Cookin' up a Chill Out

Trip Start Mar 13, 2010
Trip End Feb 13, 2011

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Flag of Cook Islands  ,
Friday, January 14, 2011

So it was on to another Air New Zealand flight to take us across the Pacific to Rarotonga in The Cook Islands. Strangely we left Auckland on the 14th of January, and arrived 4 hours later on the 13th of January as we'd either a) crossed the international date line en route, or b) our plane was equipped with a Flux Capacitor and we surpassed 88mph...

We had to disembark our plane on the tiny runway surrounded by palm trees and mountains. The weather was balmy despite being early in the morning and the scent of frangipangies was heavy in the air.

As we made our way inside the tiny airport we were greeted by an old man in a Hawaiian shirt playing a Ukulele. All of the staff had flowers in their hair, or around their necks and straight away we were into the island spirit. We filtered out of the airport and saw a plethora of drivers handing out Lei's and escorting people to their vehicles. Alas, our budget hostel didn't appear to be represented amongst them so it was only after a bit of wondering around, sticking my head into various air-conditioned mini-buses to ask for help that we found our ride - a battered white mini-bus (NOT air conditioned) with a slightly crazy looking old man driving us.

The drive to our hostel was a short one, unsurprisingly as the island is only 29km long. The hostel was a reasonably large building with an open 'dining room' area and shared kitchen. We threw our stuff into our room and went for a walk around, 100m up the road was the most amazing white sand beach lined with palm trees. However, as we walked up and down it soon turned out that despite a little petrol station at the top of our road there was nothing else for miles!

After a fair walk we finally headed back and sat and read in our room wondering what on earth we were going to do there for 10 days! Then, there was a knock on the door and it was the lady that ran the hostel. She was checking in with us and asked if we wanted to come downstairs and chat. It turned out that the open dining area downstairs was somewhat of a social hub and in no time we'd been given maps and personal recommendations from the mixed group of residents. We would soon come to know most of the people there very well and many hours would be spent playing cards, drinking and chatting together. We even took one guy over to LA with us, but that's a story for the next entry!

On our first evening we were fortunate to see the most amazing sunset, a good job really because from the next day on it was cloudy almost every night. This would be a good time to explain that we don't have many photo's of our time on Rarotonga purely because most of our time was spent on the beach or in the sea so it just wasn't practical to take the camera around with us. Most days we would just wonder up to the beach with nothing but our snorkels, flippers and a pair of flip flops. For that reason, I have 'borrowed' a few photos from the internet to add to this blog to give an idea of our stay. I've intentionally picked ones that realistically reflect our experiences, but as I don't want to mislead anyone I have indicated in the comment section which ones were not taken by us.

Well, now the copyright infringements have been dealt with, it's on to our stay. Basically, it was the most relaxing 10 days of my life! Every day we would relax on the beach, occasionally taking one of the island's two buses (one clockwise and one, seriously) into town to do some food shopping. As it turned out our food supplies were heavily subsidised by a plethora of fresh fruit grown in our hostel garden, and a good job too considering how expensive groceries are on the island. Every morning we would have unlimited fresh papayas, coconuts and passion fruits.

After a fresh breakfast we would then wonder down to the beach for a spot of snorkeling. The first day we went out we were amazed at how crystal clear the water was - it looked like tap water. For the first couple of meters, it was nothing but white sand underneath and just as we got deep enough to start floating around and testing the goggles under the surface, we were met with a huge school of silver fish swarming around us! The fish were fearless and circled us tightly, staying with us even as we swam further out. The water never got deeper than around 2 to 3 meters deep which gave us amazing up close views of the coral which was absolutely breathtaking. Some pieces were HUGE and so bright that they looked like they were out of a cartoon. And in amongst it all were some of the most beautiful, and at times down-right weird, sea life I've ever seen. Highlights included clams the size of rugby balls with luminous purple lips, hundreds of baby clown fish and a particularly grumpy bright yellow eel that popped out at us as we swam past. Once there was a school of silver fish covering an area about the size of a car, just hovering almost motionless in a clearing in the coral. I drifted over towards it trying my best not to splash around and managed to float right into the centre without disrupting them at all. So for a few minutes I just lay motionless amongst them, the closest ones were so near i could see the domes of their eyeballs, a truly amazing experience! One of the drawbacks of so much sea-life was the presence of some dangerous species. On one excursion Mark nearly stood on a Stonefish, and by nearly I mean his flipper literally landed right alongside it - we were saved a painful trip to the hospital by mere millimeters! 

Aside from eating, relaxing and snorkeling, the only other activity we partook in was an island night put on by one of the local pubs. Locals wore traditional dress and performed music and dances and explained various customs. As you'll see in the photos Mark even had a go at dancing with a few of the local girls!

After initially worrying that we would be bored in Rarotonga, as with so many of experiences on our trip, the time flew by and before we knew it we were reluctantly packing our backpacks up to fly to L.A. This was one of the more poignant departures we had as we would be meeting several friends at LAX who were going to spend the last 2 weeks of our trip with us in the USA before we returned to London. So this was the end of our solo travels. Our last stay in a shabby-but-welcoming hostel where everyone treated each other like family. No more walking around in dirty shorts and faded t-shirts for days on end. The Developed world was calling, and as excited as we were to see familiar faces for the first time in months, we were also already beginning to mourn the end of our amazing journey.

However, we didn't have much time to reflect and dwell on our departure because as I mentioned before, we had picked up a traveling buddy from our Hostel and so we were entertained by a guy called Ross from Oxford while we waited for our plane in Rarotonga's tiny shed of an airport, he sat behind us on the flight, helped me out with my plane food, and even ended up sticking around for a few days in L.A! So on to the next entry...
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