It’s a sensory over load on arrival into Rarotonga, and you know you’ve landed somewhere special.
The welcome of warm air hits you as soon as you exit the plane and step on to the tarmac at the Cook Islands International Airport.
The sweet floral scent wafts around as you walk across the tarmac and approach the tiny terminal. It literally smells like flowers.
The sounds of the ukulele fill the terminal upon entry, welcoming each and every flight to and from Rarotonga. Jake Numanga has been playing for visitors for over 25 years. He always makes me smile as I walk into arrivals. Feeling instantly at ease, as though I have come home.
After leaving Australia and crossing the International Date Line, we’ve arrived in Rarotonga 10 hours before we departed Melbourne. A quick reset of which day it is before heading to our accommodation to dip our toes in the warm ocean before heading to bed to wake up in paradise and begin our stay.
One of the first sounds upon waking, or by being woken, is a rooster crowing, followed by the rustling of palm fronds and the crashing waves on the outer reef, 100 metres from the shoreline. I can small the floral ei’s we were given at the airport the night before. We all wake up with smiles as wide as coconuts as we open the blinds to palm trees, sand and the blue lagoon. I’m glad to be back.
Even though tourism is a major contributor to the economy, it doesn’t feel overrun or too busy like other holiday destinations. The beaches are almost deserted and you’re guaranteed to find one completely to yourself.
Being on the beach is everything you can imagine it would be on a tropical Island. It’s exactly like the photos in the brochures. Crooked palms lining the beach, meandering around the coastline. Crystal clear and turquoise water inside a reef ringed lagoon. Waves breaking out on the reef leaving the lagoon as waveless as a pool. Out on the other side of the reef is the deep, dark blue pacific ocean, while here on the warm clean sand it’s quiet and calm.
Occasionally I hear a thud of a coconut that has fallen from a tree. They're quite loud and land with force. I instantly want to pick it up and shake it to see how much water is inside. I find a friendly local who is more than happy to open it for me. He hands it back to me with a smile, full of pride.
As soon as the sun is high enough, the lagoon turns the most vivid light blue. Completely transparent, with coral easily seen from the shore. Just so beautiful and inviting. This is the best time of day to capture the vivid colours with a few photos.
I take my reef shoes and snorkel out to swim in the 25℃ waters of the lagoon, exploring everywhere to see what marine life is living in and around the coral. Sea urchins hiding within gaps, bright blue starfish bigger than your hand span, hanging on to the sides of the coral formations. Fish, all sizes and colours darting around, some inquisitive enough to approach you for a look. Don’t be scared if some have a nibble at your legs, they just want to check you out too!
Snorkeling in the lagoon is the most peaceful and calming activity. Almost like meditating as you glide around just under the surface while gazing at everything. No sounds to disturb you, just your own gasps through your snorkel at all the different and beautiful sights down there. The underwater world is tranquil and you soon realise you’re on holiday as you’ve slowed right down to Island time.
Under the water in the lagoon, it’s quiet and peaceful. You literally disappear into an underwater world of fish, coral and other living organisms. When you pop up from the lagoon to adjust your snorkel, you instantly realise how the two worlds are so completely different. Back down I go, to gaze at this side of nature again.
After swimming for easily an hour or two, it’s time to find something to eat. Not only a time to eat, but a time to meet. I meet friendly locals and fellow tourists every where I go. The locals will always greet you with a happy and loud ‘KIA ORANA’ and will be genuinely interested where you have travelled from and genuinely intrigued what brings you to their little paradise. Even if you struggle to say Kia Orana when you first arrive, it will be rolling off you’re tongue by the end of your stay. This is how life should be: calm, friendly and at a relaxed pace with no pressure.
While driving around the Island your eyes dart everywhere. To my right is the beautiful blue lagoon and the deep, dark Pacific Ocean separated by the reef and breaking waves. To my left stands green mountain peaks covered in jungle growth. Everything in between catches my eye. Houses, some with crops to supply food. Palm trees and plenty of fallen coconuts lying on the ground. A cow or pig here and there. An old cat stretched out on a veranda, asleep in the shade. Dogs and chooks run free range and are alert to avoid the cars and motorbikes. Small fires burning in yards to clean up the cut palm fronds, coconut shells and husks. Churches dotted all around the Island, cemeteries with graves of loved ones are seen everywhere.
If you’re lucky you might see a couple of locals sitting on a veranda, one drumming while the other strums the Ukelele, both singing along to the Polynesian music they’re making. You’ll see kids piled into the back of a ute. A woman riding a motorbike with a young child strapped to her with a pareu casually overtakes us on the main road.
After lunch I grab a kayak to head back out into the lagoon to float above water for a while. The mountainous backdrop to the blue lagoon is the most beautiful sight. Who ever said blue and green should never be seen, mustn’t have appreciated nature in all her tropical Island glory. The lush and rugged landscape makes me appreciate the earth and all it has to offer.
I am in paradise. Pinch me!
The view from my kayak is amazing. Clouds of smoke from small fires burning around the island. A blanket of low lying cloud cover a mountain peak. I stop what I'm doing often to soak up the sight and peace around me. Heaven on earth!
I decide to head back to shore. The sounds of the outer reef behind me and the water gently lapping the edge of the Island in front. On land the geckos make kissing sounds and the hermit crabs click their claws against their shells, and anything they touch as they scurry along the beach.
I see two coconut palms with a netted hammock hanging between them. I am in awe of the coconut palm. It really is what they call it: ‘the tree of life’. It provides everything you need with no part of the tree wasted. The fronds are used for so many things, woven baskets and plates, hats, roofing and even decoration. The height of the tree provides a look out for keen climbers. Then there’s the coconut. Wow, so many ways to consume at many stages of its maturity providing water and food. The husk can be used for firewood, especially to get a fire started. The outer shell can be used for many things, a cup, and bowl or storage vessel.
I imagine how I could survive on an Island like this forever, using only natures resources to keep me alive, sheltered and happy. I have a new found value for life, all it provides and all we really need.
In the evening we pick somewhere on the Western side of the Island to enjoy a cocktail while sitting on the beach. The sky turns a rainbow of colours as the sun moves down past the horizon. Colours of sunrises and sunsets are different every day and make for the most spectacular photos.
It’s now the end of the day and I take a deep breath thinking about the day I’ve just had. Ok, where’s my book? After a quick inspection of potential falling coconuts I climb into the hammock I found at my accommodation. I read one page before the tropical sounds of geckos and crabs are heard. They scurry around at night looking for food and mates. I found the biggest hermit crabs at night climbing trees and eating plant scraps trimmed by locals from earlier that day. I love watching them all and I’m in awe, while being careful where I stood so not to step on the cute little creatures carrying their protective shell homes on their backs.
I look forward to the following day when the sights in front of me, again, will take my mind off everything and back to thoughts of how wonderful and beautiful this Island is.
It really is my favourite place on earth. I call it my black pearl as it really is a gem of the Pacific. The views, the people, the smiles, the pace, the drum beats, the Island strings, the flowers, the costumes, the culture and history all make up this very special Island I love to be on. It’s my one true ‘happy place’ that I visit and I would love you to see.
‘LIFE IS SHORT,
SEE COOK ISLANDS’.