Raro Time

6 Sep

From the moment we stepped off the plane, the Cook Islands welcomed us. It was the sound of the man in the straw hat and tropical shirt (who we now know is called Jake) strumming away on his guitar with island tunes while we waited in the tiny arrivals area for our bags to appear on the one luggage carousel. It was the sign saying ‘Welcome Louise & James’ when we headed to the desk for our transfer and it was our driver, Gna, offering us a glass of champagne in the back of the car before taking us to our accommodation. We had arrived in Rarotonga and from now on, everything was going to happen in ‘Raro time.’

The brief introduction to Rarotonga as we sat in the taxi, watching the dark shapes of palm trees and low-rise buildings slide past (the speed limit is a maximum 50kph on the whole island), informed us that tourists make up a higher percentage of the population than locals, the entire island is only 35km around and one of the best places to watch sunset is at the end of the runway.

It was 1.30 am and the owners at our accommodation had long gone home but Gna walked in, found the keys and showed us to our villa. Anywhere else, it might have seemed odd, but this was Rarotonga, a tiny speck in the middle of the Pacific, as far from anywhere as you can pretty much get and right then, Sydney, the city, work and daily routine felt very very far away.

Just before heading to bed, with the sound of the waves enticingly close, we had to walk down to the beach and less than twenty metres from our front door, we were on the sand and looking out over the lagoon, which surrounds the island. It was dark of course but feeling the sand between our toes and hearing nothing but water lapping the shore and a sweet, balmy breeze, we were on holiday.

Mii greeted us on our first morning and offered to take us to the supermarket to stock up on a few provisions. We weren’t planning on doing much self-catering, but a few bits for breakfast and lunch were all we needed. In the daylight, we saw our first glimpse of the inland lushness of the island; mountains reared up in the centre, covered in a vivid green carpet and all along the roadside were lawns, palm trees and bright flowers punctuating the dense foliage.

On the other side of the road, white sand sloped down to the lagoon, crystal clear and bright turquoise. I might be describing your typical tropical island paradise, but then, that is exactly where we were.

Rarotonga from the lagoon

Rarotonga from the lagoon

Rarotonga - main road

Rarotonga – main road

Titikaveka Beach

Titikaveka Beach

We hopped out of Mii’s car. The windows were left down, the doors left unlocked and every other person waved, smiled and hugged Mii as we walked in.

This is the kind of island, unsurprisingly, where everyone knows everyone. It is the kind if island where “going up town” refers to heading to the one settlement with more than two roads, on the north side. It is the kind of island where there are only two buses: clockwise and anti-clockwise and where, if you are waiting for a bus to take you home from ‘town’ at night and the police drive by, they tell you to “hop in” and give you a ride back to your villa.

Our villa was one of just ten, all facing the water, set back a few metres from one of the best beaches on the island for snorkeling and swimming. With a coral reef, protecting the island, there was plenty of coral to snorkel around and tropical fish occasionally jumping up near where we were lying on the beach. We did a lot of that. Lying. Lying and reading, lying and sunbathing, lying and sleeping and maybe occasionally rolling over, you know, if we were getting too much sun on one side… I think we occasionally mumbled something to each other but basically, the holiday, which was booked as a much needed rest and recharge, was just that.

Lazy days

There were several restaurants within walking distance and a few, which we went to by bus. Most were small, on the beach, serving Polynesian food, which is essentially a lot of fish, rice and typical sides like papaya salad. The American influence was still apparent: key lime pie and New York cheesecake were a common feature on the dessert menu!

Beach bar

Beach bar

The resort, where we stayed hosted a couple of communal events each week, to get guests mingling and talking. The first of these was a morning tea by the pool, with hokey pokey muffins (honeycomb for the Brits.) We got chatting to another young, American couple, who were honeymooning on the island, and a few of the other guests, mainly Kiwis. The second event, fell on our last night: the Petanque Championship. The stress was on ‘fun’ not ‘competition’ but if you’re going to stick a ball in James’ hand and mention the word ‘Championship’ to either of us, we aren’t going to take it lying down (perhaps we’d had too much of that during the rest of the holiday.)

Competitive spirits aroused, the other guests were not going to get their sedate game of petanque whether they wanted it or not. We won. Of course. Petanque champions of the week. We could leave, satisfied.

Petanque Champions

Petanque Champions

Our final meal that night was as local as you could get. The American couple had befriended a woman, who lived across the road and who had offered to cook them dinner. They invited us to join them and that evening, Mama Nicky came to their villa with dishes of home-cooked food: fish in coconut cream, chicken curry, raw fish in lime juice and a home-baked banana bread. It was delicious and a good way to say goodbye to the island.

Mama Nicky and crew

Mama Nicky and crew

We never got to see a sunset from the end of the runway, but we’re sure, the ones we did see, were not too bad.

Sunset from Titikaveka

Sunset from Titikaveka

 

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