Earlier this year, the Hubbie and I travelled further from home than we’ve ever been as we visited Rarotonga in the Cook Islands. It’s essentially a four-hour flight from Auckland, New Zealand, into the middle of the South Pacific Ocean. And ironically, we felt more at home than anywhere.
Upon arrival in Rarotonga’s quaint little airport it’s like being transported to another era. A friendly local sits astride the luggage belt knocking out tunes on a keyboard, who we’re later told doubles up as the local pig farmer. We’re presented with fresh floral garlands which envelop us in their fragrance as we sip on chilled water and acclimatize ourselves to the balmy evening air.
After a good sleep to rid ourselves of the weariness that seems to accompany any plane journey – no matter how short – we step out for our first day on this paradise island. The plan for day one? To do absolutely nothing, and we couldn’t wait.
The beach is the most breathtaking I’ve ever seen. Powdery white sand and crystalline, turquoise-hued waters lapping on the shore. This is what I imagine the Maldives to be like sans the multiple hours of extra travel time. The reef surrounding the island creates a perfectly still lagoon, beyond which the waves of the ocean crash dramatically, creating a wall of white foam in the distance.
The tranquil lagoon is perfect for snorkeling and we lose ourselves in this magical underwater world, guiding each other around the dotted reefs and silently pointing out colourful fish and purple starfish. On several occasions without thought I try to make a proclamation out loud, but quickly learn that snorkeling and talking don’t mix. I even take a kayak out one day, carefully navigating my way around the coral peeking just above the surface of the lagoon. I take a moment to simply drift and gaze back at the island under the warmth of the sun, soaking in its exquisite, palm-fringed beauty which is nothing short of postcard-perfect.
A few friendly local dogs mill about on the beach, digging holes in the damp sand to counteract the heat of the midday sun. They happily lounge beside our sunbeds and seem to enjoy being in the presence of company, joining us as we go for a walk up the shore. Barefoot local children play happily in the waters well past the sunset. I wonder if they realise just how magical this playground is in which they grow up.
The island is too large to navigate by foot so we rent a moped for the week from a local vehicle hire office. Despite my reservations at whizzing around the island bare-legged, the pace of life is slow here and residents are well versed in cheerfully dodging tourists as they go about their daily life.
We use the bike to pop to the local shop for snacks and supplies – an interesting mix of imported goods and local ingredients – even with Arnott’s biccies for those who can’t live without for too long. We even leave our helmets hooked over the handlebars as we head in for a leisurely browse (something you wouldn’t have the luxury of doing in the city – unless you were happy to never see them again, of course).
Sat astride the back of the moped with the wind rushing past my ears, my face pressed into my husband’s back with the sight of the lush mountains, palm trees and stray chickens flashing by, I felt a sense of freedom and serenity that I presume Rarotongans are lucky enough to feel every day in this island paradise.
We choose a cooler and cloudier day to explore the island fully upon our trusty steed. Its beauty is breathtaking: lush green, mist-capped mountains rise from a thick carpet of palm trees, with quaint little houses dotted at their feet, pigs and chickens wandering amuck.
We find cute little botanical gardens (Maire Nui Botanical Gardens) with fragrant and colourful flowers misted with raindrops, a hidden waterfall (Wigmore’s Waterfall), a local brewery which offers fascinating talks (Matutu Brewing Company) and a number of waterside bars and eateries that we made a note to try.
It might be a concern that such a remote destination might offer limited cuisine, but that’s not a problem that we encountered. We enjoyed several delicious meals from seafood to curries, pork belly and sizzling cuts from the grill – not to mention many a refreshing ice cream from the local shop after a sweaty moped ride.
I’m lucky enough to have travelled within Europe, the US, Asia and Australia and this is certainly one of my favourite destinations in the world, for its beauty, remoteness, serenity and warmth. Rarotonga is a truly special place that I sincerely hope to visit again someday.