Rarotonga ‘Pearl of the Cook Islands’

IMG_4900To escape the New Zealand winter I felt the need to go to a warmer place and so one day I walked into a travel agency looking for some sunny place I could travel to.
A poster with Fiji and Rarotonga popped up in front of me as I walked in. I waited in line and as it was my turn I pointed to that poster and asked the agent: “Which one is smaller? “This would be Rarotonga” she answered and described briefly what the differences are. “Ok, then for me it is definitely Rarotonga”, I said after she finished her explanation. Because I am an island girl and the tiny and remote islands is what attracts me most. I booked an eight day vacation at the end of September and then the waiting and dreaming about sun, sand and quietness started.

IMG_4918The airplane took off I looked out of the window while my mind was wandering. Ever since I had decided to visit that little island in the South Pacific, I had counted the days. Finally I was on my way into the sun, which I love so much and which is oh so good for my health, body and mind. Warmth was what I needed after a winter in New Zealand and although spring had started, there was plenty of rain and that “southerly” wind coming from the arctic. I had booked an early flight so that I could go straight to the beach upon arrival. Salty water is what my skin needs to stay in good condition. The salty water is also very good for high blood pressure and the skeleton – if you let yourself drift in the ocean your spine and all muscles quickly relax –. And of course the fresh breeze, which fills your lungs with pure slightly salty and mineral oxygen.

But first I’d to get to the airport and because of my early flight there were no trains going to Wellington, so I had to call a cab. I had chosen a ‘green cap’ because it’s environmentally friendly and made a reservation for pickup at 4:30 am. I got up at 3:30 am showered poured myself a cup of tea and prepared some sandwiches for the travel. I always do that because I don’t like fast food or the meals you usually get on airplanes. Last check of my suitcase and handbag, packed nuts, soda and sandwiches in a small cooling bag I always carry with me while travelling and with a ‘see you in eight days’ to Bacon the cat I dragged my bags down the stairs. The cab driver arrived in time and on the way to the airport we chatted about his family, what his origin was and that he and his wife planned to go back to Africa as soon as their children were grown up. He then asked me what I was doing for a living and where I’d go to. I told him about my children book, that it is going to be released in December and that I am going to Rarotonga for some much needed fun in the sun. Anyways, the ride costs hundred NZD and by the time we arrived at Wellington airport the driver handed me out a 20% discount voucher for the next time and instead of hundred dollars he only charged me ninety that morning. He said because I am a writer and he liked what I had told him about my book. Really, I gazed at him astonished and with a big smile I took my suitcase and walked into the departure hall. It couldn’t have been a better start of my vacation.

After check-in I directly passed security and walked to the gate where a few other passengers were already waiting. I went to a bistro table and ate my first sandwich. At that early hour it is quiet and only the soft music from the speakers sounds through the halls. Upon arrival in Auckland I only had a short two hours waiting time and at 8:45 am a fully booked airplane took off direction Rarotonga. With only four hours flight Rarotonga is a popular tropic destination among New Zealanders and so I was sitting next to a young couple. First we didn’t talk but by the time breakfast was served we realized, that we both obviously had not include meals on that trip. I couldn’t remember if there had been an option to choose, while booking online but it didn’t matter. I still had a sandwich, some nuts and chocolate left in my food bag, which I had to eat up anyways because of the regulations at Rarotonga airport, which are pretty much the same as if you enter New Zealand. We kept on chatting and quickly found out that we both were huge animal lovers. They told me that they would stay for five days in a beach house and that they ‘kind of’ crashed the honeymoon of their close friends which were seated some rows a front.  By the time the airplane descended we thought it could be fun to go out together one evening. But because neither of us had connectivity on the island we discarded that idea and I said: “If it’s meant to be then we run in to each other anyways.” So after we had landed everyone went his own way. IMG_4705Just to meet again outside about an hour later when her friend seemed to be the only person with a lighter that was not taken away by customs. That was the last time I saw them and I guess they had a blast of a time staying right on the beach.

The first thing that catch my attention was a screen in that small arrival hall were among other things a warning for Ebola virus was displayed. ‘Alright’ I thought where does this come from? Never before have I seen nor heard this warning on any other Caribbean island I’d been visiting. I kept in mind to ask my host about the safety of drink water and the supply. Lydia – the host – waved at me as she saw me walking into the airy and open arrival section, no ‘Aloha’ and only a few locals were wearing floral wreaths. Outside I embraced the tropical heat and looked straight into the sun. After my short encounter with my seat neighbour we walked to her pick-up truck where I met her cousin. And while we load up my suitcase we saw a huge crack in the hard cover. Damaged, not repairable damaged. IMG_4709“I better go and report at the Air New Zealand service centre right away”, I said to Lydia and she nodded and pointed her finger to a flat building on the opposite. Ok, I unloaded my suitcase again and crossed the street, while Lydia and her cousin had to drive out of the airport and then drive in again to get to the parking space in front of that office. Meanwhile I had entered the office and the air condition cooled the spacey room comfortably. I took a deep breath and waited until a tall Rarotongan guy lifted his gaze, nodded friendly and said: “Kia Orana, how may I help?” “Hello, I just saw that my suitcase got damaged”, I answered and he stood up from his chair and looked over his desk. “Well I see, oh it is really broken” he remarked and disappeared to the back office to ask another colleague to handle the case. I had to fill in a claim and that other guy explained to me that they usually exchange it and I’d get another suitcase. But the selection they have on Rarotonga was rather small he said and suggested that I better take my damaged suitcase back to New Zealand to either exchange it in Auckland or in Wellington. “Do you think it will make the travel back without falling apart totally?” I asked. He looked down on that huge crack and said: “Oh, we are going to wrap some tape around it to prevent that it’ll open up when you fly home. Before you check in next week you drop by here and we’ll handle it” he added. “Ok cool I said” still a bit hesitant to believe that they really swap the suitcase. I never had a damage claim before. Only knew from hear saying that it is an annoying procedure and usually will take weeks – if not months – to get a refund. I didn’t thought about it much more, because I was on vacation and a broken suitcase is not something that is going to bother me. At the end it’s just a suitcase, is it? I walked out and saw Lydia and her cousin Nat waiting on the parking in front. Again, I load my 22.5 kg suitcase up in the trunk and finally we drove off. I apologized for the delay slumped in the backseat and immediately I felt “home”, funny, because I had never set foot on the island before. On the way to Lydia’s she asked me if I wanted to stop at the supermarket to buy some food. “Good idea” I answered and asked her about the water supply and cleanness in terms of drinkability. “No worries” she said and explained that there are official water stations all over the island where everybody can refill its water bottles and canister.
IMG_4822

That water is good to drink and regularly controlled by the islands health department.
As we arrived at her house she showed me the room I had rented and I met her mother who was sitting on the porch. My room was exactly as described on Airbnb, simple, clean and located at the left side of the main building just perfect for my eight days stay. I quickly unpacked my stuff and changed my clothes for my bikini. Because first thing I always do when arrived on an island is going to the beach and here the beach was right across the street. Lydia had told me that it was common to walk through other people’s backyards to get to the beach. I passed the office of the bird sanctuary on the opposite side of the street and followed a small walkway what led me to a line of palm trees behind. And then suddenly in front of me appeared the Pacific Ocean in its full beauty and dimension.

‘What a view’ I thought and took a deep breath to soak in the salty fresh breeze. I just love the vastness of the horizon, the sound of the waves breaking on shore and the sun mirroring in the crystal clear, blue water. The beach was covered with lots of corals and stone between a few sandy spots with enough space to spread a towel. I only had a towel with me and no sunscreen because I just wanted to dip into the water and refresh. Beside I didn’t pack any because I wanted to buy some Monoi Oil on Rarotonga, which originally is manufacture on Tahiti but sells on Raro because of their close historical connection. I took on my aqua shoes and dived into the water giving in to the soft waves and cooling water for a brief moment. A bit later refreshed and happy I got out of the water. I dried myself up and lay down on my towel watched the ocean and listen to the sound of the waves and fell into a deep slumber. Well, my body welcomed the warmth but my skin – which is dry by nature and I to have to cream all the time – got burned, ‘Uh, that’s not good’ I thought as I woke up and looked down at my reddish torso and legs. Nothing I could do about it anymore and with the towel over my shoulders I walked back to the house. Wondering how long I had to avoid the sun now to let my skin heal. But it turned out that the next few days were cloudy and rainy.

IMG_4800That first evening I walked to the Fishing Club nearby to buy some dinner, which of course were fresh battered fish and fries. While waiting I looked up what beer they offer and asked if there’s any dark beer available “Nah, we don’t have dark beer” the waitress said. A local guy next started to explain that on Raro they don’t really have dark beer and suggested the one which would be most similar to dark beer. “Well, then let’s try that” I said turning my gaze at the waitress and she brought me a bottle. It tasted ok but wasn’t really dark beer and I decided that I better stick to Corona for the time I’m here. That guy then started chatting, we walked outside and quickly I was introduced to a bunch of local men all eager to talk to me and make an impression. I kept smiling and nodding answering their questions while sipping on the beer I wanted to empty before my “to go” dinner was ready. “You should come tomorrow night, it’s Friday and we’ve live music” that guy said as I was about to leave. “Nah, maybe will see tomorrow”, l replied and added “No plans for me though, I am on vacation you know”.

The next two days I walked along the beach downtown and discovered the area, talked to locals on the street and enjoyed doing nothing. Then Sunday came and although Lydia had told me that all shops are closed, I wasn’t thinking and realized how much we’re all accustomed to have 24/7 access and service. Not believing that literally all shops are closed, I walked downtown looking for a kiosk or gas station to buy some cigarettes. Just after the first roundabout I passed a young heavy build woman sitting under a roof in the shadow chatting with her friend. I stopped and asked if they could tell where I may be able to get some cigarettes? She said that only the gas station on the main road, direction airport was open but this was a long walk. “Well then I keep on moving”, I answered adding that from tomorrow on I had rent a bicycle to drive around. She smiled at me turned to her friend and asked her if she would drive me to the gas station. ‘Sure’ her friend nodded without hesitation whatsoever, turned her head to me and with a sideward gaze signaled me to hop on her scooter. While driving we chatted and I was surprised about her friendliness and how natural it was for her to help out. On the gas station I wanted to buy her a soda but she turned my offer down. I then asked if I – at least – can pay her the gas, but nope she didn’t wanted any of it and even drove me back to the place where we had met. That genuine nice gesture let alone the friendliness of both women kept me thinking about the Rarotongan population as I walked back home. No much places these days anymore where you encounter that kindness and helpfulness I concluded and felt happy even more that I’ve chosen Rarotonga as my destination this year.
IMG_4755On Monday I picked up my bicycle from the rental place and started to drive around. All morning back and forward downtown and direction harbour I cycled and enjoyed my new mobility. Short before noon I needed a short break and stopped at a coffee shop close to the harbour. While enjoying a cold brew I grabbed the daily newspaper to see what’s going on. I always do that because it gives a glimpse of what keeps the locals busy, what jobs or better what skills are needed and what generally is going on. As I leafed through the pages my eyes widened as I saw an ad stating ‘Journalism job in paradise’. Instantly I pulled the newspaper closer to my eyes and read that a junior/intermediate reporter was required to fill in a role as Online and Social Networking editor. Well, I am not a reporter – yet – but surely be capable of becoming one. I am easy on the eye and people from all walks of life like to talk to me, telling me there whole life story and private matters although we just met and I never ask anyways. And I am very interested in the Pacific people, culture and issues and assimilating easily. Beside I have a natural talent for design and do all my social media by myself. My pictures proof my ‘good eye’ and my ability to ask the right questions at the right time without offending people is excellent. Now two things shot through my mind, first I don’t believe in coincidence and second a ‘No’ you have; a ‘Yes’ you can get. And so I cycled to the tourism information and asked where to find the office of the Cook Island News. Ten minutes later I opened the door to the office and walked in. With a “Hello my name is Monika” I introduced myself to the receptionist and asked for the man which was named in the ad. It really was my lucky day because John not only had a few minutes time – to my great surprise – he is the owner and – on top of it – a known publisher, ‘So cool’ I thought as I followed behind him into his office. I couldn’t believe my luck to get a chance to introduce myself to him. We had a short chat and he – of course – was very busy so we set a time to meet again the next day. In fact our next chat took place two days later and by then he had contacted other – more experienced – people he knew and had worked with before, to fill in the position vacant. Nevertheless he was so kind to give me some tips for the publication of my book in English language. And although I didn’t get the job he shared his precious time and knowledge with me was very helpful and which I be – to the day – very grateful for. A day later I had another informative and friendly conversation with the General Manager from Turama Pacific Travel Group his name also was John. Here as well I had applied in person for a job but after we had talked for a while he said that the job was not suitable for me. Still we talked for about an hour and he was telling me what it is about to live on Rarotonga, the past, tourism and what the future might hold for this tiny spot of paradise. At the end he mentioned a resort close by where they’re looking for people. I left my resume at the human resource department but never received a feedback. Summarized I think talking to both John’s truly was rewarding and ‘what was little effort for them was a huge motivation and pleasure for me’ thank you both.

IMG_4826Only a few days left of my time here and the weather kept on a mix of sun and rain as it only can be on an island. So beside hanging around and having lots of fun with Lydia, Nat and both of their mothers I did what all ladies love to do, shopping. I gifted myself a black pearl because the island is famous for it and bought a real floral wreath among other things. For Thursday night I had booked a Ka’ara Island Night at Highland Paradise Cultural Centre.

Staying in Avarua district in my first days I explored Nikao and Arorangi. In the last days I cycled up Matavera and Ngatangiia and while on my way to Muri beach suddenly heavy rain started. It rained so hard that I had to turn back and didn’t make it to Muri beach. As Lydia heard that I had missed out visiting Muri beach she felt complied to drive me up there in the last few hours before my departure.

That was just another wonderful moment and proof of the goodwill and friendly character of Rarotongan habitants.

I enjoyed the time I shared with Lydia, Nat and their moms pretty much.  IMG_4832Because listening to their stories about the daily life and what it means to establish a decent living is what I am truly interested in.
After Lydia had dropped me at the airport I walked into the Air New Zealand office where the same friendly looking employee was sitting behind his desk. He stood up and seemed to remember me because he shortly disappeared in the back office and came back with a huge plastic bag. He pulled that bag over my suitcase and tightened it up closely. I even got checked in right there and got told that the flight was delayed an hour. And what was supposed to be a five hour flight home became a travel on its own.

IMG_4786The tranquil and peaceful life on Rarotonga ‘Pearl of the Cook Islands’ is a truly memorable experience on its own and with much love in my heart, I thank all the people I’ve met and which have made my time on Raro even more fantastic and unforgettable.

 

 

Related videos on YouTube: Raro Part I  Raro Part II  Raro Part III  Raro Part IV

 

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