Our first stop on our adventure to the Cook Islands was to the largest island, Rarotonga (know by the locals as ‘Raro’). We were lucky enough to have a direct flight from Los Angeles on Air New Zealand. If you have never flown with them I suggest you do! Their planes are much more spacious than what I’m used to in the US and Europe, and food, beer and wine is all included even in economy!
After an overnight flight (aka the shortest night sleep of my life) we landed nice and early at 7 am local time. After we were greeted with a lei and a fresh coconut we were shuttled to the hotel. Our first day was not quite the beach weather we expected and we ended up wearing are warmest clothes we had, meaning our workout capris and sweatshirts from our flight. We spent the day walking around the resort and down the beach as far as we could until we ran into a rocky spot where the water came up too high. After situating ourselves in our new home we recovered as best we could from the jet lag with a delicious dinner at the hotel restaurant and drinks by the ocean. We may or may not have been in bed by 8:45pm… Hey we’re on vacation we can do whatever we want right?!
The weather improved dramatically the next day and our week turned into a gorgeous sun filled vacation we had been dreaming of. Most of our mornings were spent on the beach reading and sleeping in the beautiful sunshine. We left our afternoons for our adventures, that included snorkeling, kayaking, hiking, biking, and wandering around town and the Saturday market.
The snorkeling was amazing, as we could literally walk out of our room onto the beach and into the water and immediately be surrounded by coral and fish of all colors and sizes. One day we were SUPER lucky and found a turtle who we followed in circles until he swam away! Another day we stumbled upon these long (2-3 feet) skinny (like a pole skinny) silver fish that swam a few inches from the surface, which when snorkeling is eye height!
Another of our afternoon adventures took us on a hike to explore the volcanic peak of the island. The peak is called Te Rua Manga and is forested and jungle like. It is possible to walk/hike the entire peak as the trail connects the Avatiu Valley with the south side of the isalnd, although doing so will take 3-4 hours. We hiked for two and found some good views, but didn’t want to get caught in the dark because we started later than planned.
Saturday is one of the most lively days on the island because it is market day! Punanga Nui is from 8-12 every Saturday and consists of a plethora of local food stands of every kind, textiles (dresses and beach coverups), and lots of wood carvings of sorts. There is also a main stage on one end where locals perform island dances, even the children perform in ornate beautiful costumes.
The island has a bus system, which is really the only way to get around besides walking or biking. They run very regularly and go either clockwise or anti-clockwise around the island (no counter clockwise in this country). It gets tricky going to dinner, because the anti-clockwise busses only run until 5:30, so unless you want to drive in a giant circle you have to make sure you head out for dinner or drinks before then! With recommendations from the hotel staff and trip advisor reviews we were able to find some great places for food. All of which were family owned hole in the wall places! So much of the food is great because its fresh and they use what is grown on the island!
We didn’t come back with many souvenirs, except for the shells we found, as many shops are very limited when it comes to such things, and are really there to supply the small local population with what they need, and not much else. Which works just as well for me, I’m there for the adventure and the memories!