Just hanging out in the South Pacific...

Trip Start Oct 13, 2004
Trip End Jun 21, 2005

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Flag of Cook Islands  ,
Friday, December 3, 2004

November 17 - Dec 3, 2004
He Said:

1. The Lagoon on Aitutaki, warm, calm and the most amazing Turquoise blue. Oh yeah and White Sand Beach!!!
2. The friendliness of most of the people. Aitutaki even more so than Raro.
3. The relaxing Island Pace, but in true North American fashion after a week or so, I was ready for some action and some things to do.
4. The Aitutaki Lagoon Cruise with Captain Quint aboard Wet and Wild (we had a total blast)

1. THE COST OF EVERYTHING, except accommodations. The Cooks are insanely expensive by North American standards. $15-19 NZ for a burger, $3.00 NZ for a can of Coke, Gas is $1.80 a litre and on it goes. You can't have a meal for under $60 or $70 and dinners are $100 and if you have booze, $12-$15 cocktails you are on your way to $150 in no time. That said beer is not completely unreasonable and wine is also a decent price.
2. The Cooks are not really geared for children. There is not much for them to do and nothing is really geared for families.
3. Staying too long, if I was doing this over I'd do a 2 - 3 week swing through out the South Pacific, starting in Tahiti, hitting the Cooks for maybe 5 days and most of that being on Aitutaki and then move on to Fiji. The value of hindsight.

Well I'm writing this after about 10 days in the Cooks and at this point I am ready to move on which we may do ASAP upon our return to Raro on Monday. We're supposed to be here another week but I just can't see it. I would say overall the Cooks have been a disappointment. Not that the Islands are not beautiful, especially Aitutaki, it is just that there is not that much to do and they are not really geared for kids and quite honestly the cost of food etc. is just over the top for me. That coupled with all we experienced in Costa Rica and Ecuador probably set me up for some disappointment.

I/We also seemed to have a bit of a rough landing physically and emotionally in the Cooks. Shannon and I were both battling a stomach bug for the first 4 or 5 days and emotionally we all seemed to be crashing a bit after the emotional highs of Kapawi and The Galapagos. It was really not until day 3 or 4 that we all seemed to come out of our funks, even the kids were off for the 1st few days with everybody being a bit short with each other. In particular Kayla and I seemed to be getting on each other's nerves. I think the fact that we pretty see each other 24x7 played into things as well so Shannon and I took some time with the kids to give us each some separation. The fact that Shannon's patience was wearing thin with the kids says a lot as she normally has an infinite amount of patience, as do most moms, when it comes to our children.

We rented a scooter which was by far the most economical form of transportation while on Raro, again in hindsight one scooter and 4 people did not make for the most practical method of transportation. It became the nightly relay as I would take Shannon first to the restaurant, followed by Tyler and then Kayla and then we'd reverse the order for the return home. If we were in town, it would be a good hour each way to get everyone to and from our destination. Oh well, it was fun to drive and the kids loved their daily scooter trips.

As I have already mentioned the cost of everything other than accommodations is high. We did our best by shopping at the local market for drinks, snacks and other groceries for breakfast and light lunches. That said, you could not get out of there without spending $60 NZ and that got you some eggs, some bread, some cheese, some water and some fruit. This certainly helped reduce the costs but the Cooks are definitely a budget buster. You know it is bad when you are saying Hawaii is cheap in comparison but that is certainly the case.

Overall, if I was not doing a South Pacific swing through a series of Island chains I would not include the Cooks as a holiday destination unto itself. I would take a trip to Maui or Kauai any day. Hawaii wins out on ease of access, cost and things to do hands down. There is more to do, more to see and quite frankly the quality of the food and accommodations is more on par with my expectations.

Places to stay:
- we stayed at Sunrise Beach Bungalows. We were in the family units which are basically the bottom of the owner's home. Roomy and a good size for the family but back away from the water and a bit of dungeon in that the windows are small and as such the room is quite dark. The blessing there is that the room does stay cool. The bungalows are much nicer with A-Frame thatched roofs and big glass windows looking out on the ocean. We were treated very nice by the owners and the rooms were clean but they are situated about 1 - 2 KM's from Muri beach so you need to hike or drive to get to the Lagoon there for swimming or eating. It is 5 - 7 KM's the other way to Avarua, the main village on Raro. Overall it was good accommodations at a decent price, $135 NZ a night.
- There are numerous places to stay on Muri Beach, the Pacific Resort looked nice but we did not scope them out in great detail. My recommendation would be make sure you have a current travel guide book as things can change quickly it seems and plan accordingly.

- we stayed at Samade on the Beach. This seems to have been a bonus find as it is brand new, the accommodations that is. The Restaurant and Bar have been here for a while. We got a very nice A-Frame Bungalow with a King bed and some roller beds for the kids for $140 NZ a night. As we've discovered that is a a great price and we have a great location right on the Lagoon. The staff here is amazingly friendly and they have Island night on Wednesday, Island Mix and Mingle on Friday night (both with local dance show) and a Sunday BBQ. The service is top notch, the food selection while minimal is very good and on the reasonable side of pricey when compared to most of the restaurants in the cooks.
- Other places to stay, we talked with some folks who are at the Aitutaki Lagoon Resort, the former Aitutaki Pearl Resort. Supposedly the best place to stay on Aitutaki and the reviews were horrible. Over priced for what you got, run down etc. And when the rooms are starting at $330 NZ a night you expect a lot more than what they were getting. The one lady left after 2 nights and moved to Paradise Cove where she was getting her Bungalow for $200 a night. Again disappointing in that they run both high end bungalows and a backpacker place out of the same location. She said, very clearly the two don't mix so some shaking out will likely occur there. Again for the price, she said it was borderline even without the Backpackers. Not that I/We have anything against backpackers but when you are paying anything north of $150 a night you have certain expectations and those are different than if you are backpacking so mixing the two worlds is probably not the best of business plans. We checked out a few other locations as well, The Pacific Resort looked nice and top notch, Gina's located in the middle of the island looked very nice and very well kept but it is inland, why you'd come to Aitutaki and stay inland is beyond me. We also drove into The Aitutaki Lodges and they looked nice but they are on the North West side of the Lagoon which has no real beach or swimming so not the best of locations in that sense.
- For the backpackers there are deals to be had on Aitutaki and reasonable meals to be found, we saw $6 BBQ lunches, beer is not over priced and Coconut Crusher Bar offer's a Backpacker night on Friday nights. So you can get by but again I don't see the Cooks as a Backpacker's Paradise Cost wise but I'm not backpacking so maybe I'm just not plugged into that scene enough.

Dining in the Cooks:
- The Café (Breakfast and Lunch)
- Tamarind (my choice as the best restaurant we ate at in the Cook Islands)
- Mama's Café
- The Blue Note
- Trader Jack's
- Sails (at the Rarotonga Sailing Club on Muri Beach)
- The Flame Tree
- The Pacific Resort (Muri Beach)

- Samade on the Beach
- Coconut Crusher Bar
- Tapuna Café
- Pacific Resort Aitutaki

She Said:
1. Aitutaki Lagoon - unbelievably beautiful!
2. Lagoon Cruise with Wet & Wild....fun, Fun, FUN!
3. Island Nite at Coconut Crusher Bar
4. Samedi on the Beach's friendly atmosphere
1. The PRICES$$!!!!

Shannon's Entry
Considering that Mark's last entry on my behalf ended with me 'fighting the flu', I wanted to let everyone know I'm doing well. Thanks for all your well-wishes and concerns...it was a nasty intestinal/stomach bug but luckily with all my homeopathic & Chinese remedies, I really only suffered from it for 12-18 hours. Good thing cuz it would have been a nasty accompaniment to our travel from Ecuador to the Cooks - we experienced 6 countries in 36 hours (if you call sitting in airports 'experiencing' - harsh travel days!) Luckily we only have one more bad leg like this on this trip and that's getting from Thailand to Tanzania, but that's months away so we certainly won't think about that now.

Strangely enough, being sick was an excellent gratitude reminder of how blessed I've been to have suffered no ill side-effects from my cancer on this trip, so far. It's a strange paradox how something awful like cancer can really keep you grounded...it's so easy in our world to get caught up in things that don't matter or to complain about insignificant things. Enough musing, but with all the inquiries into my health I realized a) what wonderful people I have in my life and b) I need to keep you updated on that aspect of my life. P.S. Keep those emails coming, it's so wonderful to hear from you!!

Anyway....Cook Islands. After action-packed weeks in Ecuador, we were really looking forward to just relaxing in the tropics for a couple of weeks. Upon arrival however, my spirit was very uneasy - such a sharp contrast to the serenity and peace that has accompanied my soul since leaving LA. I rationalized it was a combination of jet lag, hangover from my stomach bug, being overtired, concern over the economic situation in the US and the impact on my portfolio, being together 24X7 etc. All of which I'm sure were contributors, but as I sat in reflection I realized it just felt so empty. I had just experienced a truly incredible connection with humanity in meeting the Achuar, a people literally struggling to preserve their existence. Coming back into a world of such self-indulgence and stark commercialism simply felt so hollow & empty. Clearly my Achuar experience has become a defining moment in my life for I know I want to strive for deeper meaning in my world, to make a difference for others, not simply myself. With that in mind, we've dropped Fiji off the trip to enable us to spend more time in SE Asia meeting other cultures/people and are going to try to spend some time in Africa, after our safaris, to better understand the AIDS crisis. I find it so interesting that one of my main objectives of this trip was to expose our children to the 'real' world, to help them understand what a privileged life we have and that we need to help others in the world that have so much less. Obviously, it was an important lesson for me to move from my head to my heart and so integral to my growth journey. I don't know what my role in any of this will be, but it's not my purpose to figure everything out but to be an open, spiritual vessel. It always amazes me "when the student is ready, the teacher will appear".

Sheesh, still haven't told you much about the Cooks. Very laid back, tropical setting and super expensive. Mark bought 6 eggs for >$6, cocktails $15/each, $12 for a soup...get real!!! Trying not to compare but after such delicious, fresh food in Ecuador this just seems even more out of this world. Assumption - at least the seafood and fish will be wonderful being on a tropical island - wrong...the local fish have some weird phenomena whereby they eat algae from the coral making them poisonous to man. Some locals have even died from it, so all fish is brought in from the mainland making it exorbitantly expensive and not even fresh.

Raratonga is a nice tropical island, but having experienced a lot of tropical locations I would not rate it in the top echelon. Aitutaki on the other hand, is something special. Just flying into it is absolutely breathtaking - in the middle of the ocean, a coral atoll has created the most amazing turquoise colored lagoon with 12 coral islands and 2 volcanic islands emerging around the edges. Closer inspection reveals incredible white sand beaches and the ability to seemingly walk on water, as the lagoon is so shallow in many places you can walk for ages out. Kayla and I even walked/splashed from one island to another when the tide was out. The water is warm as a bathtub in places and as the salt content is quite high, you can just lay suspended in the water. Very magical.

Population peaks at 2500 in all of Aitatuki so "Island-Time" takes on a whole new meaning....everyone is so laid back and friendly that you can't help but feel welcomed and relaxed. Mark and I decided the main occupation here is socializing as little seems to get done without a lot of conversation and laughter. That said, we rec'd excellent service everywhere we went. We really enjoyed where we stayed, Samedi on the Beach - the best beach on the island and the most happenin' beachfront bar with a great complement of locals and tourists of all persuasion from backpackers to honeymooners to up-market travelers. We met some great people and as the bungalows are a new addition to Samedi we received the 'deeply discounted introductory rate' which made it reasonable to stay there...plus the accommodation wasn't that busy so we were treated like family.

The Cook Islands are clearly not geared for family travel - inquiries into many places didn't even allow children and most of the stuff we looked into was for two. We didn't see another child on Aitutaki apart from locals, but all of the activities we looked into were very accommodating. In fact, it seems to be such a rarity that they didn't know what would be appropriate to charge for them and we usually got ˝ price or even free. Our favorite things were going on a non-conventional lagoon cruise with "Wet & Wild". This was a young guy, Quint, with a lot of character and a fast boat who took us touring the lagoon, islands, snorkeling on the reef, fishing, a great BBQ lunch and then ended the day with tubing and wake-boarding. We had an absolute blast! Island Night at Coconut Crusher's Bar was great too. The owner is this jazz musician who started this bar years ago and it's famous for its fun times. We had heard so much about him and the place that we were excited to experience it. It was indeed a fun place, but a cool surprise was his 8 year old son came and introduced himself to us. As they don't see too many kids, he was thrilled to meet Kayla and Tyler and even taught them how to island dance and entertained them for the evening. We all had a really fun nite and the food was fantastic, too.

So all in all, really enjoyed Aitutaki, Raratonga was ok and overall was glad to have some downtime for reflection. We're actually leaving a few days early....ready to get on to New Zealand and the next phase of our journey. Hopefully, there'll be more reliable internet access there as this weekly (or worse!) check-in ability is hard for me. Sorry, I missed the Ecuador posts real-time, but if you're interested in the "She Said" component, I've put in my 2 cents.

Kid's Said:
Tyler -
- Swimming in the Lagoon
- Wet and Wild
- Playing on the beach with the Hermit Crabs
- Eating the BBQ Fish lunch on the beach (served by our Wet and Wild hosts)
- Tubing in the Lagoon on Aitutaki with Wet and Wild
Kayla -
- Wet and Wild
- Swimming
- Snorkeling in Aitutaki
- Tubing on the Lagoon with Wet and Wild
- Eating Fish and Chips

- having to sit at the back of the boat during the bumpy crossing out of the reef
- the little boy at Samade on the Beach (Grandson of the owner's) because he never left us alone.
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