A South Pacific Gem
Sun 26 Apr 2015 - Sun 3 May 2015
So I arrived in the Cook Islands Sunday night April 26 @ 22:30. Crazy thing is I left Auckland on Monday April 27 @ 16:30 . . . Funny thing that international date line. Upon landing I bought a case of beer at the duty free as I read that they were expensive on the island. After clearing immigration I was pulled aside by the customs guy for going over the import limit!! I was fined $6 NZD & we all had a good laugh as they searched for the cash till. Turns out it was still a good decision as in the end I saved well over $20 NZD. I found my ride outside and reached my guest house in the dark & in the pouring rain and was pleasantly surprised. Are Mango GH was fantastic and my room was huge. Shared bathrooms were down the hall & my outdoor shower had amazing water pressure AND hot water!!
The weather cleared by Monday morning, I woke up & walked exactly 200 steps (yes, I counted) from my garden to the beach. Just in the distance was a palm fringed island that was easily swimmable to get to & in low tide even walkable. I walked for about an hour taking in the beauty, with loads of beach dogs walking & swimming with me. I chose my guesthouse mainly for its location. It was located at Muri Beach, which is on a shallow lagoon with 4 uninhabited islands that you see in a lot of my photos. My stomach told me it was time to eat so I went to a little market a few hundred meters away & got some basic groceries to make brekkie. I checked out the bus schedule & ventured into town. Rarotonga is only 32 kilometers around and there's only one main ring road so you either catch the bus clockwise or anti clockwise. $5 NZD & 20 minutes later I was in "town". The capital, Avarua, was tiny bit had everything one could need: a bank, post office, grocery store, harbour & loads of shops & restaurants.
Wanting to rent a scooter/moped I presented myself at the police station and inquired about the road test & license. You needed your own scooter to take the test so I walked 2 buildings over to Avis & rented a bike. They had a special going for a 3 day rental for $39 NZD, bonus!! From there I walked my moped back over to the police station, paid $5 NZD & took my "road test". It was simply weaving in & around cones, demonstrating you can turn around safely, using your indicators & stopping on command. I passed, paid $20 NZD for my license & hit the road, all in less than 30 minutes!!! I immediately felt the need to circumnavigate the island so off I went. The beautiful sunny day lent itself to the island's stunning turquoise beaches on the coast & hilly rainforest views in the interior. Quite pleased with myself I got a fish & chips (fresh yellowfin tuna) for dinner & set off to see the sunset.
The next day I tooled around on the beach again in the morning and then laid low & got my finances in order that afternoon. Are Mango had a great book selection so I spent the rest of the day reading at the beach. Dinner that night was at the Muri Market which was a less than 5 minute walk away. Loads of locals prepare dishes for sale in an atmosphere much like a gathering of food trucks. There was a great mix of locals & tourists & there were so many dishes to choose from earlier in the night. I was late to the game & all of the best plates sold out earlier so I "settled" for a veal & pasta dish. Being so late the lady gave me a heaping portion & I was stuffed. Aside from pasta one night at the guesthouse that was my last meal (other than brekkie) that wasn't fish. Back to Are Mango I went & hung out drinking beer & chatting with other guests. There was a great mix of really cool people: Michael & Johann from Germany, Claire from France, Satsuki from Japan, Anja also from Germany, Hayley & Dylan from New Zealand & also Beau and Julie who were also Kiwi.
On Wednesday I set off to get some snorkel gear with Satsuki & rented solid equipment from the Big Fish Dive shop. The German lady running the place took time to properly fit my mask & fins and it made a huge difference. For $10 NZD for 3 hours I was good to go. The beach right across from her shop was called A'Roa & the snorkeling was fantastic, with the reef literally starting just feet from the shore. I saw so many different tropical fish immediately once underwater in so many shapes, colors & sizes. I took off for another recommended spot after about an hour in the water called Fruits of Rarotonga. While still great snorkeling you had to swim out a considerable distance to reach the reef here. I played around with my Go Pro & shot some videos. It was amazing how close the fish come to you!! Dinner that night was at the market again where I discovered Ray's fish curry. He made each plate to order and it was so good I can't even describe it. I'm still salivating for more as I type this entry . . .
Thursday morning Johann, Michael, Satsuki & I decided to get our exercise by doing the cross island hike/climb into the rainforest. While steep & slippery it was well worth the effort. The views from the base of the Needle (the highest point on the island) were stunning. I rented my scooter for another 3 days & that afternoon I rented snorkel gear again but this time for 48 hours. I hit both beaches again armed with my Go Pro. Being in the sun all day and with all the exercise I knew I would sleep like a baby that night. On the way back from the beach on my scooter doing about 40 KPH I felt a sting just above my knee . . . Something must have bounced off my chest & got
me in the leg. After blowing up like a balloon last fall from a bee sting I hoped that it wasn't but had a feeling it was. Amazingly I didn't crash but I did have to pull over & remove the sizeable stinger. On the island there are somewhat aggressive hornets, wasps & bees but nothing else poisonous, on land anyway. A few hours later the swelling kept getting bigger. I took some Benadryl & hoped for the best.
The next morning I couldn't even bend my knee the swelling was so bad. Having paid for snorkel gear I set off for the beach hoping the salt water would get things under control. The entire time I was in the water I didn't feel a thing, but as soon as I got on land I was hobbling around. The area where I was stung was turning purple & all around it was rock hard and really hot to the touch. I tried some more Benadryl & applied a variety of creams & ointments from literally around the world from fellow travelers first aid kits. The redness on my leg was growing but off to get Ray's curry I went. I made a deal with myself that if it wasn't better the next morning I would get to see what the island hospital looked like. I froze some water bottles and used them to ice the sting while hanging out & drinking some beers.
Saturday morning came & while not back to normal it had improved. I stopped by the pharmacy & she sold me yet another (ineffective) cream. The pharmacist also told me it was indeed a bee as wasps & hornets don't leave stingers behind. We both agreed I was going to live, but she did tell me to go to the hospital if not better by the next morning. After that I set off for the island's biggest market & walked around the food stalls, souvenir stands & saw some traditional dancing. Having limited space in my backpack I didn't buy anything but starfruit. Earlier in the week I got myself a patch of the Cook Island's flag and went to the bank for some $3 Cook Islands notes. They also have really cool $1 coins shaped like decagons & $2 triangular shaped coins. They use NZD as their official currency but still mint money of their own as well, although it has no value outside of the Cooks. After the market the weather turned & it was wicked windy & sporadically raining. Not ideal weather for snorkeling and not safe either. I sadly returned my gear & headed back to the guesthouse to read & have some beers. Then conditions slightly improved so Johann & I took out an ocean kayak. We paddled around in the lagoon visiting 3 of the 4 islands. I had never seen so much coral on a beach in my life. Getting there was so easy with the wind at our backs but getting back proved much more difficult. We eventually gave up about a kilometer from Are Mango & took turns walking the kayak back along the shore. When we went to pull it out of the water we could barely even lift it. It was then we learned it must have had a hole as it was nearly filled with water!!! We had a quiet evening in, spent from the paddling.
My last day started with pouring rain until about 11. The skies cleared & I went out to try & keep my moped until 5. No go as they closed at 2 on Sundays. With only a few hours left I took my scooter for one last lap around the island, dodging puddles & rain. I chilled out the rest of the day reading & icing my leg. I ventured over to the market for one last fish curry & was devastated when Ray wasn't there. I settled for a fish burger & chips and headed back to pack. I was collected at 21:00 to head to the airport to fly back to Auckland.
If ever given the chance I would highly recommend visiting the Cooks. While I spent all of my time on Rarotonga (the largest island) there are 14 others to visit as well, but not all of them are inhabited. The people were kind and hospitable, the food beyond delicious & the scenery unparalleled. The Cooks might have broken my budget but they were worth every triangular shaped coin . . .