Rarotonga, Cook Islands | 10th Anniversary Vacation

It was really fun looking through these photos again to put together a blog post as the months have gone by since this vacation.  Every anniversary is important for us to celebrate and in November we celebrated our 10th anniversary with a vacation to Rarotonga in the Cook Islands.  We’ve had our eye on this beautiful tropical island in the South Pacific since considering to stop there in 2008 on our travels.  Rarotonga is the main island of the Cook Islands and the highway all around the island is only 32 kilometres following the coastline most of the way.  It was absolutely breathtaking stepping off the plane at sunrise as the sun was illuminating the lush, green mountains.  Even though I couldn’t take a photo with my camera on the tarmac that gorgeous first view has been imprinted in our memory.  For Kent having grown up in the foothills of Alberta, anywhere with mountains and trees is a great place to be.  Their slogan, “Love a little paradise” is easy to feel surrounded by the stunning scenery, palm trees and that incredible turquoise blue ocean especially on the occasions we got to see it in full sunshine.

We were drawn to the Cook Islands as it’s not overly-touristy even though their main industry is tourism.  There’s not big name hotels and tall buildings lining all the beaches.  The resorts are smaller, boutique style and typically 1-2 story bungalows.  There’s no building taller than a coconut tree.  Plus we love a mix of relaxation and adventure when we travel and Rarotonga fulfils that.  From the first locals we encountered in the airport everyone was friendly, helpful and very welcoming to their island paradise.  We rented 2 different Airbnb accommodations.  A spacious, quiet house up the hill in Titikaveka with a nice Oceanview and the last week we stayed in a cute, cozy bungalow on the beach.  It worked well as we rented a motorbike, which is an experience on it’s own to get a Cook Islands visitor license.

Even when we had days of continuous rain we’d go off on the bike to explore and come back to our rental house drenched but laughing.  I don’t think there were many roads we didn’t drive and I photographed nearly every yard as I loved the tropical vegetation and their colorful houses.  We walked the beaches for miles, rain or sunshine and were glad we had a stopover in Vancouver on our way home that we packed a raincoat and sweater for.  We were certainly expecting this to be a moderately hot destination to enjoy the ocean and beautiful beaches to the fullest but when the rainclouds opened up they had a lot to deliver.  The locals were very surprised how the rain continued for days and kept saying tomorrow it will be sunny.  After having such a dry year here we couldn’t complain when they were getting moisture after a long season of drought.  As much as we craved blue skies and full sunshine.  At least our time there ended on a good note with better beach weather for a few days.  A bonus of the rain was the waterfall that was nearly dried up had a nice flow and the flowers all really started to bloom.

Rarotonga is extremely picturesque!  Basically the entire island has a reef a ways out from the shoreline where the waves break and then it’s calmer water inside the lagoon.  We found some nice snorkelling spots and enjoyed kayaking to the tiny islands off Muri Beach.  Most people live within a few blocks of the ocean and the interior is jungle covered mountains.  We went on some really great hikes that had epic views.  Although the weather dampened our time there, we still really enjoyed this beautiful island and it’s untouched beauty.   It was a restful, lovely vacation – some credit to limited internet access too as you have to pay for data, there’s no free wifi areas so we were fairly unplugged.  Someday when we go back to New Zealand we’ll definitely book a stopover here!

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Many yards around the island had burial plots like this, some more colorful than others and lots of flowers placed on them.  There’s a couple cemeteries but it is most usual on the island that they bury the dead on their family land.

Many churches also have graves on their land and Sundays are a quiet, important day to the Cook Islanders.  As we heard before going, the singing from the churches draws a crowd.

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Sorry fastfood-lovers you won’t like it here, they are proud that the closest McDonald’s is thousands of kilometres away.

This is at Muri Beach.  A hub of activities with snorkel tours, kayak and kiteboarding rentals.  At the right time of day you can wade across chest deep water to the island where they have a daily performance.

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It really was amusing to obtain the Cook Islands visitors license before we could rent a motorbike.  They have a written and practical exam and you receive a $40 souvenir as they say.

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Free range chickens and roosters are all over the island.  It was cute to see some mother hens with their chicks.

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There is a cross island trek and we made it most of the way across from each side.  The jungle gets pretty thick in some areas and it was a bit slick with the rain.

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This is the abandoned Sheraton Resort.  When their government realized where the money was coming from for this project they shut it down and it’s sad to see such a huge chunk of land left unused but it shows how much they value honesty.

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We celebrated our anniversary with a fancy dinner at the Pacific Resort.

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We drank fresh coconut water often and enjoyed the Punangi Nui Saturday market to visit with the locals and browse the fresh produce, handmade goods and artwork.  Along with trying the tasty food.  Kent says we ate more dessert in the 2 weeks there than we eat all year!

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I bought a flower crown from this wonderful lady that has been making them for over 50 years.  She wears one daily, even when she is out working in her gardens.  I loved seeing so many ladies wearing them and they smell so nice!  One day at Muri Beach I asked a lady where she bought hers as it was during the week and she insisted I take hers to enjoy as she wears them more often than I have the chance to.  It was a very kind gesture!

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We spotted this man at the market that came to the islands when he was 17 years old and has never left.  We can see how it would feel easy to just stay.

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This was right up Kent’s alley and extra fun in the rain as there was lots of mud to fling up as we ripped around the track at the abandoned Sheraton Resort!  The guys at Raro Buggy make it a fun, entertaining tour.

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There was fresh fruit in abundance.  Pawpaws (papaya) fit our budget better than the $18 pineapples.

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Our challenge in doing the cross island trek was having a vehicle on the other side so this was from the other side and we hiked up to The Needle.  Some parts are super steep and the path is filled with lots of roots.  Some places they create a natural stairway.  Part way up we came across a rooster by the trail.  We startled it and it scurried up ahead of us then ducked off but continued to follow us right up to the top.  Then amused us as he flaunted around for a hen that was up there.

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There is no removing sealife allowed within the reef to preserve the marine ecosystem so at low tide there would often we fisherman out at the reef.  We walked out one evening and it was incredible the colors and texture under the water.  Water shoes are definitely recommended!

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As there were so many overcast rainy days, this was the only colorful sunset during our time there.  And really when it is like this, we were satisfied with this single display!  We stood in awe.

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The Raemaru Mountain track was another really amazing hike.  It’s not as thick of jungle but the trail is more grown in and the views were wonderful too.

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Kia Orana’ – translated it means: ‘May you live a long and fulfilling life’.

“Kia Orana is the essence of the Cook Islands Maori people. It is not only the way we greet each other, it is who we are!’

We hope more people can experience the beauty of this island and it’s people!

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