We arrived in The Cook Islands before we left Fiji. No we hadn't met Michael J Fox or his wild eyed inventor friend who had built us a time travelling car: We had crossed the date line. Bizarrely, even though the flight was only a 3 hour one we were now 22 hours behind Fiji. Entering the airport we were greeted with more ukulele playing and singing and people milling around waiting for family and friends wearing garlands and flower head dresses. It is just so South Pacific in the South Pacific!
We were met by the owner of Raratonga backpackers along with a few others and were all crammed into a van and taken to our accommodation. This was set back from the beach up a hill overlooking lots of tropical trees with a view of the sea in the distance.
We spent a few days here, using it as a base from which to explore Rarotonga, the principle island of The Cook Islands. Cook Islanders are Polynesians, a Maori people related to the New Zealand Maori and the Maohi of the Society islands in French Polynesia. The Cook Islands have strong links with New Zealand and so there is a Western veneer to The Cooks. The indigenous people's language is Cook Islands Maori. However, most people speak English (as a second language) Despite western elements, South pacific culture is evident in the attitude, clothes and floral head dresses etc that are worn. “Raro” as the locals call Rarotonga is only 34km circumference and we circumnavigated the island by accident when we used the bus service to go into town the first day. We went in using the clockwise bus and returning “home” we caught the clockwise bus again meaning we went round the island in about half an hour. I love the fact that they only have 2 bus routes. Clockwise and anti-clockwise. I think bus drivers must go the same international school of bus drivers though. Ours seemed a bit grumpy and got more and more indignant when people failed to ring the bell to request their stop. He had a poor little old American lady and 2 school children looking quite scared when he glared at them as they got off at each of their stops and he barked, “ring the bell. You have to ring the bell if you want to stop, then I know when you want to get off” We made sure we rang that bell when it was our turn to get off. We escaped his wrath.
The island is lovely, circled by a turquoise lagoon. One day we walked up a track through some of the dense forest which covers the mountains which rise up from the centre of Raro for a vantage point over it and were awarded with a stunning view over the small town nestled between the and out to sea over the lagoon. The rest of the time was spent reading and relaxing which seems to be a pattern since we've been in the Pacific. It is such a laid back way of life here that it can't be helped! Everything runs on Island time; laid back. When in Rome and all that! We ventured to the “police station” one day which was a big portacabin, to get my Cook Islands drivers license. This consisted of handing over $10 and getting my photo taken. I returned 20 minutes later to find my License ready with my name Gemma C LoMgman printed on it. I pointed out that my name is Gemma C LoNgman, but he just shrugged and said it doesn't matter so I walked off with my new name and realised that it enables me to drive a moped as well as a car. This would mean that I wouldn't have to take the Scooter test if I wanted to hire one. Apparently the test is really easy though. First you have to ride your hired moped to the police station! Then you have the test which consists of riding down the road turning and coming back. One bloke said he saw him write pass before he'd even gone anywhere!
We had only booked into our hostel for 4 nights and on our extensive travels round the island had found Muri beach where we hoped to move to. We caught the bus to Muri which has quite a lot of accommodation. Walking a long the beach we hoped even more to move there as it was beautiful with a few little islands dotted out on the turquoise lagoon. However, it wasn't to be. We trudged round and everything was full or too expensive. Dejected we headed back to our hostel and decided to try a last option (which was closed when we tried it) in the morning.
In the morning our last option was full too so we decided to leave Raratonga all together and go to Aitutaki, the next principal island of the Cooks. We had looked at options of going there the day before and it seemed the best way to do it was on a package with accommodation and flights included. We headed into town and by 1.30 were on a bus (with a bus driver who was much more cheerful) headed for the airport.