rushed to hospital.

South Pacific

Unfortunately, the coral around Rarotonga is nowhere near as colourful as it used to be, due to ocean acidification. The weather was also awful – storms the entire day – so we didn’t see much. We went past a shipwreck, though. I couldn’t help rolling my eyes as they played My Heart Will Go On.

We only had two days of bad weather. The rest of the week was glorious, especially for the middle of winter. I absolutely adored going kayaking around the island. In my opinion, the best way to see Rarotonga is from a kayak. (Check out my Top 10 Places to Go Kayaking in New Zealand.)

Rarotongan Jungle

We hired a comically small car – the last one they had left – and drove around the island. It only takes an hour. On our way round we came across a French bakery and celebrated Bastille Day, (completely oblivious to the terror attack in Nice.)

My partner’s father bought, for $25, a bottle of French cider so old that the label had worn off. Apparently, the previous owner of the bakery had brought it back with him from France, and they had no idea how old it was. Perhaps very old.

It was covered with dust and cobwebs and, at some point, an insect had burrowed partly into the cork. Possibly, it would be off, but for $25 that seemed a reasonable risk. I suspected it wasn’t quite as old as Tim’s dad was saying, as the muselet was a metallic shade of blue, but what did I know?

We opened it with a satisfying pop. It smelled revolting, but tasted quite nice. Still, I sipped it very cautiously. As the cork was passed around for people to look at, I noticed a number printed on its bottom: 2006. Ha. There went our dreams.

The other drink we had at the French bakery was a bottle of Lindauer Brut… a $40 bottle of Lindauer Brut! (For those that don’t know, Lindauer Brut is, in New Zealand, the bog-standard, barely-drinkable sparkling wine that I still quite enjoy, and usually costs about $10 at supermarkets.)

Rarotonga

I didn’t just drink alcohol in Rarotonga! I discovered a love for fresh coconut milk drunk directly from the coconut with a straw. I only really like the nu coconuts, though. I like eating their slimy flesh. Most people seem to prefer the tougher flesh of older coconuts.

I was intrigued by the scavenging animals around Rarotonga’s restaurant tables. In New Zealand, we’re used to pigeons. Here, their place was taken by rather assertive Indian myna birds. And feral cats. Skinny, patchy, gashed, filthy… and utterly adorable.

I know, I know, I’m a crazy cat lady, but these wild cats are obviously well used to tourists being kind to them. One of them leapt onto my lap for a cuddle as soon as I showed it the slightest sign of attention. Yes, I was a little worried about fleas, but it was so lovely!

Anyway, back we got into the comically small car. The only reason Tim’s grandma’s wheelchair fit in the boot was because there was no back window, just a plastic cover! Mechanics in Rarotonga rarely do their job properly, we were told. Ah well – the maximum speed limit on the island is 50kmph.

We went to the Maire Nui Botanical Gardens. The café there only served salads, but – my goodness – they were beautiful salads, garnished with produce straight from the garden. The place was so peaceful, with plants unlike any I’d ever seen.

Wigmores Waterfall, Rarotonga

We also went to Wigmore’s Waterfall – a short diversion down a pothole-strewn road into the jungle. It wasn’t that great, really. One of the least interesting waterfalls I’ve ever seen. Still, it was nice to see and – hey – it was the deepest we got into the jungle all trip.

At some point, I foolishly agreed to get on ‘the party bus’ – an open-sided vehicle escorting revellers from club to club around the island. The bus was all flashing lights, ear-splitting music and drunk, yelling strangers pressing in… My idea of hell, basically. But I’m young – I’m supposed to enjoy it.

Apart from kayaking, the activity I most enjoyed during my week in Rarotonga was lasertag – but how could you not enjoy lasertag when it’s set in the real-life ruins of an old, abandoned resort? Running around it was actually quite dangerous – rusted oil drums, broken tiles, dark rooms…

The story of why there’s an old, abandoned resort in Rarotonga is quite interesting, told with relish by the locals. It involves the mafia. Really. The place is called The Sheraton, if you’re interested. You can also do paintball there, but you do not want to be throwing yourself to the ground in that place!

View from Highland Paradise, Rarotonga

On our last night in Rarotonga, we went to a fantastic cultural show at Highland Paradise. It was great because they didn’t take themselves too seriously, but, at the same time, were very interesting, informative and entertaining. I learned a lot about the history of Rarotonga.

The Maori migrated to New Zealand from the Cook Islands. It was fascinating to see the similarities and the differences between New Zealand Maori and Cook Island Maori culture. We heard tales of warring tribes and cannibals, and witnessed traditional dances from different periods in history.

The island drumming was thrilling. Apparently, the Highland Paradise show isn’t as spectacular as the one at Te Vara Nui, but it is better. Hearing about how the missionaries made the Cook Islanders wear their grass skirts above the belly button was hilarious. (They moved back below for tourists.)

Highland Paradise isn’t just a cultural show (with GORGEOUS food, I might add – I especially liked the taro leaves cooked in coconut cream.) It’s an archaeological site. A tribe lived there before the missionaries arrived. Now its descendants are re-discovering their history; teaching their children.

Ancient Marae

We were taken to see an ancient marae on a hillside. In New Zealand, a marae is a large meeting house. This was an outdoor platform carefully constructed of stone, with different levels for different statuses. Seeing this was one of the highlights of the holiday for me.

The view from Highland Paradise was breathtaking – alone worth the somewhat scary drive up. So make sure you go up during the day as well as for the evening show. I’m only disappointed I didn’t get to see everything. Apparently, on the full tour, you get taken to see the Sacrifice Stone!

View from Highland Paradise, Rarotonga

After the cultural show, we went back to the hotel to collect our suitcases – we would be flying back to New Zealand at three o’ clock in the morning! The show’s amiable host had boasted that at most airports you are greeted by security guards; in Rarotonga you are greeted by a guy playing a ukulele.

It turned out our flight was delayed until five o’ clock in the morning, so it wasn’t a fun night. Duty free shops are only amusing up to a point. I spent my last triangular Cook Island dollar and then realised I probably should have kept it as a souvenir. The night passed.

Amazingly, even though it was now five o’ clock in the morning, a guy with a ukulele was there to serenade us as we boarded our flight! Thus we left Rarotonga. How lovely. As well as a bottle of duty free alcohol, I took with me some awesome memories and a renewed appreciation for warm places.

Rarotonga

I look forward to doing some more travelling within New Zealand itself. I probably won’t be able to get anywhere for at least a few weeks, though, and then it’ll just be daytrips. I’m running out of stuff to write about – this blog’s been going for over three years, you know!

Where New Zealanders Go On Holiday

Rarotonga

If you’re wondering why I didn’t post anything last week, it’s because I was in paradise. And in paradise, Internet access is eye-wateringly expensive. I was also too busy drinking cocktails on the beach. Poor me.

I was in Rarotonga, one of the Cook Islands, a country in the tropical South Pacific. It’s a very popular winter getaway destination for Kiwis. Indeed, just about every other tourist I met there was from New Zealand.

The reason is more than mere proximity. The Cook Islands are a four-hour flight from Auckland – (New Zealand is so far away from everywhere that your only cheap holiday destinations are Australia and the Pacific Islands) – but they’re also closely tied to New Zealand politically.

The country was a protectorate of New Zealand until the 1960s, and still uses New Zealand currency. Cook Islanders are automatically New Zealand citizens. (The population of the Cook Islands is approximately 20,000, yet over 60,000 Cook Islanders live in New Zealand.)

Rarotongan Resort 01

You don’t need a visa to visit, just proof of accommodation and a return ticket, and at least six months left on your passport. It’s so easy for New Zealanders to visit the Cook Islands. Everywhere you go, you’re blasted with advertisements for holidays there.

In the lead-up to my holiday, every time I saw such an advertisement I had to pinch myself – I was actually going! And it couldn’t have been more welcome. The last few weeks in New Zealand have been freezing.

Our flight to Rarotonga arrived in the early hours of the morning. The Cook Islands are twenty-two hours behind New Zealand, so whilst there wasn’t much jetlag to be had, living through the same day twice (then skipping a day entirely on the way back) was a little confusing.

Crossing the International Date Line involves too much mental exercise when you’ve been up all night! It’s bad enough filling in your arrival card when you’re in that state. I unsurely put down my profession as ‘writer’.

Rarotongan Resort 05(I always get a thrill giving my job as ‘writer’. For so long, being a professional writer was my dream. Even though I’ve been getting paid for it for a while now it still seems unreal. Like I’m a fraud or something. The customs guy at Auckland Airport seemed to treat me with suspicion for it, anyway.)

The thing is, though, is you’re not legally allowed to practise your profession when you’re in the Cook Islands on holiday. This meant that every time I jotted down a story idea or made a note of the things we’d done, I was sort of breaking the law.

My partner pointed this out and named me a pirate writer. (A label I very much liked!) Beginning a new science fiction story whilst sitting in a hut overlooking the clear, turquoise ocean felt quite wonderful.

Landing in Rarotonga and finding it to be cosily warm was one of the best parts of the whole holiday. Several members of our party found the duty free cigarettes and alcohol to be just as exciting! Not so great was arriving at the resort to find that they’d screwed up our booking.

We had to spend the night in prison cell-like ‘emergency’ rooms with only half the number of beds we needed. (Well, apart from my partner’s dad. He was given the honeymoon suite!) But it was all sorted out the next day, so all good.

Rarotongan Resort 02

We decided to spend our first day in Rarotonga relaxing at the resort. I’d been looking forward to this so much. The last few weeks had been absolutely hectic and I desperately needed to spend a week relaxing.

The thing was, now I was here I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was wasting time. I was reclining beneath a palm tree and I felt like I should be doing something productive! It took a while – and a few cocktails – before I calmed down.

I started reading the first of Steven Erikson’s Malazan books and, I must say, I found the contrast between the resort around me and the gritty, gore-filled world of the book quite comical! The resort felt like it was inside a bubble of unreality.

Due to the expensiveness of Internet access, no news reached our party the entire eight days we were in Rarotonga. (Getting home to find Boris Johnson had been made UK Foreign Secretary and that there’d been another terrorist attack in France was like being hit on the head with a mallet.)

Rarotongan Resort 03

So there we were, festooned with flower garlands and strong, fruity cocktails, nicely sealed into our bubble of unreality, ready to begin our gently-paced adventure. I’ll save that adventure for next week’s post, though – there’s rather a lot to get through! Bye for now. Aere ra!

Next post: What We Did in Rarotonga

New Zealand and Volcanoes

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POMS AWAY!

When I was nine years old, my world fell apart.

There I was, living quite happily in a small town in the North of England, when my parents dropped a bombshell: we were moving to New Zealand.

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Well, I was right about the sheep.

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A bit of White Island See how different New Zealand is? This was taken on White Island.

You might be especially interested if you were thinking about moving to New Zealand, or coming here for a holiday. In my experience, the best way to see the country is by campervan. My family and I have driven…

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