Forward to Yesterday in the South Pacific

Due
to a bizarre faultline in the space-time continuum, we managed to have two
Saturdays in succession one weekend and none at all the next. Last week was our
winter break, escaping from the cold weather in Wellington to get some warmth
and sunshine in the Cook Islands. Of course, they’re the other side of the
International Date Line, so we flew from Wellington to Auckland and then on to
Rarotonga on Saturday afternoon/evening, arriving in the early hours of Saturday
morning. So then we had to do Saturday all over again – a bit like Groundhog
Day.

However,
the travelling and the mental confusion were all worthwhile, because of the
benefits: warmth, sunshine and the chance to escape the Wellington winter
weather. We had five nights on Rarotonga, staying in a fairly basic concrete
package holiday place on the west coast. It had a good bar and a decent beach,
and the chance to sit with a cocktail and watch the sunset. On Saturday night
they put on an ‘Island night’, with a buffet and local performers – girls in
grass skirts waggling their hips and men in ditto quivering their thighs. There
was also a junior section of upcoming hip-wagglers who put on a short show.
Afterwards there was dancing under the stars by the pool, with a couple
crooning ancient tunes to a Karaoke machine. On Tuesday they repeated the whole
sequence, so we skipped the buffet and show and joined in the dancing later.

On
Sunday we hired a car for the day – a little green convertible, which Sandie persuaded
Ian to drive for a bit with the roof down. We went to church in the morning as
part of the experience, sitting at the back with the other tourists and
admiring the singing and the fancy hats. We quit before the sermon, and did a
driving tour round the island, visiting a couple of beach resorts. We had done
a walk up a nearby hill on Saturday, but this was quite steep and slippery. On
Sunday we tried a walk through a valley, but this kept crossing a stream with
no stepping stones and we got our boots flooded. So we decided in the end to do
what we had done a few years before in the Channel Islands: walk round the
island.

We
set off on Monday, going past the airport and along the north coast through the
town. Most of the way we were on the coastal road, as the beaches were mainly
not really suitable for walking on. We passed through Avarua (the one small town
on the island), and headed down the east coast to Muri Beach. It was interesting
seeing the life of the places we passed, and local houses with their amazing riot
of colourful flowers. At Muri Beach, halfway round the island, the weather had turned
a bit cool and windy, so we got a bus back to base. On Tuesday we got the bus back
to Muri Bach, and completed the walk along the south coast and up the west coast,
mainly walking on the beach this time. The weather was better, and we were able
to stop a few times and relax on the beach.

On
Wednesday we flew from Rarotonga to Aitutaki, a smaller island 220 kilometres to
the north. This has a large triangular lagoon surrounding it, and is warmer and
even more tropical than its big sister. This time we stayed in a small beachside
resort, with just a few scattered thatched bungalows for accommodation. This was
really nice and laid-back, with once more good opportunities for sunset cocktails.
The beach was nice, with some good snorkelling just offshore. They had their Island
Night on Thursday, specialising in fire-dancing and performed by hotel staff/relatives
of the proprietor.

On
Thursday we did a lagoon cruise, on a yellow boat which took us round to various
islands in the lagoon. These are quite picturesque, and we had a nice lunch organised
by the boat-owner’s wife (nepotism seems to be normal practice). However, the swimming
and snorkelling off these islands was not as good as from the hotel beach.

On
Friday we walked round Aitutaki, including a walk up the biggest (not very) hill
on the island, which legend says they stole from Rarotonga. This was fun, as we
passed some interesting villages and churches, as well as meeting hordes of weird
crabs on the shoreline. We got back to base at 3.00, and were taken to the airport
(Heathrow it ain’t) for our flight back to Rarotonga. There we watched our final
Cook Islands sunset and walked into town. We had a couple of drinks at an atmospheric
little bar called ‘Whatever!’, and a less exciting meal at Trader Jack’s, before
getting a taxi to the airport and waiting for our late flight.

Then
it was ‘Back to the Future’ as we flew from Saturday morning into Sunday, to go
back to cold and windy Wellington via Auckland.

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