After a very long day of flying, but not a single glitch, we arrived home right on schedule Sunday night. It was a fantastic trip and a place we would love to go visit again in a couple years. The problem is that there are so many places to see and so little time!
We had all day Saturday to kill before our midnight flight so we were able to go to the Saturday market. It is a big deal there. It starts at 6 a.m. and goes until 2:00 or so. Lots food, crafts, music, dancing and again, locals and tourists. We spent a few hours there and were lucky enough to get back to our room just before the rain started. We had been extremely lucky with almost no rain as the rainy humid season starts in November. Well, it started raining at 3:00 in the afternoon and was still raining when we left for the airport. But it was a warm rain!
We only got to see one wedding but here is a picture of the wedding party coming back from the island they were married on.
Here are a couple pictures from our last dinner at the Windjammer. The one is of our yummy dessert. The other is of us and Chef Carlo. He told me how to make the really cool design on the dessert plate. I might try it some day.
A funny story about LAX. We were originally supposed to be on an Alaska Airlines Flight from LAX to Seattle, but there was a little hiccup in the plans that came up before we left so we were switched to a Delta flight. Well, we are able to visit certain club lounges using an American Express program called Priority Pass. Alaska Airlines Board Room on a different terminal is one. Delta is on terminal 5, and no Priority Pass lounge there. We decided to go to the Delta Sky Room and talk our way in. After all, we were flying first class. When we got to the room there were several long lines of people checking in so Gar just kinda sidled by the end of the lines into the lounge. I momentarily thought about getting in line then just slunk in behind him. We got to their free bar and near their free food and watched football and Nascar for a few hours til our flight. OK, here’s the funny part. I was checking all the services we get with our Amex platinum card and one is free access to the Delta Sky Room. Joke is on us! We were legal!
Kudos to Air New Zealand! Their service is wonderful but especially good in business class. They all seem to really enjoy their jobs. Or maybe it was the Mumm’s champagne they were serving. No, seriously, it is one of the most attentive and best airline we have been on in a very long time. Delta was a huge disappointment but that was only a 2 1/2 hour flight.
Our last week is back on Rarotonga and we are trying to accomplish the impossible – see and do everything there is to see and do, but stay lazy. We keep telling ourselves we are on island time.
Biking and Driving
Garry rented another motor bike but I have opted not to ride it. The first plan was to rent a small car too, but the only one available the first day back was an old beater Toyota convertible of some type. Not much worked on it and everything rattled. The insides of the doors were partly gone and the seat fabric was pretty much gone. It was dented and parts missing and totally embarrassing to be seen in! Needless to say Gar loved it. We now have a newer type of Toyota and it is much safer to be in. Gar is getting good with all the driving except for using turn signals. The signal indicator is on the right side and we are used to it being on the left so every time he thinks he is using the turn indicator he turns on the windshield wipers. He takes off most days for a couple hours by himself on the bike, visiting all the local construction businesses and stores. Then we also go out in the car and do more shopping or touristy type stops. One day while he was out on the bike at grabbed a kayak and snorkel gear and paddled to an island and did some snorkeling and swimming. Yesterday I drove the car for the first time. It’s pretty easy to remember to stay left until you get to a roundabout. Fortunately there are only a couple of them.
Tuesday night we went to an Island Night show. Many of the resorts have them once a week but we went to one that is strictly a dinner and show at a place walking distance from our place. The food was a good local buffet followed by and hour show of dancing and music that told the story of life in the Cook Islands before Europeans arrived. We were seated at a table of 8 all from New Zealand. One couple is staying at our resort and we have seen them and talked to them several times since Tuesday night.
Today we went golfing and it was quite the adventure. There is a little 9 hole course by the airport and you play between guy wires and posts for the one local radio station. If you hit those you don’t have to count the stroke. Of course with my luck I hit trees instead. I hadn’t golfed in about 4 years and Gar’s foot started bothering him if he is on it too long after being on too long so we opted for 9 holes instead of the twice around for 18 that you get there. It was super windy so one way you drive great and the other way it takes forever. The course zig zags across itself but we were only 2 of 4 people golfing so we didn’t have to duck too often. Thank goodness the staff working on the greens could point us to the next hole. The course is open to members only on Saturdays and closed on Sundays. We treated ourselves to an early lunch of pizza and beer, then came back to our place to relax and freshen up for the evening.
I think I mentioned that the Cook Islands are a hot spot for weddings for New Zealanders. It is only a 3 ½ flight for them and it is beautiful. All the resorts advertise wedding packages. We have seen several wedding dress bags arrive with luggage during our trip. Yesterday we saw our first wedding here and there is another one tonight. Yesterday was pretty cool. They took a little boat over to the motu that I kayaked to the other day. Using my telescope lens on the camera I could see the wedding pictures being taken. They came back to a small reception here, then under a little tented area just below our room there was a romantic dinner set up for the wedding couple. It really was pretty nice.
Food and Drinks
Most of the menus from place to place are very similar. There is always the fresh fish of the day, grilled or fish and chips, and that has usually been wahoo. It is a nice firm white fish and makes great fish and chips. There is always some pasta dish and some lamb dish. Last night Garry had lamb rump which was braised and slow cooked and it looked like and tasted like yummy pot roast. I had grilled wahoo with a local spinach dish and another dish that is similar to sweet potatoes. After dinner we walked to a local park where we heard music. Turns out every Thursday night they have stalls of food and things to buy and lots of music. Local families and tourists mingled and had a great time. Drinks are very pricey if you want anything other than a basic mixed drink. Beers and mixed drinks are usually about $7 but anything they consider fancy (margarita, mohito, martini, blended anything, run about $15 to $18. A bottle of water at dinner cost $5.50. Tonight we are going back to our favorite restaurant, the Windjammer since it is Friday night, Date Night.
Tomorrow (Saturday) night we head back to Los Angeles, then Seattle. We arranged to stay in our room until late since our flight is at midnight. It cost a bit but we can have the day, then shower and be fresh when we start the 10 hour flight home. Otherwise we would have to be out by 10:00 a.m. and figure out what to do til we go to the airport at 10:30 p.m. This is probably my last post until home. See you all soon.
Having a great time! I have tried to break it down into a few topics. It is Sunday and most things are closed today and it is quiet. Aitutaki is too quiet for Garry and by today it is for me, too, but it has been a great stop. It has been windy which helps keep us a little cooler. Humidity is low, so that is great!!! Every guest we have met here has been fun to meet. Temps have been around 80 or so. Soooo read on.
Mutiny on the Bounty
A little bit of history for you. April 11, 1789, just over 304 years ago, Captain Bligh, Commander of the Bounty, set foot as the first European on Aitutaki, in the Cook Islands. This was just 17 days before the famous mutiny on the Bounty. It makes me want to brush up on my history, but the cost of internet here prevents that until I get home.
You picture in your mind the movies made about it and you feel a little bad you didn’t do more research before you came. On the other hand it is kind of fun to learn little tidbits like this along the journey. I knew about the mutiny but just did not realize the close connection (17 days) that the good old Captain would have a real adventure!!!
A bit more current history is of the coral route of flying boats. Originally, the route started as a mail route for Teal Airways (Tasman Empire Airways LTD) flying boats and the lure of the South Pacific called the rich and famous. One of the islets (motu) of Aitutaki was a refueling stop for the flying boats and soon stars of the ’50s would be flying to and from Tahiti, Fiji, Bora Bora but have to stop to refuel. Stars such as Cary Grant, John Wayne, and Katherine Hepburn were among those who would get off the plane and go to the little hotel for refreshments, swim and relax before continuing on their way. This airline is now known as Air New Zealand.
Snorkel Trip and Survivor Season 7
On Saturday we took a 6 hour Lagoon cruise which took us to 3 islands, an onboard barbeque lunch and some nice snorkeling. The winds have been really strong since we got here. The morning of this trip I made the comment that I thought the wind had died down, but not true so it was a little bouncy snorkeling, but the water was pretty clear. We saw lots of colorful fish, a couple huge fish, and some really really giant clams. Of course all of you that know I am a reality show junkie, we stopped at one of the islands where they filmed Survivor Aitutaki, Season 7. It was not one of the best seasons but it was kind of interesting to hear things from a local perspective. We learned that for about 4 months many of the usual tourist locations were off limits due to the show, but it added 400 jobs to the economy and lots of good publicity. We walked through what was left of one of the camps they lived in. We saw in a distance Exile Island (or Redemption Island). And we saw the place where they all stayed for the duration if they were voted off the island. It sounds like that was the happening place!!! The film crew and head honchos all stayed on the main island of Aitutaki at the nicest resort on the island. All in all for the community it was considered a good experience. There were 26 people in our little tour group. Many had flown over from Rarotonga for a day trip of an island tour, snorkeling and then back. We had it made where they beached the boat at our resort and we hopped right on. It was a really nice day and if there had been less wind would have been perfect. On the other hand, the wind helps us stay cooler.
TV on Aitutaki
OK – so we are TV addicts, but this is pretty funny. We actually have been listening to the iPod quite a bit, but there is satellite TV here and some of it is really fun. Several channels are in French as we are so close to French Polynesia but one of the channels is National Geographic so we make up the story. They have abbreviated CNN, International, abbreviated ESPN, lots of sci fi (creepy – we are not that much of TV addicts!), one channel of current 1/2 hour US sitcoms which we never watch (Modern Family, Big Bang Theory, 3 Broke Girls), Dancing with the Stars- French version with 4 judges, and coming soon, Who Do You Think You Are?. Dancing With The Stars was not initially from the U.S but it is amazing how identical they are. Last night we had a short time before going to dinner and found on ESPN college football…. so exciting (not). It was Wyoming vs. Fresno St. Turned it off and listened to music. Oh – no commercials on TV over here.
Passport on OneFootIsland
While we were on our lagoon cruise, we stopped at One Foot Island. Local legends abound about its name, but for $2 NZ you can get your passport stamped at the smallest post office in the world with a legitimate passport stamp.
Tomato vs. tomahto
The other night we had a great dinner here at our resort. It was Reef and Beef. Rib eye and prawns and calamari. Tonight (if we go there) is Surf and Turf. Rib eye and prawns. Not sure what the difference is between Reef and Beef and Surf and Turf, but for the most part the food has been really good here. Menus are very similar from place to place. There is a little something to make Europeans happy, Americans happy, New Zealanders and Australians happy and locals happy. We are trying to limit ourselves to 2 meals a day. It usually works….. but not always! After all, we are on holiday!
Tipping – yes or no
Tipping is not common here but not as discouraged as it used to be. Some nice Australians early on told us just to round up, but if you tip, never more than 10%. So if your dinner tab is $88, they would round to $90. If you tip more like the 10%, it should be well earned for something special.
We have fallen in love with Rarotonga. Every time we take a trip we say that but this time we mean it. We have totally taken the Caribbean off our list of places to go back to and probably Hawaii, too, for the most part. The Cook Islands are comprised of 15 main islands with many little islets near some of the larger islands. It is hard to describe the main island of Rarotonga. I can give statistics – like it is approximately 20 miles in circumference and it is surrounded by a reef. The middle of the island is mountainous with a peak called The Needle. It is lush with beautiful gardens. I could tell you about the roads (there are just a few), the stop lights (none), the population is about 20,000 and English and Maori are the main languages. None of this tells you about the friendly people who live here. Everyone seems to work and enjoy their work. The island is very clean. Most of the visitors are from New Zealand and Australia but we are getting pretty good about telling their accents apart. While not overly prosperous we have seen decent living, no begging, no homeless and no public intoxication. Homes are modest and clean. We rarely seen someone using a cell phone in public and have seen very few smokers – even at the resorts. The food has been fabulous, especially our last dinner on the island at the Windjammer restaurant. It is a great Italian restaurant and Gar had rack of lamb, I had mushroom risotto and there was the most incredible chocolate dessert! I am not a big dessert person so I usually have a bite or two of Garry’s but this was sooooo good I was arm wrestling him for more bites.
Our resort on Raro ( that is what everyone calls it ) has one tv channel that is on a few hours a day. It is Australia TV. There is one radio station but I never found it. We have been enjoying the iPod with music I downloaded. I am guessing that the resort does not use satellite TV but that is available, because that is what we have on our 2nd island.
Which brings us to Aitutaki. We took a 40 minute flight on Thursday from Raro to Aitutaki and were met with fresh leis and a coconut drink. Garry asked what was in it and they guy told us ‘coconut’…. Then we saw it. It was a coconut with a straw in it and was straight coconut milk. It actually was pretty good.
Our resort, the Aitutaki Resort and Spa is actually on an islet off of Aitutaki. I did not realize that until our shuttle pulled up and we got in a small boat/barge/landing craft to take us the 2 minutes across the lagoon to our Resort. This resort is the only thing on this little islet.
If we thought Raro was quiet and laid back Aitutaki is even more so. It is extremely popular for weddings because of the huge lagoon and gorgeous views. The population is about 2000 people and it is starting to be their slow season so the resort is getting emptier every day. There is no public transportation so it is motor bike or rent a car or sign up for a tour where they pick you up.
We are still getting used to this resort and how it all works, but so far we like our first place better. We have a beach front deluxe room on the small lagoon. We have an outdoor shower which is kinda cool and very private, but this morning (our first morning here) I had no hot water so the maintenance guy had to come. It was a blown breaker so that was a quick fix. So, there I am outside showering along with a friendly gecko and it is pretty windy so when a gust of wind comes through the water blows away and you are kind of ducking and weaving to find the water to get rinsed off.
We rented a car for one day to drive around the island and take pictures and check out other resorts. There are a couple resorts on the main island that we walked around and got prices from the front desk. And speaking of prices – the Cook Island prices for most staples are very high, and on Aitutaki about 20% to 30% higher than Raro. We wanted some orange juice for our room and no one had any at any of the tiny little stores. They said it would probably be in on Monday when the boat with supplies arrives. Fortunately we found a bar that sold us some.
Last night was the weekly manager’s beach reception with rum punch, snacks and crab races. You pay $2 to ‘buy’ a crab and they are numbered on their shells. They are put in the middle of a circle and the first one to get to the edge of the circle wins the pot. We didn’t win and in fact, I don’t think I saw Garry’s crab #7 ever let the beginning spot.
There was also a little dance demonstration. No woman would volunteer but we got Garry to volunteer. He had just enough rum punch in him. It was pretty funny. Everyone was laughing with and at “Garry with 2 R’s” as they all started calling him. He was a great sport.
Today is beach time here and turn the car in. Tomorrow (Saturday) we have an all day boat tour of the lagoon. We hit 3 islands, snorkel, have lunch… it is touristy but the boats are almost empty right now and everyone we have talked to said we must do a lagoon tour and snorkel trip. Except for resort things pretty much everything is closed on Sunday so that is going to be our kayaking day of adventure. If the winds die some we can get a picnic lunch a kayak to one of the private islets. Today is too windy to make it there, though.