A Travellerspoint blog

November 2009

South Pacific Paradise

Cook Islands - Rarotonga Pt. 1

View rtw on pmunson's travel map.

Kia Orana from the Cook Islands!

Kia Orana is the local greeting and translates “may you live well” in Cook Islands Maori. We arrived the main island of Rarotonga at sunrise after a long day and night of traveling from Colorado. Rarotonga is the largest island of the 15 in the Cook Islands. It is completely ringed by a coral reef, as are most of the islands, and is somewhat mountainous with the highest peek at 653 meters.


It did not take long to unwind and settle into the slow pace of the Cooks and “island time”. We have 18 days here so we decided to take things slow and not try to do to much in any given day.
Rarotonga backpackers has turned out to be the quintessential backpackers hostel and we quickly made friends with most of the guests sharing stories of past travel and what lies ahead. We would become close with a few that were in the cooks for as long as us and on the same pace of budget travel. Cooking and eating together at the hostel and wasting the days away on the beach occupies the better part of most days.



We have done some hiking here climbing one peek for excellent views of the inner island and coast as well as the highly touted cross island track via a massive stone pillar called the needle. The snorkeling has also been out of this world. We are sure to have a lot more of this to come but were I am today I do not know how it can get much better. The coral within the reef can be easily reached from shore and in some spots is isolated clops of coral surrounded by a soft sandy bottom to long stretches of maze like coral electric with color in the afternoon sun and packed with many different tropical fish. Other than the fish we have seen giant clams, eel, and blue starfish.

Mt. Raemru.1_1

Mt. Raemru.1_1

One night we headed out to a bar in town were they were having an “island night” The bar turned out to be a cheesy disco and The setting had me skeptical but the performance was actually done quite well and was very entertaining. Male and female dancers in traditional dress performed in front of about 15 drummers and singers. At the end of the show they came through the audience and randomly selected people to come up on stage and dance. Meghan was yanked out of her seat and like a good sport she got up and shook her hips as best she could with the distraction of everyone at our table snapping away at their digital photos in rapid succession!


We are on the west side of the island and are treated to some amazing sunsets but a short scooter ride around the beautiful and empty sothern side of the island and you come to Muri Beach on the east side. This is were the lagoon is and there are 4 deserted islands, or Motu, one can explore. Here the water is truly turquoise and the sand is pure white.


From here we head to the Island of Aitutaki for 4 days. Aitutaki is known for its massive lagoon and is said to be one of the most memorable sights in the South Pacific.

Getting My Cook Islands Drivers Licence
Greenpeace Boat in the Harbor
Dancers at the Saturday Market

Posted by pmunson 12:38 Archived in Cook Islands Comments (0)

Aitutaki, Cook Islands

True Island Paradise

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WOW! Stop what you are doing and book a flight to Aitutaki! We departed Rarotonga on a small Sabb aircraft for the 50 minute flight to Aitutaki. We had only booked 3 nights here so we picked an early morning fight over and an early evening flight back to make the most of our 4 days here. We did not waist any time hireing a scooter and setting out to explore the island. The slow pace of Rarotonga screeches to a near halt here on Aitutaki. Most shops are in the front of peoples homes and the island has and eire uninhabited feel at first.


From above Aitutaki is a triangular reef dotted with tiny islands, or mota, on the south and the east and a long skinny main Island in the shape of a fishhook on running up the west side and over the north. The lagoon here is huge 15k at the southern base of the triangle and 12k north to south. From the air it looked like a bright turquoise gemstone floating in the deep blue see. Most of the accommodation, restaurants, and shops are on the west side of the main island while the lagoon side is nearly deserted. we scooted down around the south side of the island on a dirt path and then up the lagoon side around the “fishhook” to O’Otu beach, one of the pretties on the main island.


On our second day we took out a tandem sea kayak and padded out across the lagoon to some of the deserted islands. We spent about 4 hours in the boat and on the islands and did not se another person nor another boat on the lagoon! If this place was anywhere else in the world I imaging it would be backed with jet skis, water skiing, and boats but here we had the whole place to ourself. We explores an interesting inlet packed with marine life including eels and Robinson Caruso’d on an the Island of EE.


Unfortunately the next day was a rain day but we made the most of it by shucking 6 coconuts and creating an Island botchi setup. Our friends from Rarotonga had arrived the day before and we all were staying at Toms beach cottage so we actually had a fun day entertaining ourselves.


We took advantage in a break in the rain to head down the beach for an Island night that our host told us you could just watch from the beach. The singing and dancing were OK but the real highlight was the fire dancing.


On our final day we splurged for the mandatory lagoon cruise. We set out on a bright yellow Catamaran motorboat for a day of snorkeling and beach cruising. Out in the lagoon the colors intensified and we all were inspired by the beauty of this place. The snorkeling was fantastic and the Islands were amazing. This was the sight of a season of the TV show survivor as well as the UK show shipwrecked. One thing we saw here were Giant clams. They were about 2 feet long and 12 inches high and their flesh was bright blues, purples, and greens. We were treated to a tour of 4 islands, and afternoon snack of passion fruit (YUM!), mango, Paw-paw (papaya), bananas, Guava, and Donuts!, as well as a BBQ lunch of freshly caught tuna and local veggies.


After the lagoon cruise we hurried out to the airport for a nice sunset flight back to Rarotonga for the remainder of our time in the Cook Islands.

Posted by pmunson 13:02 Archived in Cook Islands Comments (5)

Return to Rarotonga

Lazy daze

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We were back in Rarotonga on the 7th of November for my birthday. We put a big day in starting at the Local market for breakfast and we got to watch some of the traditional dances done by little kids. I think Meghan was more excited about this than I was but it was pretty cute.


From here we set out to watch the start of a Vaka race. Vaka is the Maori Name for the ocean going outrigger canoes. The traditional hollowed out wooden boats have been replaced by modern fiberglass versions. The boat's fit 6 people and as a relay team they can make it around the island in just over 2 ½ hours. Apparently the members of the relay team are dropped off ahead of the Vaka in the ocean by moter boat and as the vaka arrives 3 team members jump out into the water while three simultaniosly pull themselves in barely missing a paddle stroke. They do this every 10 minutes for the entirety of the race.


Next it was on to the Cooks Islands 20th annual 7’s in Heaven Rugby tournament. Teams from all over the Pacific come each year to compete and we were able to get in on the action. We had never watched Rugby before, did not know the rules of the game, but still had a great time along with what must have been the majority of the local people on the Island who had turned up for the tournament! After a nice dinner out the evening ended back at the hostel were George and Matt surprised me with a birthday cake they had bought at the market! Perfect.


The next few days were spent idly hanging at the beach, snorkeling, and sending off some of our new friends. The Cook Islands have been absolutely amazing and we would come back again if we have the chance. Other than a little rain 3 of the 18 days we were here the weather has been perfect. Not to hot and not to cold. The locals are super friendly and we never felt pressured to buy anything or felt unsafe. It is going to be a big change of pace once we get to SE Asia and India but this was an excellent and really relaxing start to our trip. My only real complaint is the prices on food (10 dollars for a box of cereal!) and the general lack there of good beer.


1 USD = 0.75 NZD… OUCH


Mori Statue found all over the Island.


One of our favorite snorkeling beaches


Freshwater swimming hole

Sunset Coctails
Coral in the lagoon
The Harbor
Rarotonga Backpackers Hillside Location

Posted by pmunson 20:02 Archived in Cook Islands Comments (1)

Nomads Infusion

Auckland’s Finest!

“What is love? Baby don’t hurt me, don’t hurt me, no more”

Ok… We had achieved a maximum level of relaxation in the Cook Islands. We were even able to hold onto a good part of it throughout our trip to Auckland. Then we found ourselves standing outside Nomads Infusion. We had originally thought it was a different hostel when we booked it, damn travel guides. Nomads Infusion? We rolled into a seven story hostel a block off Auckland’s Main drag Queen Street. Loud techno was blaring at the front desk when we checked in at 11:00 pm and there were a bunch of drunk 20 something’s running around like a scene out of animal house. I felt like we took off from a super laid back south pacific paradise and landed in a rave party at a cheesy disco. If you are familiar put yourself in a scene from SNL’s a night at the Roxy. If we were both still in college, mostly drunk, and trying to get laid it would have been great but tired and ready for bed it was no exactly what we were looking for. Oh well… Check out the advertisement for there chain of hostels.

Posted by pmunson 14:20 Archived in New Zealand Tagged lodging Comments (1)

Auckland and the North Island

(not so) Warm weather and (the general lack of)Sunshine.

We spent our first day in New Zealand Checking out Auckland, the City of Sails. We spent some time exploring some of the cities large parks and the museum that focuses on Maori Culture and South Pacific History. We also checked out the super trendy “K” road or Karangahape Rd. This was at one point the "red light district" but has since become a hip place of cafes and shopping, home to many uber cool thrift shops and 2nd hand stores. We were both able to find the jeans we had been craving for NZ’s cooler climate at the first thrifty we stopped at. After a trip to the harbor to admire the luxury sailboats and yachts we ended the day at a Brew Pub cheering on the All Whites, NZ football (soccer) team, to a victory that qualified them for the 2009 world cup in South Africa. Who knows, maybe we will see them again in Johannesburg!


From Here on out we were in the campervan for our month in NZ. After a brief tutorial in the Cook Islands I was now thrown headfirst into downtown Auckland for my first few miles of driving on the left. It was a little herky jerky at first but I did a good job getting back downtown to pick up Meghan who was waiting with the bags. Getting put of Downtown proved to be more difficult than getting in as we had difficulty figuring out how to actually get on the highway. After a few wrong turns and a u-turn we were out and on our way. The biggest things for me about driving on the left is the stick (manual shift) being on the left but the indicator is still on the right. I can not tell you how may times I put the windshield wipers on when trying to signal and signaled when trying to turn on the wipers. Also the paint on the road is different. Sometimes the centerline is marked by a yellow line as it is in the states but most times it is just a white line so it is hard to determine if you are on a two way street or a one way road. Another thing about driving on the left that we caught onto in the city was looking the wrong way to check for oncoming traffic. Look left, then right!


Once outside of Auckland the weather quickly deteriorated and spoiled our plans to tackle the Alpine Crossing in Tongariro National park. With the cold weather we decided to seek out a thermal hot spring to warm us up. . Most hot springs I have been to have been a hot spring mixing with river water in a hot pool area. Were we were the entire river was hot and was apparently fed by many springs. We arrived just as the a tour buss was leaving and had the entire place to ourselves.
Our revised plan was to drive some remote back roads in search of the New Zealand Heartland. We are in the King Country. Land of green rolling hills and the setting for the Hobbits Shire in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. As we descended from the mountains of Tongoriro the sky’s open up to let the sunshine through and the temperature crept up to be tolerable. Our drive took us on seldom driven roads to the west coast and the Tasman Sea. Here we are treated to black sand beaches. Real black sand. Blacker than black and fine as powder. We stop at two beaches, the first down a sketchy steep dirt road that turns to sand at the bottom and the second at the end of a dirt road were a 300 meter tunnel cuts threw the steep hillside to a deserted black bay. Both places we had the beaches to ourselves or the few moments we stopped. After we had driven North up the coast we cut back to the east towards Waitomo along the Waikato river. This fertile valley was home to many farms and we were held up by a farmer driving sheep down the road. For a few moments we were surrounded by noisy sheep and barking sheep dogs as they surrounded the van and moved on. We see this all the time in CO but somehow in NZ, were the sheep outnumber the people 10 to 1, it seamed special.

Anyyone for Spelunking? We went big and decided to do a day of caving in the famous Waitomo Glow worm caves. The trip we had booked was a tubing trip through one of the may caves in the area inhabited by the “glow worm” Turns out the glow worm is actually a maggot (larva) and the maggot creates a glow by burning off waste internally because it dose not have a butt (or Bum in Kiwi English!) to crap it out! We descended into the narrow cave by ducking are way down and into the earth. At first there was just a trickle of water at our feet but we could here the sound of a river raging in the distance. At first it was really a narrow opening into the earth and shortly there after it opened up to a large room were we all gathered ourselves together and went over some safety procedures. From here I was volunteered to lead the group through the cave at the guides request and the amount of water increased as we mad our way in further. Eventually we got to the point were we were waist deep and it was time to stick our butts into our tubes back up to the ledge of a small waterfall, and plunger into the pool below! From here on out we would be rafting. We moved in short segments to keep the group together. Sometimes the water was moving slowly and we had to make our way under shallow underpasses and tight corridors, Other times it was full on rapids and we were bouncing off the walls and cascading down the subterranean stream. We came to another waterfall after a little while that was much larger than the first. Probably 7-10 feet high and we needed to jump off of it to continue on down the river. As before we were instructed to back up to the waterfall, insert our butts into the tube, and take a leap of faith backwards into the darkness! What a rush!. Once were all back together in the pool below the waterfall it was time to link up, douse the lights, and slowly float a section were the glow worms were especially prevalent. This was like stargazing on a clear night far from any city lights. The ceiling of the cave twinkled with thousands of glow worms as we slowly floated from one cave to the next. Despite the adrenaline rush of the waterfall this was the real highlight for me. Or trip ended with a lights out game of find your way out of the cave on your own! Not to hard with the river guiding your way but still a lot of fun. We were all bumping into each other, getting wedged together in narrow sections of the cave, and splashing about not knowing where we were or who was around us. Finally the Light from the outside world started to glow at the end of the tunnel and we made out way out of the cave threw the jaws of stalactites descending from the ceiling into the river. What an amazing experience! (Photos borrowed from internet due to cameras and water not mixing, and well they didn't allow them)

Next it was of to the sleepy surf town of Raglan. This town was featured in the 1960’s surf flick endless summer, a tale of adventurous surf bums chasing summer around the globe in their woody camper. As we descended onto the beach it seamed like the only thing that had changed was the woody being replaced by the Toyota campervans! Surfers lined the parking lot playing guitar and hanging out as others caught what has been said to be the longest left hand break in the world. Unfortunately no surfing for me as we did not have a lot of time before heading out to Auckland to catch our flight to Christchurch.

Posted by pmunson 14:43 Archived in New Zealand Comments (2)

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