It was great to be back on the “road” again. It was a much shorter detour than we would have liked but enough to give us an “adventure fix” that will hopefully keep us going until our next longer escapade in the coming southern summer.
Rarotonga in the Cook Islands was the destination. Ruth had not been to the Pacific Islands and I had only briefly passed through Tahiti while cruising to Europe back in 1975.
For those of you not familiar with Rarotonga, it is everything you would expect a tropical island to be. Jungle clad mountain peaks tumbling down to a blue blue lagoon that is fringed by coral sand beaches and coconut palms. Honest, I did not get that out of a tourist brochure, have a look at the pictures.
The island has a resident population of around 13,000 people. I estimated that around 50,000 wild chickens also make it home and, given the crowing, at least 40,000 of those are insomniac roosters. Free-range dogs would also figure high in the population stakes.
If you are a city kind of person don’t go to Raro. The biggest town, Avarua, would be called a village in most countries but it does boast an international airport. As you enter the terminal you know you are in a very different place. They put on entertainment while you wait at the baggage carousel, a ukulele playing local helps to rapidly ease away the stress of waiting to see if your luggage made it.
You need to arrange a vehicle transfer to get to your accommodation. After placing a lei consisting of strongly scented frangipani around your neck, you are whisked away to your selected destination somewhere along the 32km coastal fringe around the Island. The driver we had was probably a stand-up comic when he was not driving the van.
We stayed at Muri Beach, the second biggest settlement on the Island, at the opposite end to Avarua.
When we select accommodation we go for; self-catering, comfort and value. Our view is that there is a price point at which these are met, most accommodation is priced well above that and you have to question what you actually get for those (considerable) extra dollars you spend. The fact that we were not on the beach front did not bother us, we had a great garden setting, privacy, bedroom, separate lounge, kitchen / dining, plus outside loungers and dining area, a small pool and, very efficient insect screens to keep the mosquitos off Cliff. These were essential as the “air-conditioning” consisted of louvre and sliding windows which you generally left open all night. We were extremely pleased with our selection.
Muri Village was, well, small. But it had everything you needed. Two shops for supplies (don’t expect the choice or prices that you get at home), a range of restaurants and cafes, a couple of other shops selling local wares, a doctor and pharmacy. The doctors waiting room consisted of chairs outside the building, I hope they provide umbrellas when it rains.
The Island was ideal for walking although nobody really walks. We did and were considered more than a little odd by the locals. When we told them that we walked to Avarua (10km away by the shortest route) they thought us a little strange. When we told them we biked around the island, the reaction suggested that we would soon be seeing people in white coats bearing straight-jackets to deal with the utter-nutters we were obviously considered to be.
Despite the consternation it caused, we loved the walking. The flowers were amazing and there was so much of interest whether you were wandering along the roads or the beaches. I am being a little loose with my terminology when I say “roads”. There was one main road that circumnavigated the Island. In some areas there was a second road a little inland (a few hundred metres up the mountain) and quite a bit narrower than the main road but passing through quite different country.
Both were great for walking. The speed limit outside “urban” areas was 50km. Inside the town or village it was 30km. So even though you walk alongside the main road or down the middle of the other road, you did feel safe and despite the need for wheels for many tourists and all locals, the traffic volumes are light by any standard. The added bonus of walking the main road is that it is serviced by two bus routes, clockwise and anti-clockwise. You can flag the buses down if your energy levels start to dwindle, you would see either bus at some stage in any hour. It is a bit of a bumpy ride but cheap and different.
I would imagine that driving could be a little hazardous with the free ranging chickens, dogs all needing to share the road with the vehicles. I am sure it is a safer place now that we have left.
For us walkers, the danger was coconuts. We were told that it was lucky to have a coconut land near you, we decided that the “luck angle” related to the fact that it had not landed on you. We felt that it was prudent to cross the road rather than walk under a palm, those coconuts are large and some of them are falling from a great height.
The temperatures were perfect as it was winter. The hottest was around 28c and it never dropped below 20c at night. It was pretty breezy which helped to keep it pleasant, we never felt too hot to be able to walk or bike, any time of the day.
When you wandered along the road you passed many local enterprises, call them cottage-industry, that were housed in interesting structures that were part of the family residences. Ruth enjoyed exploring these, I enjoyed them if they involved coffee. On our way to Avarua we came across a more up-market establishment that was roasting coffee. You could enjoy the freshly roasted product which we did. I spotted a small sign that said “if you are lucky enough to be at the beach, you are lucky enough”. I thought that summed up Rarotonga, the locals may not have much but just by living there they were “lucky enough”. Sadly, there are not enough places left in the World like it.