Impressions of Rarotonga, Central Polynesian Cook Islands
We left our serene home in New Zealand reluctantly.
Even though we had worked very hard in the last few weeks before our departure, our property feels so wholesome and energizing, that leaving it and the life that it affords us, always feels a bit sad.
Very few people understand why we would leave New Zealand during summertime, which is the most glorious season, to go to snowy Colorado.
Only Sam, a brilliant guy who is currently working on replacing some doors and windows in our home in NZ, understood the invisible pull of the mountains, for people who love to ski.
We spent a couple of days in Auckland, dining out in great places and watching movies, enjoying a bit of a city fix, before we flew to Rarotonga.
It is our first visit to Rarotonga, and like most New Zealanders, we have fallen in love with the island.
Rarotonga is everything Hawaii used to be, maybe sixty years ago, before the heavy descent of mainland US tourists upon those islands.
Tourists flock to the Hawaiian islands, hoping to find an authentic island experience, and are astonished to discover that the Hawaiian islands have become thoroughly developed, urbanized and overrun with tourists.
Not so in Rarotonga…
Rarotonga is a small island, with a ring road that circumnavigates the island.
The circular road is only 36 Kilometers long, and traffic is light.
The food is fresh and good, the beaches are white, empty and laden with coconut trees.
In fact, the car rental company has warned us that most of the damage done to rental cars is due to tourists parking under coconut trees.
The huge, ripe, juicy coconuts fall on the tiny Japanese cars and dent their metal.
Even though we were warned not to park under any coconut trees, that is easier said than done, on an island that is filled with coconut trees.
To be able to drive in Rarotonga, one must obtain a Cook Islands’ driving license from the Police Station in town.
It is not a big deal and it beats the other options of getting around, since the sun can be mercilessly strong, which makes walking or cycling a bit too exposed to the blazing rays of the sun.
You can rent a scooter, but scooters also require a special local license AND a driving test, and scooters do not offer any protection from the tropical rain.
Despite what they say, it rains briefly but often in Rarotonga.
The locals who are involved in promoting the tourist industry here, deny that it rains in Rarotonga ever….
They say that it NEVER rains in Rarotonga, and if you point to the rain they’ll wave it away saying that it is just “Liquid Sunshine….”
On the narrow road that surrounds the island, you will see huge island men wearing island flowery shirts, riding on tiny scooters, that seem almost too small for their frames.
The local women also ride scooters, with their well behaved toddlers seated on the back seat, tied to their waists with a flowery sash.
Nobody wears helmets in Rarotonga.
A local driver told us that the whale watching season runs from June to November.
The islanders come and sit on the rocks, gazing into the blue ocean, to spot those magnificent Whales.
He added, jokingly, that if you were to see a huge whale-like creature in other seasons, those cannot be whales, and must be the local women…
I squirmed in my seat uncomfortably, not wanting to embarrass him by not laughing, but not really wanting to laugh at this cruel joke.
After all, some of these big island women have hearts of pure gold and spirits that are vast, kind and beautiful.
Besides, one must never make light of the human form, which is only the outer, denser manifestation of our Divine Essence within, which is always lovable, pure, holy and beautiful.
The teenagers are shy and people have sweet faces in Rarotonga.
The island is fragrant with flowers and filled with tropical fruit.
The Passion fruit is juicy and sweet,
The avocados are plump and fresh and the limes grow to the size of grapefruits.
I bought a box full of papayas, called Paw Paw in this part of the world, for only $4
That is 9 juicy sweet large Paw Paws for $4!
I am putting them in savory salads, in fruit salads, and in coconut curries that I make in our little rented villa by the sea.
The local food has much to offer us.
There is Paw Paw Poke and Taro Poke.
Poke is a gelatinous cake made from arrowroot mixed with a mashed fruit in a ratio of two (fruit) to one (arrowroot).
Cooked together and finished with a little coconut milk, they form a delicious dense jelly that can be cut to small cubes and cooked in either savory or sweet dishes.
There are also the local greens, namely the large leaves of a Taro, which are cooked with onions and coconut milk and mashed with a little salt.
It is a delicious dish that goes well with everything, but when it is served with a coconut-creamed Plantain Banana, it is locally called Pulsani, and it is a vegetarian delight.
The Punanga Nui Market happens every Saturday in the tiny capital town of Avarua.
Locals from all over this tiny island come to sell their garden surplus or crafts.
A local entrepreneur named Greg makes an array of flavored roasted coconut shavings.
He is a big guy with an open shirt that shows his huge chest and even bigger belly.
His shirt was faded and torn in many places, and so was his straw hat, but his disposition was sunny and bright.
He greeted potential customers with his opening lines:
“Mum’s the word!
She’s the brain behind the operation!
She started it all!
Here, try a raw sugar coconut,
or coffee flavor,
or chili and lime.
The salt and pepper is also very good
I add it to salads, to desserts, to everything!”
He offered tastings of each of his flavors, and on his table between the boxes of the coconuts, he had half a dozen photos of his mother, taken at least forty years ago.
We bought the freshest garden produce from a big lady with a flowery dress and a crown of flowers in her hair.
She drove her pick up truck to the edge of the market.
Pick up trucks in the Cook Islands as well as in NZ, are called “Utes” (pronounced Yutes).
I guess the name comes from the expression “Utility Vehicle.”
The Yute lived up to its utilitarian design, as the lady sold her tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, Paw Paw, onions and herbs, right from the back of her truck.
She simply stuck in the grass two plastic umbrellas to protect herself and the produce from the strong sun, and stood there perspiring, smiling and selling her small garden crop.
We tasted a few good island specialities in the market, and listened to the local musicians play the drums and sing sweet harmonious songs.
A group of local kids dressed in colorful feathers and fronds performed beautiful dances, incorporating Polynesian movements into a unique Rarotonga blend.
Between the songs, the band burst into powerful rhythmic guttural chants and calls, accompanied by a strong drum-roll.
The little dancers turned their backs to the crowd and vibrated their bums to the fast rhythm.
It was altogether spellbinding.
It was a fabulous market, with local people who come to sell their produce, food and crafts, meet their friends and share their lives.
Nothing was made in China or India and resold here, all was locally made by the islanders who make a living at their crafts.
Rarotonga is genuinely charming.
For New Zealanders, it feels almost like home.
The local currency is the NZ dollar, although there is some local money, including a beautiful triangular two dollar coin, a three dollar note with a beautiful island design and a large five dollar gold coin, that looks like it came out of the treasure trove of pirates.
This five dollar gold coin bought us a large slice of a banana cake, from a young couple who make their living going to Open Air Dinners, which happen in empty lots by the sea, all across the island on alternate evenings.
This couple brought a folding table and two trays of cake slices, along with a dish of hot cooked lamb.
Prices are not cheap here in Rarotonga, but this is because everything has to be brought over from New Zealand.
Most hotels are not so fancy, there is no free wifi anywhere on the island, and the prices in restaurants are fairly high.
Maybe this is why Rarotonga does not get the massive amount of tourists that the beaches of Thailand, or the Hawaiian islands get…
If I ever had doubts that our Planet Earth was designed by an intelligent force that loves us and wants us to be comfortable and happy living here on earth, my doubts dissipated by observing the ingenious, intelligent design of the Cook Islands.
Rarotonga is a circular small island situated in the middle of the ocean, almost in the shape of a pearl.
To protect the people living here from huge waves that could easily wash over this island and obliterate it, this intelligent design has surrounded the island with a ring of coral reefs.
It means that the strong waves break on this coral reef, some distance away from the shores of the island.
There are a few openings in strategic locations around the island, to allow fishermen and boats to sail into the ocean.
This has created an azure lagoon that surrounds the island and allows people to swim in safety in the calm water.
On the other, smaller Cook Islands, there is also a natural ring of coral reef, which surrounds them all, encasing them together in a protective lagoon.
All our days in Rarotonga went by with a slow dreamlike pace.
We enjoyed the island’s flavors and clean, perfume scented air, the peace we felt.
Sometime our task for the day was to go and buy a coconut soap for our showers…. Nothing more, nothing grand…. With no Internet, our time stretched out in a liquid blurry pace.
We read, ate wholesome food, kayaked, walked in the botanical gardens, meditated a bit longer than usual, and swam in the ocean.
The lagoon in Muri beach, behind the little islands and right near the reef that keeps the ocean at bay, is teeming with tropical fish.
Daily we rowed a two person kayak to that location, jumped in and out of the kayak and snorkeled among the friendly fish.
One species of fish seemed a but too friendly…they came right at me when I swam to the other side of the lagoon.
The beautifully decorated Picasso Trigger fish gets very territorial during its spawning season.
When we came to Rarotonga, I asked when was the spawning season for the trigger fish.
I was told that if I were to hear people screaming while swimming, it must be that they had gotten bitten by the trigger fish.
Later I heard that the bite of the Picasso trigger fish (unlike the Titian Trigger fish), was nothing more than a nip, intended to scare you away from its reef.
Our flight from Rarotonga back to the USA took off at midnight.
We flew directly from Rarotonga to LA and on to snowy Colorado.
I think we were the only people who had recently landed in Rarotonga carrying heavy winter coats, fleece jackets, winter hats, gloves and scarfs.
When we checked into the Air New Zealand flight, the manager got out of his office when he heard we were flying to Denver, and asked if we planned to watch the Super Bowl upon landing.
The Denver Broncos were playing against the Seattle Seahawks.
He told us that they have a big Super Bowl party planned in Rarotonga.
He admitted sheepishly that they will be rooting for the Seahawks, since they have a Quarterback who is from Hawaii, and he added they must stay loyal to the Polynesian connection….
When we made our final descent into Denver, our pilot announced that the Broncos were way behind.
The Denver airport was decorated with orange and blue balloons, the colors of the Broncos.
When we boarded the train taking passengers to the baggage claim terminal, the public service announcement was made by the players and ended with “Go Broncos!”
Despite all the cheer, the Broncos lost.
We heard it on the radio as we drove in a snow storm into Boulder.
We spent the night in Boulder, ate a delicious meal at “Native Foods,” and drove into the mountains the next day.
We wanted to go over the snowy mountain passes in the daylight.
As I write this, I look out of the windows of our house, into the beautiful vistas.
Everything is covered in deep snow and looks so pure….
It seems almost surreal to conjure up images of snorkeling in the warm and friendly waters of Rarotonga….