After an uncharacteristically wet NZ summer which continued into winter, Jennie and I were looking for a midwinter break somewhere warm and sunny. One of our favourite places is the island of Rarotonga in the Cook Islands, approximately 3200 km NE of NZ. It's only 70 sq km in area without the commercialisation of places like Hawaii or Tahiti. A great place to just chill and eat fresh food. The Cook Islanders themselves are wonderful - laid back, great humoured and really friendly. They have a long association with NZ and are free to travel and work in NZ. Money is the NZ$, English and Cook Island Maori spoken so it's easy to fit right in. Flying time is a bit either side of the 4 hour mark depending on conditions.
It's been 10 years since our last trip there and 5 years prior to that, we made friends with a couple from Wellington in Rarotonga. Since then, we've stayed in touch annually and spent a long weekend doing stuff together somewhere in NZ. Meeting up in Rarotonga seemed appropriate this time. A nice, comfortable flight in an Air NZ 777-ER, pick up a Mitsubishi Colt rental car and head for our accommodation at Muri Lagoon, less than 30 minutes from the airport. Most of the vehicles are second hand "grey imports" from Japan and the Colt was no exception. The Colt is hardly a design classic but it is surprisingly roomy and absolutely miserly in its fuel consumption. You'd swear it was actually making gas! The national open road speed limit is only 50 km/hr which also contributes to good economy. The only downside was an in-built GPS with a map of Japan and a rather strident female voice in Japanese. It took some time to figure out how to disable it without resorting to beating it to death!
Our friends were picked up from the airport and ferried to different accommodation about 20 minutes drive away from us so the first afternoon there was spent exploring our immediate surroundings and chilling in the loungers on our waterfront villa.
The effects of Covid on Rarotonga's economy were still apparent. Lockdown in NZ, Australia and other countries meant that virtually all their income dried up at a stroke. The sealed roads round the island were in quite poor condition in many places, almost certainly due to austerity measures . However, crews were out patching the worst craters whilst we were there. I guess that the heavy rains in the Southern Hemisphere thanks to the La Nina weather condition didn't help either. Our villa was advertised as "de luxe" accommodation. It was located in million dollar surroundings but could best be described as "tired". Nothing seriously wrong but suspect that there had been a lot of deferred maintenance. It was still acceptable, but certainly didn't meet our expectations of a de luxe experience.
The next morning didn't start well with me taking a tumble on uneven ground and twisting my knee which is already scheduled for a bionic replacement. However, it wasn't as bad as it could have been although kayaking, swimming and longer walks were wisely removed from the plan.
We caught up daily with our friends to do some exploring, or simply to eat, drink and be merry. Fresh fruit and fish on the island is absolutely delicious. Imagine plain old fish and chips being made with Albacore tuna - absolute heaven! The cocktails, both alcoholic and alcohol free were pretty special too.
No trip to Rarotonga is complete without a visit to the Muri Night Market to eat locally prepared food of all types. Great value for money in terms of quality, quantity and price.
During lunch at a cafe in the main town of Avarua, we spied a sign on the wall of the restrooms which was delightful. Perhaps it was gently poking fun at all the oh too serious and politically correct nonsense about diverse gender recognition or whatever it's called. For goodness sake, we're all human beings, whatever our persuasion!
Driving round the island one afternoon, we saw a bunch of people gathered by a sea wall. Wondered whether there was a pod of whales passing by so pulled over. It turned out that they were waiting to see the afternoon inbound flight from NZ as the runway end was just metres away It wasn't quite as low as the YouTube videos showing landings at St. Maarten but I did manage to get a couple of shots.
A trip to the local museum was worthwhile and the displays were really informative. I was really taken with a huge mural of a Polynesian voyaging canoe of the type used when the South Pacific, including NZ, was first being settled. Those early settlers had supreme navigation skills, as well as big balls! What is slightly concerning though is that the population is suffering a current annual net loss of 2.88%, presumably young people heading to NZ for better job prospects.
There was also a smaller sailing canoe on display, presumably just for coastal waters. I just loved the colour of the timber it was built from, its lines and the bird carving. I wondered whether the carving might be a stylised Frigate Bird which is one of the indicators which the Polynesian sailors used for navigation and land over the horizon.
Sitting on a bench in Avarua's main street is great for people-watching. The most common form of transport are step-through mopeds of Chinese or Japanese origin. Until 2020, helmets weren't mandatory but that's now changed although we did see a few ladies with elaborate hair styles avoiding their use!
We stopped off briefly at Avarua port to see what was going on but it was pretty quiet. However, there was one inter-island workboat with a massive crane at the stern which seemed out of proportion to the rest of the vessel. I guess versatility is the key word for work in the islands.
As you might expect in a tropical environment, plants grow like crazy and the variety of attractive plants is bewildering. Here are a couple of examples.
Despite Rarotonga being a tourist mecca for NZ and Australia, it's not over-run with people. There are plenty of deserted beaches like the one below with safe swimming inside the reef.
All to soon, it was time to return to NZ. With my injured knee, boarding the Boeing 777 in Rarotonga wasn't going to be a major issue as it was only a short walk to the plane but one of the Rarotongan Air NZ employees noticed that I was using a walking pole and arranged priority treatment. This involved being pushed in a wheelchair across the tarmac and up a ramp. Wonderful service although I felt a bit self-conscious! They also arranged for us to be met at Auckland where it's quite a haul from the gate to baggage reclaim. There was an electric buggy waiting for us which helped no end.
That's all our travels done for the time being as a long overdue knee replacement is scheduled for the end of the month. With the warmer months coming, the focus will be on rehabilitating as soon as possible so that we can be out doing cool stuff asap. Jennie is really looking forward to making me walk decent distances on crutches on a daily basis as payback for when I made her do the same after her hip replacement a few years back. Sigh....
It's being done at a private hospital but you can still call me the Six Dollar Man 😄