Whilst sitting on Coogee Beach in Sydney one day with some friends, two of them mentioned that their favourite place in the entire world was The Cook Islands. A few weeks later when flights to The Cook Islands went on sale, it seemed like fate to book a trip. The Cook Islands are in the middle of the South Pacific. I stayed on Rarotonga for a week near the main town called Avarua, but the best beaches and snorkelling are in Muri, so I would stay there if your budget allows it. You can also stay on a different island called Aitutaki, which is an extra flight away via Rarotonga.
The Cook Islands are a still very much unspoiled, which I imagine is partly a function of being so far away from pretty much anywhere else. WiFi is hard to come by. I do love a good technology break every now and then, but I have to say I felt vulnerable at first being alone and not having Google maps available. Admittedly, there is essentially just one road going right around the island, so it’s not like you have to be Christopher Columbus to find your way around, but it does feel comforting to have technology as a backup.
The fresh produce on the island was so expensive (eg more than £10 for a small cauliflower!). I found that a good way of getting a daily fix of fruit and veggies was having a smoothie from Body Fuel in Avarua. I found a great little place for breakfast too called Ariki’s Shack in Muri.
On my first day in Rarotonga I hired a pushbike. I asked the guy in the bike rental shop how far it was to cycle around the whole island. He said 32km and, given I’m not an experienced cyclist and have no concept whatsoever of cycling distances, I asked how long that should take time-wise. He confidently told me an hour and a half. “Oh how lovely,” I thought to myself. “I’ll just do a nice little lap of the island.” Definitely not the case. Five hours and at least 6,000 calories later, I was puffing my way through the final stretch. Ok, so I would estimate that roughly two hours of that were spent exploring side roads/swimming in the sea/accidentally entering people’s private properties, but still…Three hours to get around the island! I was so exhausted that I genuinely fell off the bike when I stopped at the end. Nonetheless, I do think that a hiring a bike is a good way of exploring the island, but I think it would help to be mentally prepared that it is not a short cycle. Even better, if you can drive an electric scooter, that would be ideal.
Come the next morning when I jumped back on the bike for a sunrise cycle, I almost cried because my bum was so bruised from the previous day’s cycling marathon. The agony was worth it though; it was very serene to cycle around at sunrise amongst the pink sky and quiet roads. However, due to the aforementioned bum bruising, I decided to trade in the bike for the island bus. The bus from Avarua to Muri, where you can find the best beaches, should take 15 minutes, providing you (a) get on the bus going in the right direction and (b) don’t miss your stop completely and end up where you started. Unfortunately I did neither of those, which meant that the journey took six times longer that it should have, but the bus driver was super helpful and seemed more than happy to give me another ticket for free.
Every Saturday morning there is a huge market that is held in Avarua called Punanga Nui Market. You can buy all sorts of local foods and clothes. I bought a flower head garland because, obviously, it’s an essential item for any lady’s wardrobe. I nearly convinced myself that a coconut bikini was also a fundamental item, but logic prevailed with that one.
One of the things I loved most about Rarotonga is how safe it felt. Only around 10,000 people live on the island. However, I did meet a couple that had had their motorbike broken into and their bankcards stolen. Ahhh, personal safety…One of my favourite topics of conversation when travelling. I love a good adventure, but at the core I’m all about the self-preservation. So as you might imagine, it was music to my ears the following day when I discovered that my dive partner was a local lawyer and I could quiz him about crime on the island. He said that there is some theft, but very little serious crime. I found everyone I met on the island to be very friendly. Multiple people would stop when I was walking by the side of the road to either check I was ok or to offer a lift. There were lots cute dogs on the island. And one not so cute one that aggressively chased me on my bike, which was scary.
The diving off Rarotonga was incredible. The water was pretty much as clear as you can get, with a visibility of 30m. Three days before I dived, one group had seen two Tiger Sharks. I had to surface early on the second dive though because my lips turned blue and I couldn’t stop shivering, despite wearing a wetsuit and the water apparently being a fairly warm 26°C! Sure, I’m a little oversensitive to the cold, but this reaction seemed quite extreme. For what it’s worth, everyone else was absolutely fine with the water temperature.
One of the reasons that I loved Muri, in particular, was that it has small islands right off the beach. They are close to the mainland and the water is fairly shallow. I tried wading across to one of the islands, holding my belongings above my head, but stood on a really sharp rock and punctured a small hole in my heel so had to turn back. It crossed my mind to hail down a passing ambulance, but I decided that might just be a little bit dramatic. Although to be fair to myself it made walking painful for the following two weeks. Ironically, my only scar from the past six months is from scratching my leg on a table at a birthday brunch in Sydney. Go figure.
Despite what might sound like one minor mishap after another, it really was an amazing week. As I mentioned, the island is unspoiled, the ocean is consistently blue and clear, the people are welcoming and the pace of life is relaxed, but not so relaxed that nothing opens on time, buses don’t turn up, etc.