There is more to the South Pacific than just Fiji. Okay yes, Fiji is one of the top destination’s for Australians and Kiwis to escape the cold winter months and its reputation won’t fail you, with perfect beaches, great locals and, more importantly, a kids club. However, after travelling to a majority of the islands, I would personally say the Cook Islands gets my vote.
Although most islands commonly have crystal clear waters, green palms and white beaches, these very tropical paradises share the same dirty secret: pollution and poverty. While the resorts are an escape from this, I can’t help but feel uneasy about the lives of the locals, and feel hugely annoyed. I could rant on about ways to resolve this, but first I’d like to share my love for an island that is impressively clean, well groomed, with the happiest and humblest locals.
After a few months of planning, the day had arrived. To say I was excited is an understatement! I have been dying to see my friends and better so, on an island for my thirtieth birthday. I needed all the help I could get for this milestone, not to mention plenty of cocktails.
Three little families check in at stupid ’o’clock in Auckland with tots full of excitement. Or, I should say the mums were, after a needed caffeine boost, and a rush to the gate – standard, we proceeded to buckle in our wriggling bubs and set off on a 3 1/2 hour flight to Rarotonga, the main island of the Cook Islands.
The first thing you notice when you arrive, is the dramatic landscape, boasting lush volcanic greenery cascading over the centre of the island, edged with postcard-perfect clear water and sandy white beaches. We are greeted with Kia Oranas, leis and a three-piece band strumming little ukuleles. My smile is big and cheesy!
Rarotonga is certainly a tropical paradise. Since it only has a circumference of 32kms, a speed limit of 50kms per hour means you can scoot around the entire island in under 50 minutes without complaint.
The roads are very safe and are maintained well. Locals’ homes, churches and businesses scattered along the island send you a message of pride. With beautifully groomed lawns, little to no litter and glorious palms and pawpaw trees, all set back from tranquil reefs, the ideal good life is right here.
Like any good holiday, your days will revolve around meal times – my favourite part of travelling. The Cook Islands did not disappoint! Not one bad meal, fresh seafood, awesome roadside burgers and deliciously sweet fruit. We loved the island fave, “Ika Mata” (raw fish salad), similar to Hawaiian “poke”.
A ritual for us is to visit a cultural event. We all decided to head out to Te Vara Nui, by far the most amazing cultural experience I have seen. Staged in the centre of a water moat, it features the telling of voyaging tales with fire dancing, traditional dancing and an endless buffet with a mixture of Cook Island delicacies.
Don’t miss the devilishly good chowder and an island girl cocktail! Be ready with a Berocca for the morning 🙂
While we did plenty of poolside relaxing, eating and some snorkelling, the centre of the island was calling. A lathering of insect repellent and we were off. Initially the trip took a few detours as, shamefully, we became lost among the only two roads on the island :0 Eventually, we discovered an off-the-track road, climbing up into the dense vegetation of the mountains, my husband definitely making me feel uneasy, but I trust his driving. We pull up deep into the mountains; it’s humid and beautiful. The baby is fast asleep, though that doesn’t stop aunty, uncle and dad, who head out to explore while I let Riley snooze. I won’t deny it, the landscape is impressive, with pigs and chickens running freely. While safe in the car, the other side invites a swarm of hungry mosquitos. Meanwhile, Riley has woken and we douse ourselves in more repellent and join the others on their trek. He loves being outdoors and is mesmerised by the trees swaying and birds gliding. Happy nature baby.
Tropical islands have the ability to induce love and this trip was no different. Back at the airport, we patiently wait for my sister-in-law to arrive with her partner, completely unaware of the surprise awaiting her.
We greet the tired pair, one looking sheepishly nervous. Off we go back to our resort where we enjoy breakfast overlooking Muri beach, chatting and catching up. A moment later she is whisked away to the beach. We sit anxiously with our cameras as it all unfolds before us. A shaky leg kneels into the sand with sweating brow and … a question about forever? Tears begin (mostly me), she is in shock but comes through with a giant YES!
We are all beaming! We clink our champagne glasses and ogle the stunner of a ring! We spend the day on a massive high while taking in the sunshine.
Congratulations Sarah and Lachlan! Yes, another Lachlan 🙂
Love isn’t escaping. After a few wines, we manage to plan a quick elopement and wedding. They are my two best friends and they met while we were all in high school. Let’s not talk about how long ago that was! They have three beautiful children who were on the island too and we thought it would be a perfect time and place for them to lock down their love in a crazy last-minute wedding. With thanks to the resort events manager, we plotted the Las Vegas style nuptials. It couldn’t have been more perfect, the weather was stunning, and she was simply glowing. Her son leads her down the beach towards her groom with the glistening water as a backdrop; we huddle around and witness their commitment oath. Once again, I am in tears! They seal their vows with a kiss the best birthday gift ever! and the celebrations follow.
Congratulations Marie and Tewhanoa x
There’s no forgetting why we are all here, although I don’t really want to be reminded, as I have just hit 30! But, it wasn’t as bad as I had thought. I was enjoying the company of so many wonderful people; we enjoy the afternoon sun, have a swim and soon we are all knackered, ready to return to our bungalow, and shower off the salt and sand.
Wrapping up our week in paradise, we pack up our sun-kissed babes and our summer wear and head to the airport, ready to head home. We had the best time and will definitely do it all over again.