7 March 2011

The Cook Islands

Rarotonga's Black Rock

Kia orana! Our week on the laid-back island of Rarotonga has been perhaps the best we've ever had, so brace yourself for a rather lengthy blog post!

The Cook Islanders are renowned for their love of music, so we began our week with a church service to sample the traditional acapella hymns. Of the Cook Island's 13,000 population, 90% are Christian, so 'island time', which is relaxed on any given day, slows right down on a Sunday. The singing was incredible - our ears were ringing after each song because the locals sing so passionately and with beautiful harmonies.

On the scooter
After enjoying a lunch provided by the church for its visitors, Pam and I waded across the shallow, blue lagoon of Muri Beach to Koromiri - one of the four palm-tree covered islets set before the reef - and I decided to do what every guy should do at least once in their lifetime: open a coconut on a rock. The process took ages, and I'd like to say it was worth it, however, the warm coconut milk left a lot to be desired!

Snorkeling in the lagoon
Rarotonga is so small that the bus service runs either clockwise or anti-clockwise. Virtually all the locals travel instead by scooter, so we decided to follow suit. To hire one, we had to do a practical test (literally drive up and down the street) and obtain a Cook Islands driving licence from the police station (which, I think, is more a souvenir than anything else).

With the local rowing team
The person beside us on the flight had told us about the local rowing club meeting at 5pm most evenings to practise in the Muri Beach lagoon. We went down to watch them one evening, where we met the same guy from our flight. The coach asked if we would like to join in and, of course, we jumped at the chance. However, by the end of the second race, I was happy to jump out of the boat and give my muscles a rest!

This guy ate the pawpaw in our garden!
At night, a kind Frenchman working in Rarotonga for six months, who also took part in the rowing session, invited us to dinner. We were treated to tasty French cuisine and wine, whilst also being shown how to open a coconut with a machete (it's a lot easier than on a rock).

The massive Boogie Burger
The following day, we hopped on the scooter and went to Black Rock on the West coast of the island, where we paddled among the brightly coloured fish. Afterwards, it was time to act on another tip we were given on our first night and try the island's famous boogie burger - it definitely lived up to the hype (we went back for another a few days later!)

On the drive back to Aremango Guesthouse, our home for the week, we stopped at an outdoor island dance class. Such is the hospitality of the locals (or their desire for a cheap laugh?) that they practically begged us to join in. We did, and it was good fun dancing to the pounding drums, but really difficult to keep up with their super-quick moves.

Bashing open a coconut
Just five minutes from Aremango Guesthouse is the island's best snorkeling spot: the Fruits of Rarotonga. We snorkeled in the lagoon, amazed at just how many fish were in there with us! The zebra fish, in particular, were happy to swim right up to us (we were happy that the larger fish kept to themselves).

On the cross-island trek
The tiny brewery of the island's local beer (Matutu) was conveniently located nearby the lagoon, so we stopped in for a tour and a tasting. Later that afternoon, we decided to get the blood pumping and hired a double kayak and rowed to the reef then to the volcanic islet of Taakoka.

At Wigmore's Waterfall
Our final energetic activity of the week was the mountainous cross-island trek. Using our arms as well as our legs, we climbed steeply up towards the 413 metre Te Rua Manga (also known as 'The Needle') using the tangled tree roots as much a possible. When we stood under the huge rock at the top, we had a great view of the North and South of the island. Heading back down, the thin trees either side of the slippery track saved us several times from spectacular falls! We were tired and muddy by the time we reached Wigmore's Waterfall, but the swarming mosquitos hurried us into the cool water, which was exactly what we needed after the four-hour trek.

My facial expression didn't change for hours after this was taken
At night, we went to Te Vara Nui Village for a traditional meal and cultural dancing. The food was delicious, especially the baked fish in coconut marinade and the chicken cooked in an umu (an underground oven). The show itself was fantastic. The women danced in very fluid movements, while the men stomped across the stage. The live band looked like they were having so much fun as they played their drums and ukuleles and the fire-jugglers were simply mind-boggling!

Ta Vara Nui Village
On our final full day in Rarotonga, Pam and I cooked dinner for our fellow travellers before taking the bus into Avarua to sample the local nightlife at a beach hut bar and club.

After very little sleep, we drove to the Saturday morning market, which was a highlight of our week. It is a major event on the island and we loved hearing the live music, browsing the stalls and trying the delicious fresh fruit on offer.

Partying in Avarua
You'll have noticed that this blog entry is much longer than normal - that's because we've loved our time in the Cook Islands so much! The memories of our time here will definitely stay with us forever.

Next stop: Los Angeles!



  1. Sounds just wonderful! We only spent a couple of nights on Raratonga, and the rest up on Aitukaki, which is quieter! But we also enjoyed Muri, and did the cross island trek, so can picture your exploits vividly! But you do seem to have made the most of it, and experienced lots of things which we didn't - but then, you are just a bit younger! We also have vivid memories of a church service on Aitutaki, which sounds a bit similar to your experience!

  2. Dad and I definitely have to go there! Sound like an unforgettable experience - I like the sound of the baked fish and coconut dish - maybe try and do something like that on your return! xxx

  3. Fantastic blog and photos. Looks like a beautiful place. Do you remember Sanday has a Black Rock also?

  4. I am certainly going to bookmark this page in case I need your help in the future. Thanks again!

  5. Great !...

    Ciao from Italy

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