Rarotonga, Cook Islands
We were definitely in a routine: Up around 6:00, coffee from La Palette, and then breakfast at Le Grill.
This was our second of two stops in the Cook Islands. The Cooks are a territory of New Zealand, so everyone speaks English. That fact makes shopping and getting around easy.
Rarotonga from the Air
At 9:00 we boarded a tender to take us to shore for our day’s excursion. As we entered the harbor, we noticed a big black-hulled ship at the dock with “US COAST GUARD” painted in big white letters. There was a plaque on the bridge that said “KUKUI, HAWAII”. We never did fund out what it was doing there.
Our tender was met at the pier by a traditional Tongan warrior who danced and blew a conch shell. He was accompanied by a local drum band. Half a dozen crafts booths were set up nearby. We made our way ashore and found the driver who would take us to the local airport for our “Rarotonga by Air” excursion. We were also joined by Alan, who had also signed up for the air tour. Our ride was in the nicest land vehicle we had ridden in so far: an air conditioned minivan.
The ride to the airport was only about five minutes. Once there, we checked in at the Air Rarotonga office and waited a few minutes for our pilot. He led us out on the tarmac to a four-seat Cessna plane. Chris and I climbed in the back to give Alan the right-hand front seat. He was tall and older, and we figured he would have an easier time climbing into the front. He struggled for a while with the step and the seat, but he just didn’t have enough balance and leg strength to get himself in. He finally managed to get into the back seat on the left side, squeezing Chris against her side of the plane. I sat in the front.
The flight was short, but we circled the whole island and enjoyed looking down on the lush mountains, stone spires, and turquoise lagoon waters near the white beaches. I took lots of pictures. One of the most memorable features was a tall stone spire almost exactly in the center of the island. It stood out dramatically from the surrounding forest and appeared to be several hundred feet tall.
Thirty minutes after we walked out onto the tarmac, we re-entered the small terminal. Our driver wasn’t around, so Chris shopped at a kiosk selling local artwork. I found an ATM and got NZ$50. By that time our driver was waiting, and we were soon back at the pier.
We took a look at the crafts booths there, where Chris found a belt made of black cords and oyster shells. Each shell was natural on one half of the shell back and polished on the other half, giving a black-and-white effect. The woman at the booth quoted a price, then immediately lowered it. She did the same with some oyster shell pareo buckles. Chris bought the belt and three buckles. The woman threw in a polished spiral shell for free.
We chatted with the woman and her nine-year-old son for a while. She told us her son would be “running away” to New Zealand the next year. Like many ten-year-olds, he would be leaving Rarotonga to go to school. He would live with his aunt/godmother whenever school was in session. We asked them about the rock spire we had seen. They immediately knew what we were talking about and told us it was called “The Needle.” Many locals hike up it, but the woman hadn’t ever done it.
We checked out the rest of the booths, but the only other purchase was a fake hibiscus flower for Chris to wear behind her ear. We considered going to the beach, but the bus fare was more than the cash we had left. We took the next tender back to the Paul Gauguin.
After lunch, Chris took her book to the pool deck and I took the laptop to La Palette. She read and napped while I wrote up some of the previous days’ journals. At 4:00, Chris headed to the spa for a manicure/pedicure. I retrieved the video camera from the room and went to the pool area to watch and tape a local dance troupe.
I went back to the room after the dancing. Chris joined me there after her spa appointment.
More Enlightenment and Good Jazz
At 5:30 we went to La Palette to listen to jazz again. At 6:00, we attended a lecture by our favorite professor, Mark Eddowes. Once again he delivered the talk without referring to notes and using a minimum of slides. He told us how the South Pacific islands were settled: first via land bridge during the ice age, and then island to island to the end of the archipelago that includes New Guinea, the Solomans, and out to Samoa. After that, there was vast ocean, and it was a millennium before courageous Polynesian navigators took off to settle Fiji, then Tahiti, the Cook Islands, Hawaii, and Tonga.
We had reservations for dinner at the Pacific Grill at 7:30. We were shown to a nice table, and ordered a meal we enjoyed very much. Jalfonso, our waiter, was excellent and even called us by name throughout the meal. We finished dinner around 8:30 and tried to find some live music. There was none to be had, so we went back to our room. There we relaxed on the balcony for a while, then watched a movie. We were asleep by 10:00.