Pretty much every day here is a little surreal. The colours, the light, the scenery and the people are so delightful that it’s sometimes hard to believe I’m actually in a real place, on the same planet as my home, London.
I was met by Karsten on my return from Aitutaki, and he and his wife treated me to a fantastic dinner of local swordfish steak. We also had some delicious local beer with the meal, which Karsten served out of a reused plastic bottle. That evening, I decided to hire a moped for my remaining time in Rarotonga.
Tourists on the Cook Islands are required to purchase a driving licence before they can rent and drive a vehicle. It’s pretty straightforward to get one: just turn up at the police station in Avarua (the capital) and show them your driving licence from home, hand over NZ$20 and they’ll print a card out for you on the spot. Armed with this, I was then able to hire a bike and hit the road!
One thing you might notice fairly quickly is I’m not wearing a helmet on this moped. No helmet was offered, and I felt safe enough without one. Having the warm wind in my face was exhilarating and I felt very free as I toured the island. I did occasionally snap back into my usual self and think about how horrendous it would be if I hit a pothole or a chicken, but consoled myself with the thought that my end would at least be quick.
I took the road anti-clockwise, passing the Parliament of the Cook Islands. It’s a comical structure when compared to the Palace of Westminster, or the US Capitol, but when you consider that the total population of the Cook Islands is barely 20,000, it seems proportionate.
The Parliament building is opposite the airport. continuing anti-clockwise around the island takes you to the point at which the airport runway meets the sea. It’s here that the big airliners swoop down a couple of times a week to disgorge tourists. It’s here, in the jetblast area, where locals sometimes congregate to feel the backdraft from the massive jet engines.
There are some tours of the interior of the island (hike from 11 o’clock across the island to 4 o’clock in a day). The end of these tours sees you emerge from the jungle next to a beautiful waterfall. I’m quite the waterfall fan, but I didn’t want to hike through the jungle (having been eaten alive by sandflies and mosquitoes), so I approached the waterfall from the road.
There were mosquitoes everywhere, so I didn’t hang about too long. I took a few long-exposure shots of the waterfall and then had a quick swim. The water was icy and refreshing. At this point the mosquitoes were all over me and my equipment like an angry horde, so I jumped onto my moped in my swim shorts and zoomed out of there.
I decided to go and relax by the beach. On my way back to Muri, I passed Government House, the residence of the Queen’s Representative. Since the Cook Islands is self-governing in “free association” with New Zealand, the Queen in question is the Queen of New Zealand – the British monarch. So it seems the sun still doesn’t set…
I stopped off at my now local cafe, Deli-licious, to get a coffee before retiring to the beach. Yes, the name is awful, but the coffee is actually very good. The barista who made my coffee won the Rarotonga barista championship last year and was preparing to defend her title this year. The competition involves making several coffees of each type: espresso, cappuccino, macchiato, latte and flat white. Judging by the flat white I had, she was going to breeze through!
Coffee in hand, I strolled down to the beach and past a tiki. The dog behind the tiki confirmed my hunch: it was time to hit the beach and relax. I gazed out onto the lagoon and watched a fisherman haul in his catch.