After a hard year, the girlfriend and I had escaped to Rarotonga for a blisfful tropical island getaway together. We had spent a few days lying around in the luxury of our resort and it was now time to get on the scooter and see what else this island had to offer.
The morning of our Captain Tama’s Lagoon Cruise arrived and we were excited, we hadn’t been snorkelling yet and we were feeling it was well time that we did.
Our three Rarontongan guides exuded that typical Cook Island attitude – familiarity, mixed with humour and an overall laid back relaxed approach. The usual jokes about not knowing how to drive a boat or where they were going were sprinkled liberally through the tour and one guide would randomly dive off the boat and start swimming at various points during the day.
The boat anchors over the Giant Clam Beds so that those not feeling up to braving the water can see everything through the glass bottom.
We however, were first over the side. I never thought anybody could describe a clam as cute but apparently all the baby Giant Clams that get kept in a big basket at the bottom so the octopuses can’t eat them were ‘very cute’ according to the girlfriend.
Once you’re all snorkelled out you’re taken to a sheltered white sand mini island just off the mainshoreline where the rest of the afternoon is spent lazing on the sand, swimming and exploring while your dedicated guides cook you a lunch of fresh fish, salads and tropical fruits.
Tip for a windy day: We loved this little island so much that later on in the week when the wind was coming from an unfavourable direction we hired a kayak and paddled back over to it. We sat in perfect sun and shelter, sipping on a cheeky champagne and looking back over at all those left on the ‘windy’ side.
Speaking of kayaks and transport – no trip to Rarotonga can go by without hiring a scooter. We hired one for the full week that we were there. The taxis are expensive and nothing beats whizzing to the other side of the island with your girl on the back of a scooter for a romantic dinner. Our favourite restaurant for this was Tamarind, a beautiful old colonial house with stunning sunset views.
Have scooter will travel. We explored the abandoned Sheraton (that’s another whole article in itself). We visited the local markets, where the girlfriend got into some serious shopping and circumnavigated the island at approximately six times feeling the wind in our hair (well her hair, mine’s a little short) and for at least a little while pretending we were local.
Our night at the Highland Paradise, Drums of our Forefathers show started with trouble in Paradise as there was some confusion over whether we were on the right bus or not. The girlfriend, who thought that not having our name on list meant we were in for dire consequences dragged us off the bus only for us to realise we had indeed been on the right one as it disappeared into the distance and we stood on the side of the road.
20 minutes later and after a slightly red faced taxi ride (we hadn’t picked up our scooter yet) we arrived at Highland Paradise.
There are ‘Island Nights’ at various resorts around Rarotonga that showcase Rarotongan culture and dance, many of them done by the dance troupe that is based at Highland Paradise. Although for the full experience and depth of history wrapped in some almighty entertainment we suggest taking the trip up the mountain to see Drums of our Forefathers.
The night winds through 500 years of Rarotongan History, and shows how various things such as the arrival of Europeans have influenced their culture through song and dance. It is an exciting, vibrant and at times quite flirty display of the Cook Island culture at its best.
The food was some of the best we had on the entire trip. A smorgasbord of specialist Rarotongan dishes prepared traditionally saw us going back for seconds and thirds. The last blast of Cyclone Nisha meant we didn’t see a sunset yet being up the mountain wrapped in misty cloud certainly added a unique mystical tone to the night.
It is a well known fact that the island has one road that encircles its 32 kilometre circumference and without doing one of the islands 4x4 tours you might be mistaken into thinking that you know your way around.
We entrusted ourselves to Tangaroa 4x4 tours whose motto is ‘We go where others can’t’, and that they do. We went in, out, up (up, up and up….followed by plenty of white knuckle grip down) and over the rest of the island.
If we thought our Captain Tama’s crew were laid back that was only because we hadn’t met our 4x4 guide - Mr Useless (seriously, that is the only name he gives).
Before the tour started he taught us the four words that would tell us all we needed to know about the Cook Islands:
He said that once we came to understand and accept those words all would be well for us here in Rarotonga. The more we pondered those words as we explored the more it made sense to us.
Once again the laid back attitude was simply a cover for an absolute mine of local knowledge all acquired through direct experience (for instance Mr Useless has stood on the poisonous Stonefish no less than five times, so he can absolutely vouch for the life saving properties of the juice of the noni fruit that grows on the island).
From Rarotongan’s various export markets to a Maori Pa to the island morgue, Mr Useless shared it all with us adding valuable layers to our knowledge about this island that we were growing to love.
Overall, Cyclone Nisha’s gentle presence was a blessing in disguise. She encouraged us to get out and explore this little island and through that we found a connection that made us feel like this could be home. A beautiful, white sand, laid back, tropical home.
Captain Tama’s Lagoon Cruise: $70pp and $10pp for mask and snorkel hire
Drums of our Forefathers, Sunset feast and show. Every Wednesday
$79 per adult and $50 per child
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