Since moving to an island in the South Pacific two years ago, Jess has been begging me to take her to an island in the South Pacific. A smaller one, she said. More tropical than New Zealand. Hot too, with nice beaches and lolly blue water.
With our childless days coming to a close, we found ourselves on a flight to Rarotonga. The most populous island in the country of Cook Islands, Rarotonga is the quintessential castaway island. On the map it’s a speck in the ocean, much like its rich uncles Fiji and Tahiti. It’s currency is the New Zealand dollar, and at 3.5 hours from Auckland, it’s an easy getaway for kiwis.
At midnight we arrived to ukuleles strumming in the airport. From the backseat of a beater minivan, we rode a bumpy 30 minutes to the south coast – our young kiwi driver cheerfully mocking the tiny town centre as we passed through it. We eventually reached Te Ava Villas, our Air B&B for the next six days, and drifted to sleep with dreams of magazine cover beaches that awaited us.
What we got instead was a bloody cold rainstorm! Well, cold for Rarotonga. According to the property manager of our house, a weather system in South Carolina had brought heavy rain to the region. I found it difficult to believe a storm a zillion miles away could have that sort of butterfly affect, but agreeableness being a benefit of holiday making, I slowly nodded my head. “Well how about that.”
In my suitcase was a sealed envelope containing the results of our anatomy scan. The plan was to reveal our baby’s gender in an adventurous sort of way, perhaps underwater with the GoPro filming. However, facing a day of downpours and a wife – I won’t say obsessed, let’s say preoccupied – with learning the sex of our child, we chose a suitable palm tree near our house and opened the envelope.
I’m now very proud to announce on this blog, and with great anticipation for a future of trail-blazing, slingshot-making and omelet-flipping, that we are having a BOY in January!
With the main event behind us, we shifted focus to the many things to love about Rarotonga. The island is a 20-mile circle. In the middle are untamed mountains. On the edges are resorts, shops and restaurants which pepper the road around the island. We sought a balance of activity and relaxation which came easy thanks to a surplus of both idyllic beaches and fun things to do.
First things first. The snorkeling is fantastic! The island is surrounded by a lagoon, often several hundred feet from shore. This provides calm (and shark-free) water to swim, snorkel, kayak and paddleboard with impunity. Our beachfront bungalow (which cost half the price of nearby resorts) came with a car and two snorkel sets, enabling hours of exploring the hotspots. The water was clear and the ocean life plentiful. The best snorkeling was outside Charlie’s cafe on the south side, perhaps explaining their best-on-the-island fish sandwich.
Another can’t-miss activity is the cross-island walk. Going north the south, a steep and technical track bisects the island, topping out at the needle, a bushy monolith visible throughout Rarotonga. The 10K track is slippery, with death falls in places, so Jess joined for the first 30 minutes and left me to finish the walk solo. A guide is recommended but the track easy to follow and absolutely delightful if you like to be alone with chirping birds and banana trees.
The walk is a good way to burn off the atomic calorie bombs you’ll absorb at the many cafes and restaurants. Unlike other tropical destinations we’ve been to – which cater to us hungry North Americans – the food on Rarotonga is quite average. Nearly all of it is imported, leading to fresh-yesterday flavours and high prices. I found the service dreary as well, with waitstaff understandably gazing beyond us and into the horizon of tomorrow’s dreams.
No bother though. This smoothed the way to breakfasts and lunches at home, time spent sunbathing to our own music and drinking from coconuts we shucked and cracked ourselves. In the evenings we’d sniff out beach bars on the west coast where sunsets, migrating whales and affordable wines were on special (just don’t expect craft beer). Shipwreck Hut was the best of the bunch.
Having circled the island several times (including once on bike – props Uncle Jessie!), I’d say the west coast is the best coast. The north is largely unswimmable. The east is crowded. The south where we stayed is nice for snorkelling but just can’t compare to the sandy and sunny west coast.
I hope you all get a chance to experience Rarotonga. With its unique sheltered lagoon, plentiful private beaches and pinch-me setting, we give it two snorkels up!
Here’s a five-minute video with highlights from the gender reveal and our favourite activities. Enjoy!