Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Kia Orana–Welcome to the Cook Islands!

By Nicole

What do left-side drivers, fish & chips, the English language and palm trees have in common? If you guessed the island of Rarotonga in the Cook Islands, you’re a winner. And speaking of winners, this place is pretty great. Really great, in fact. Did I mention they have fish & chips?

P7301291On approach to Rarotonga, the Cook Islands

If you read our last post, you were probably expecting us to turn up on the remote atoll of Suwarrow. Well, what do I keep telling you? We’re flakey! After leaving Bora Bora, we found steep, confused seas and not quite enough wind to run comfortably downwind. Bella Star was rolling, yawing, pitching and making slow progress. The run to Suwarrow would’ve been 5 days in good conditions, but tumbling around at 4 knots, it was going to take us about a week. Ugh. So we looked at the chart, analyzed our options and after a sleepless night tossing around on the floor, made the call to change course by 45 degrees and head straight for Rarotonga. So much better.

I’ll admit that we were bummed to sail away from our friends and miss the unspoiled beauty of Suwarrow, but now I can’t imagine having missed out on Rarotonga, which has the perfect blend of South Seas charm and New Zealand culture. We love it here. Plus it’s teeming with terrific restaurants, food stalls and coffee shops.

P8041307All the pretty yachts on the wharf in Avatiu Harbour, Rarotonga, the Cook Islands


Med-mooring, where you drop your primary anchor and then stern-tie to a wharf, is the name of the game in the tiny harbor (harbour?) of Avatiu. With cargo ships regularly coming and going , there’s no room to anchor. Sure, we’d stern-tied heaps of time in Canada, but this was our first attempt at doing it next to other boats and against a concrete wall. It required a lot of jiggy-jagging and line-running, but we successfully moored on our first try. Phew. One perk of mooring this way is that you get to know your neighbors very well – much better than if everyone is anchored out. Happy hour happens every night! Aaron even got treated to a Scotch night aboard Minnie B. He was a happy boy. 

DSC_5961View from our parking spot on the wharf – not too shabby

P8021302Spider Man would be right at home here

The island of Rarotonga is the same size as Bora Bora and has a similar topography (minus the large lagoon), but it has a completely different vibe. It’s a tourist destination, no doubt, but it’s managed to retain its charming, rural personality. And I can’t recall a country whose people have been friendlier or more welcoming than the Cook Islanders. Smiles flow freely, and you hear the phrase “kia orana,” which means something like “hello” and “welcome” dozens of times a day. It’s one thing for people to be polite; it’s another to feel like you’re part of their family.

It’s not just the locals who've been friendly, either. We’ve met some of the nicest Kiwi and Aussie vacationers! People have generously bought us drinks and food, offered to let us borrow their cars (which we declined due to the whole “driving on the left side of the road thing”) and given us their phone numbers so we can call them when we make it to New Zealand. Wow. Our new friends, Willie and Junior, are here from Auckland for a lawn bowling competition, so we stopped by the field to watch them play one afternoon.


P8061321That’s Willie in the bright yellow shoes lining up for his shot. Go team Auckland!

A number of trails wind through the hills of Rarotonga, but we found it equally lovely to just walk around the back roads. We’d wanted to rent bikes, but apparently that’s not really a thing here. Besides, “bike” actually means “scooter.” A “push bike” is a bicycle. We’re learning all sorts of new terms! My favorite? A picnic basket is called a picnic hamper. Ooh! And coolers are called cooly bins!

DSC_5956Walking the back roads of Rarotonga, through the woods and past small farms.

DSC_5939We came across lots of goats. Aaron kinda has a thing for feeding goats …

DSC_5942… And for petting them.

DSC_5955He did not, however, try to feed or pet the giant, grunting pig.

DSC_5948Roadside palm grove

DSC_5951Flashy orange dragonfly resting on a pond

One day we took the bus on a circumnavigation of the island (only 32 km around) with the ultimate goal of seeing the Muri Lagoon. Soft sand, turquoise water, lots of pale tourists and some very cool royal blue starfish.

DSC_5980Velvety blue starfish in the Muri Lagoon, Rarotonga

DSC_5984The arm shot

DSC_5988Sand, sun and sailing

Some pictures from around town …


DSC_5971Constitution Day celebration with traditional dancing, drumming and singing. We saw lots of dancing during the Heiva in French Polynesia, but this was by far the best. Amazing performances!

P8061324A kitty makes a nest in our backpack. We convinced him it was better than our clean laundry.

P8061315Island living has its limitations, I guess.


The 10 days we spent here were just fabulous. Sure it rained a bit. Sure I had to wear jeans, socks and shoes once or twice (!!). Sure things are on the pricey side. Sure a chicken stole a piece of fish from Aaron’s fish & chips basket. But with its friendly people, delicious food and natural beauty, I can safely say that Rarotonga is one of our favorite spots. Or should I say one of our favourite spots?

P8021304Rarotonga, conquered!