It All Started with a Surprise
We kept hearing about Rarotonga (the largest of the Cook Islands) here in New Zealand as it’s a very popular vacation spot for kiwis. iIt’s an easy 3 hour flight and their currency is still mainly NZ dollars, more importantly… it’s a really beautiful place. The entire island is surrounded by a reef, making the shoreline calm and crystal clear (mainly shark-free, too- which is a bonus for this prairie girl).
Joel had a plan to surprise me with a getaway, as a kinda celebration trip for my birthday and our anniversary. He had been working on an end-of-October deadline so, despite having to be away when Brandon and Stacey flew home, Joel booked for a time he knew he could be away from work and an internet connection (which is tricky to find on the island).
On October 31st we headed for the airport, saying goodbye to our sweet friends/housemates and readied ourselves for some killer downtime in paradise.
We arrived in Raro after dark, and therefore, weren’t able to form an accurate judgement of the place. Mainly flying by the seat of our pants, having put very little research into the area – we had few expectations. We were greeted by the hotel shuttle and ushered around part of the island to our resort where we settled in and rested up for our official introduction.
We eagerly slid out of our beach bungalow the next morning, ready to see what the fuss about this place was. It took no time to jump onto the bandwagon.
We had breakfast on the beach, with sand beneath our feet and sea breezes sweeping through our… my hair. With one look at our infinity pool, we set plans for our first morning.
We took things fairly easy for the first part of the day, with a plan to head into town, maybe getting a scooter license and wheels for the afternoon. We stopped for more sunscreen at a nearby store (getting our first glimpse of the Rarotongan coins that supplement the New Zealand change circulated), I started reading ‘The Hobbit’ (like a good little New Zealand tourist), Joel was reunited with his true love- salt water pools and I discovered the need to have a chat to him about not looking dead when he practices holding his breath underwater (although, I suppose I’m fairly lost to the world in the photo below as well).
Eventually we headed to the reception desk to to receive instruction on catching the bus. A helpful staff member explained how easy it is- having a stop right on the main ring road at the end of our hotel’s laneway! We were waiting at the ‘stop’ (although, we didn’t notice any marked pull-outs, so simply set ourselves up in a visible area) and waited. The bus came around shortly after it’s expected time, and with our exact change in one hand, we gave a little wave to indicate our hopes to board with the other… and the bus zoomed past us!
Strange, but we took it in stride- taking the opportunity to walk across the road to ask a rental company the licensing requirements for a scooter- discovering our need to stop at the police station for the proper qualifications. Cool, we thought, we’ll do that when we take the bus to town!
Back to our hotel we went to grab some lunch and await the arrival of bus #2. More sun, some food and quiet time passed before we got ourselves together once again waiting by the main road for our ride. Again, prepared we were now- with the correct fare in one hand and our (grander) waving arm at the ready. Here comes the bus again, fairly close to on-time.
We waved politely. We both wave our hats at the bus, that again doesn’t appear to be slowing… and once more watched as it zoomed by us! Now having only seen our resort all day and the time now nearly mid-afternoon. Ugh. Annoying. We went back to chat with the receptionist to be sure we weren’t somehow missing the trick to catching a bus, but with her confusion and apologies, we ended up leaving the front desk and venturing across the street yet again- this time for a car rental.
Melting, annoyed and hoping to just be slightly mobile, we ended up getting ourselves a little Toyota for the remainder of our trip.
We ventured into the nearby town and walked around a bit before deciding to drive around and see what’s to be seen. One interesting view we caught was that of an old shipwreck just off the existing harbour. Kinda neat to even see from land, but there are lots of boats and snorkel tours that will drop you off near the wreck to have a look.
It didn’t take long before we’d reached our hotel again (it takes about 40 mins to drive the whole island) with several ideas for stops over the coming days.
That evening, we checked out a beachside bar and enjoyed some cold drinks as we watched the sunset. After which, we were thoroughly tired out and grabbed some great takeaway pizza to enjoy before crashing.
A Magical Mystery Tour
Tuesday morning we planned to join several other hotel guests (the average age being about 65 and again reminding me how much my activity choices are more suited for such a range) on the manager’s **Mystery Tour** (OooOOOooooo).
This tour consists of a van full of either pale or burnt tourists that squeeze themselves together and sweat along the countryside admiring the sights with the appropriate insertions of “Ooo” and “Ahhh” and “Oh Sue, you hilarious vixen, you”.
This tour was actually fantastic, we had a chance to hear stories of the area, we drove by the jail and the hospital and moved on to some more exciting stops- a spot serving snacks and coffee, a coconut oil company (run out of a fellow’s garage essentially), and then Muri beach- where 13 boats left for New Zealand, 7 made the entire journey and were able to set themselves up there.
It was a good day and it allowed us to gain a better understanding of the island- which was great.
Once back from our tour, I was able to start my afternoon routine of enjoying a coffee or tea on our porch and reading for a spell. I started craving that quiet time with the shade a cool breeze rustling the green around me- quite peaceful and lovely!
That evening, we caught our first glimpse of the hotel restaurant in the evening, and planned to come back. The night we were able to eat at our hotel was really lovely- the lights created a whole new ambience and a local artist construction some really beautiful music with just her voice, a guitar and a loop pedal- it was wonderful.
But back to Tuesday night, when we decided to put our car to use and went to town for supper. We ate at a place right on the water and enjoyed ribs for Joel (we’d been told the pork in the area is exceptional) and fish for me while listening to the water gently lap against the beach. Great food and atmosphere overall 🙂
Muri Beach and the Fish Sandwich to Remember
Wednesday we had booked ourselves in for a night Stand up paddle board (SUP) tour in the Muri Beach Lagoon. We had been told that depending on conditions we could be shuffled to another evening to ensure a good experience, so we decided to head over early, wander the area and check in on our booking so we could save everyone a drive later on.
We started on the Northern point of Muri beach, and stopped for a while to admire the breathtaking water- for as long as we were there, the colour of the ocean continually impressed me.
Our tour continued on to The Mooring Cafe, which is notorious for pretty mean fish sandwiches and fruit smoothies. The cafe has some amazingly fresh fish; also running fishing charters and serve their own catch. We weren’t quite ready to commit to the sandwich on our first stop in, but had an amazing vanilla-coconut milkshake and travelled on, promising to be back once our appetite caught up with us.
We stopped in to check on our SUP booking and found not only were we the only ones signed up for that evening, but the water conditions didn’t seem like they’d cooperate. We happily switched our booking over to Friday and hoped for the best!
Further on down the road, there was a local brewery who we’d heard offered some very interesting tours that run twice most days. My beer-loving husband and me, the seeker of all speakers sharing their passion, were eager to check this out.
We found the Matutu brewery with ease, tracked down some lush grass to park our wee Toyota and waited with the handful of other tourists who’d found their way there. It was funny, as this was the first time we started to see the same tourists doing the activities we’d chosen for the day- that’s what ya get on an island destination with an area of only 26 square miles 🙂
The tour was an hour long, set in a tiny brewery where we sat in one spot and could see the full production. The host was one of the 2 owners who had come from New Zealand with his family several years before, originally moving to continue as a teacher (my kinda guy). He says the brewery came about after his wife would comment how teaching had driven him to drink.
Matutu has been successfully running as a always-fresh, preservative-free micro brewery for over 10 years now. We learned a little about the owners, the history, some of their struggles and all about the depth and thoughtfulness that surrounds their design and labelling.
They’ve overcome some interesting bumps along the way, but have since gained recognition and seemed to have found their niche. We were able to sample all 3 of the beers they craft, and enjoyed not only the brews, but the story of this quaint stop. We had fun, and were even treated to a couple labels with our niece’s name on it! Maeva is a Maori word for celebration, and we noticed it a couple more times before we left, although in the Cook Islands it’s pronounced MY-va
With full hearts and empty stomachs we trekked back to the Mooring for lunch. We were completely blown-away. Fresh, fabulous, filling…FISH (ha). What a win. Crumbed Mahi Mahi with lime mayo on the fluffiest bread around- delish.
We had a little visitor at lunch and I didn’t mind a bit- look how cute! There are lots of roaming dogs on the island, but few that captured my heart like this guy:
Then, away we went! Back to Joel’s happy place:
All the *Culture*
Thursday I woke up already a bit sick of our hotel’s continental breakfast, so we went on a coffee expedition! We had heard that one of the best coffee spots on the island was Cook Islands Coffee Company, and we went to find out for ourselves.
The cafe could easily be missed, in fact we drove past it on our first go-around. There’s a little coffee-themed road sign and a pylon to mark the entrance, and the coffee is roasted and served from a tiny little counter off the owner’s main house (which is a pretty sweet gig, if you ask me). I appreciated the charm of the place, but kiwi coffee has definitely spoiled me and though I enjoyed our little trek, I wasn’t wild about the brew.
Most days the coffee spot also serves fresh croissants, but not on Thursdays. Sad. So after our beverages we headed for breakfast and found a spot with fruit smoothies and eggs- all ya need, really 🙂 we ended up sharing the patio with a women’s rugby team- there for the International 7s that were running while we were in Rarotonga- kinda neat.
Once properly fed we were up for yet more culture- this time… mini golf (woot!).
There’s a mini golf course located just up the road from our resort, and we thought it would be fun to check it out. The place seemed very new and well-kept. We had a great time enjoying the tropical air and working our way through the course. Mini golf is one of those things that just makes me happy- we discovered this on a particularly grumpy day on our honeymoon (good to know).
We went back to our hotel for more beach/pool time, and eventually got ourselves freshened up for our evening out at Te Vara Nui village for a buffet dinner and a show.
Our evening was planned for us, but we figured we would check out a few places on our way to our reservation. We took our time as we drove towards the village, and had a walk on the beach part way. We ended up being early still, so we drove on and stopped by a cool looking church. We took pictures and enjoyed the scene that was enhanced by a choir practice happening across the road.
We looped around, scoped out an ideal parking spot and headed in to find our table. The village was built up atop an old taro swamp and the show took place on an overwater stage set in the wetlands, creating a very interesting ambience.
The show was a true tourist spot- maybe a bit kitsch, but we ended up having a fabulous time! The food was great, we had lovely company sharing our table, the music was live and vibrant and the dance was really entertaining. The whole production was clearly a well-oiled machine and it provided a fun night out for us.
Onward We Wander
By Friday we had only a couple days left and just as many plans for our time left. We had fully immersed ourselves in vacation mode and didn’t feel any rush to get anything done.
It was rainy and grey, so we headed to town and walked through some shops and a cafe. There was a record player in the corner of the cafe where you could freely choose an album to enjoy. There was a book nook, with my lady, RGJ, represented and they had a lovely covered patio that allowed for fresh air and shelter from the tropical rains all at once.
We drove for a while, checked in with our SUP booking and found our way back at a mini golf place. This time we tried Coco Putt, which has great food/drink and golf combo deals. We were soaked a few times as we completed our 18 holes with the rain coming in waves, but we had fun just the same. We compared and contrasted, and figured our first putt course was our favourite!
We had planned on grabbing some dinner at the night market right near our SUP spot, but when we arrived in the evening we discovered it didn’t run on Fridays! Too sad… although the burger joint we ended up at wound up being a gem. Both Joel and I refuelled to prepare for our evening on the water with Muri burgers, which had pineapple among other tasty toppings.
We were grateful to have had such a great meal, because our next activity was just about too cool to handle!
But, really. We were finally able to night SUP and it was SO. AWESOME.
The boards are each equipped with LED lights on the bottom, you can choose different colours and as you paddle you’re able to see all sorts of interesting corals, sea cucumbers (which actually should be called sea poos), puffer fish, needle fish, star fish (you know… a variety of fish and such fine sea critters). We had a real small, chill group and we all had a blast!
We didn’t want to bring our cameras along- to be cautious, but here are some photos that were shared on their Facebook page- so also… Kite SUP in Muri Beach is a great place and highly recommended if you ever find yourself in the area (also JUST in case the fella on our tour isn’t into being on my post I fuzzied his face out, ha- he was great fun, though).
Saturday in the Park
Saturday we hadn’t planned much apart from soaking up our last bits of Rarotongan sunshine. We got our bags somewhat organized before going for breakfast and planned to hit the Punanga Nui market where we’d been told most of the island shows up to each Saturday.
We had some amazing weather for our last day and enjoyed our time strolling up and down the stalls at the market, wishing we had more of an appetite to sample the amazing looking food that surrounded us- fresh fruit, hot waffles, made-to-order crepes, all sorts of fish, and more things than I would have imagined in one spot. We ended up soaking in the atmosphere and then chilling in the shade with some homemade ginger lemonade before driving around the island one last time.
Joel was hoping to take our time as we drove and was great at taking pictures of those things that we had thought were really cool, but hadn’t actually captured in photo evidence. It was a lovely little scavenger hunt and we were able to remember quite a few neat sights to re-visit.
We topped up the gas tank in our little Toyota and made our last trip before returning it. We found ourselves back at our top choice mini golf course. I kept thinking it was kinda like when you have 2 kinds of pizza and you have to have one of each, but once that’s through and you’re still hungry – you go back to your favourite to let that taste linger. Yep, that’s what we did. Snacks and golf at the course!
We dropped our car off, walked back to our hotel and spent our last few hours before our flights poolside. We swam and chatted with the other guest, read, relaxed and finally enjoyed a delicious supper before flying back to Auckland.
What a lovely surprise. I feel blessed to have such a thoughtful husband who is dedicated to sharing such memories and experiences! We were happy to have that holiday time as well, even though we came back to a quiet, empty house as our friends had gone back home while we were away. We also came back to some loose ends needing to be tied in our last 2 weeks in our beach house.
This time next week, we’ll be visiting with our parents! Both Joel’s parents and mine will be visiting and travelling with us for a month. And then, before you know it, we’ll be sitting on a couch trying to fight the jet lag as our hearts are filled with joy and our Canadian Christmas commences. What a wild ride. Wouldn’t have it any other way.