COOKISLAND – PACIFIC DREAMS
♫ Rarotonga, my paradise ♫
A tiring day of bumpy flights, dodgy food and airport queues was touched by the confusion of the International dateline, culminating in a spot of time travel for us.
We had started the morning on the 24th June and landed on the puddles of a rainy Cook Islands on the evening of Tuesday 23rd. A bizarre event that had the mind fascinated. With a dash we dis-embarked and splashed our way to the cover of the terminal building. A big slobbery kiss from a working police Labrador was the number one greeting as we stepped into Rarotonga airport.
Jake Numanga senior’, in his straw hat and colourful Hawaiian shirt, played his ukulele while singing his heart out to welcome these new visitors. The immigration officers were the sweetest we’d ever come across, sporting bright flowers behind their ears and pleasant, homely smiles.
We felt a love for this place already even though it was lashing from the heavens. We waited for the free pickup bus to fill up as Steve, the ‘Julian Clarey’ voice a like with his bleach blonde hair and heavy make up, shepherded the gathering, taking them to their destinations.
It was late when arriving at the abode and we got a shock with what they saw.
“There must be some mistake”, Knox said with wonder, looking around the modern villa.
“We asked for a double with un-suite but this just exceeds all expectations”.
“No way, it can’t be right, can it?” Miko echoed as she done her rounds, opening up cupboards and checking out the spacious den.
‘Do you know this is the same price as that shack we endured in Tonga!” a bemused Knox worked out, as we got on like kids who had won the sweetie jackpot.
The open plan layout with its sizable fully equipped kitchen, a dining area, and a double bed, fashioned using crisp clean, white linen and a beautiful locally embroidered quilt, gave plenty of room to lounge in.
The varnished wooden walls and ceiling contrasted well with the glossy ivory floor tiles that followed through an off shoot to the large wardrobe space and contemporary bathroom.
“Who cares if they made mistake, let’s enjoy it and deal with the fall out in the morning”, Knox beamed as he uncorked a bottle of New Zealand white.
“I tell you what”, Miko enthused. “If they haven’t made a mistake, we’ll want to organize this for the rest of our stay”.
We thought how the Cook Islands, so far, were a vast improvement from Tonga.
Our glasses clinked on what had been a long but well executed day.
The morning brought a mix of blue skies and heavy clouds as the slow moving weather system continued to crawl over this area of the South Pacific.
Knox strolled down from their hill-side villa, taking in the spectacular views across Muri lagoon, to Vara’s beachside, 15 minutes walk away, where the office was situated. His aim was to extend our stay in the villa but the news wasn’t good. It wasn’t a mistake.
He was informed that we had been upgraded to the villa because our requested double room had been double booked. The problem was the villa’s normally cost 120 dollars per night and not the 56 dollars we were paying. Way over budget.
Knox explained that we wanted to stay for at least a month and asked could thry not extend for the price they were paying?
The answer was negative, besides the villa appeared to be booked up for a while anyway. The other options shown on the beachside site ranged from backpacker shared facilities to cramped motel style studios that didn’t have the modern relaxed feel or the privacy of the hillside villa. Knox left the office downhearted to trudge back to Miko and give her the news.
The surroundings, being viewed for the first time in day light, were inspiring. Fresh air filled the lungs as the mountainous hub back dropped this circular island and flowed its thick forest down towards the sea. Flowers sprayed colour in all directions and the shore was never far away from the outer ring road. The desire was to run and hug the turquoise watered lagoon that splendidly encapsulated the view from their villa balcony which was accessed by the glass patio doors and windows that stretched the width of the structure. White sands, palm crowned atolls, the protective reef and the distant navy pacific blended to create that paradise picture we had been craving years for. Even with the disappointing news the heart was filled with delight.
The events of the office brought Miko back down to earth with a bump. It was all too good to be true but we were pragmatic as we discussed our next move.
We were in bit of a pickle when the phone rang. Like prayers being answered, the receptionist explained that not only had she shuffled things around to make the villa available to us, apart from the 3rd June through to the 8th, but she had also chatted with the Villa’s owner, who let it out through Vara’s, and the price would be kept as is for the duration of our stay.
This was an incredible pick me up yet we still had in mind to check out renting a house, curious to see what the prices where like. Although our fortunate upgrade made this place feel like a gift, we asked for a couple of days before sealing the deal to allow them to account our stay.
This grace was given, enabling us to relax and go into town to stock up on supplies.
We caught the bus on the road down the hill. There where two routes, clockwise or anti clockwise, that each passed hourly throughout the day. We had missed the quicker anti clockwise bus so had to satisfy ourselves with the 40 minute journey on the clockwise route.
The Cook island capitol Avarua was small, unique and swayed to that island pace of life with modern shops stocking everything you needed. Everyman seemed to sport a Hawaiian shirt, while the woman young and old wore a flower behind their ear. There was a wonderful feel around that was truly the delicious, mouth watering, awe inspiring fruits of our labour. This was the pinnacle of our RTW trip and we wanted to go that bit further and check one of the outer islands.
Aitutaki was the island of choice for us to visit. Island Hoppers vacations was one of only two travel agents that served the Cooks, but they offered the best price to whisk us to our deserted island dream.
We were given prices for flights and accommodations, but time was of the essence as a ridiculous reality TV show had booked up most of the quarters while they were preparing to start filming.
Should we go to the island? The answer was yes! The picture perfect snaps of the lagoon island just could not be resisted. We would be flying in a small plane early on Monday June 5th and returning at another pre-dawn time a week later. The downside of this was that we would have to spend 2 nights at Vara’s beachside before we left but luckily we would have the villa back on our return.
As the weather cleared to a ‘Simpson’s sky’ of fluffy white cloud forms on a painted blue background, it was finally time to check out Muri beach.
There was no doubt in our minds that this was paradise and the place in our daydreams. Situated on the south eastern coast of Rarotonga, the access path led past the Sea-Eagles rugby pitch and clubhouse and through a dividing wall of tall fern trees to step on to the narrow stretch of fine white sand. Gliding in a soft curve for a kilometre, Muri was backed by sweeping coconut palms, ironwood trees and faced by four uninhabited islands within the reef, two of which one could wade across to because the crystal clear turquoise waters were so shallow.
Our heart skipped a beat as our eyes were astounded by this tropical wonderland, a scene that most have only caught on TV or in a magazine, and here we were appreciating its full glory up close and personal.
As we went through the ritual of unpacking the bag and laying out sarongs, we reached for the camera to capture those first moments. ‘Madam’, an island dog from the house near to the beach, capered with us as we tried to lay down.
Mischievously she pawed all over the sarongs in an attempt to claim her throne. With a great wet lick from her long pink drooling tongue she would roll about and play. We were happy in the land of milk and honey. We really believed it couldn’t get any better than this and the clouds didn’t deter this fact as we watched the big yellow circle in the skies fight all the way to break through.
The waters of the sheltered lagoon rippled gentle as they lapped against the shore and stretched beyond the motus to the outer reef barrier and the tremendous crashing force of the Pacific. Canoes and paddle boats traversed the calm inner reef as the vibrant tropical fish of orange, black, yellow, red and whites so bright playfully darted in and out from the protection of submerged coral or rocks.
On the velvety sea floor green grey turd shaped sea cucumbers appeared to remain completely still but if one watched very carefully slow movement could be detected. The amazement of Muri was that one didn’t even need a snorkel and mask because the fish would swim in close proximity and were easily visible through the glassy water.
Above and aroundus the bulbous roots of the coconut palms protruded from the sandy soil, angling the trees towards the sea in a shady canopy over the powdery carpet scattered with husks, rocks and twigs. In the silence a breeze ghosted around us with a hollow moan like a haunting of the ancients as we zipped across our island paradise still enjoying its riches and ensuring that respect is shown for what they know is hallowed turf.
Myna birds clicked, tweeted, whistled, squawked, rattled and cackled their chat in the branches as they playfully hopped. We were living it, feeling an ant crawl across our arm, dippingfeet in the cooling sea, marvelling at the craggy hills that were lush in their wild natural coat. There was no harshness to the air drawn into the lungs, no clogging of the nose like a sooty chimney. Life was fantastic with everyday bringing untold wealth.
One thing was for sure, the chatty dude in the surf wear shop at Auckland duty-free was right when he excitedly opinionated, “Shit man, Cook Islands are way better than Tonga, Yeah!”
It’s your football time, eh!” Miko asked as Knox stared into space outside the patio doors.
“What, sorry I was away in the clouds” Knox reeled his wondering mind back in.
“It’s your football time, I bet your thinking about it,” quipped Miko.
She was right. It was Saturday afternoon and for years this would mean Knox watching, listening or clicking teletext every couple of minutes to calculate the permutations that each passing incident would bring. Even though the season was over the sport was never far away from Knox’s thoughts and this year was the World Cup so he was getting geared up for that.
Unfortunately he hadn’t worked out quite how he was going to see live matches on these rugby orientated islands where all the kick off times would be early in the morning.
“As always love, as always” he laughed.
The weather had been cool for a few days and the sun wasn’t up to coming out to play so they spent the days padding around our beloved villa writing postcard poems, kind of wee funny ditties that broke the monotony of weather and sun tan chat, and listened to the wonderful summery island music wafting out from the tinny radio. The fun groove was too addictive to stand still to so a wiggle and a shake of the hips had them in a whirl to the beat of the hula hula tunes. The joyful ‘Kia Orana’ salutation ran deep through the atmosphere of this cheerily exotic land. The welcome of ‘May you live long’ signified much more than a simple hello bringing truth to the song ‘Rarotonga, Rarotonga, my paradise’.
Before confirming everything with Vara’s about staying in the villa beyond our Aitutaki trip, we had a number of avenues to go down and investigate. Firstly we decided to check the local, very thin, newspaper for available properties. We only found two that would maybe be suitable and went to have a look. The first was on a nice stretch of beach, reached by a fifteen metre scramble through an overgrown passage from the building, and it was close to a few amenities. The downside was its decrepedness. Old fashioned is no problem but the place lacked a bit of care and would have been a step towards their Tongan nightmare. The price was good but this was not the quaint place for us. Besides the hanging gardens were a mozzie paradise. The other cottage was more modern, being only a year old, clean, although small and it had a TV.
World cup chimed in Knox’s football fevered brain but alas the coraly beach here would have meant a moped being required to bring us to a sandy expanse, therefore driving up the price to what we would be paying at Varas along with the inconvenience.
In the end nothing marked higher than our lovely stilted lagoon view villa. It had no TV but that, if indeed the matches were to be screened live on the one local channel, would have to be sorted another way.
Despite the skies, we loved the Cooks and this blossomed an idea in our heads. We yearned to prolong their stay. With deliberation, we realized a three step strategy was in order to accomplish this goal – a visit to the immigration office, a change to our tickets, and further negotiations with Varas. But where to start?
We climbed the outside wooden steps, enclosed by the lattice work shaft, of the three storey government building that housed immigration services at the top. It would take a hit of NZ$70 each although we would absorb that gladly for the extra weeks and there was no problem in extending the sojourn we were told.
The only thing was that we needed to show details of their flight out first. With no Air NZ phone number, we felt it would be easy enough to take a trip out to the airport and visit the company’s office to make the alterations.
We didn’t envisage any hassles but we were left with the question of how to get there. Waiting for a bus would take a while so we decided to hire a scooter.
One of the things that intrigued us was the issuing of a Cook Islands driving license to legally take to the country’s roads. The process was straight forward and the license would be a neat souvenir to show off at other destinations, a wee talking point.
A rebuild of the Police station had operations for this moved a few hundred metres to the port authority office. A queue had formed at the mid morning hour and it took an age for Knox to get to the front on a day when the sweltering sun decided to come out to play. Once at the counter he was informed that he would have to take a test but first he needed to rent the scooter, bring it down, and come back to the counter. Knox rolled his eyes in annoyance because that would require another needless fifteen minute queuing and a simple information sign would have negated this.
Anyway we went to the bike rental across the road and hired a nifty yellow number. Back in the queue Knox dripped while Miko sought shelter away from the crowd.
A ship was in port with a few containers from New Zealand along with a couple of other large vessels, one looking like it was in dock for repairs. Bobbing up and down on the open side of the small island harbour was a mini armada of international yachts, which proudly displayed their ensigns as their captains took a rest from the voyage in Rarotonga’s treasures.
Finally Knox was at the counter again where the female officer looked at his driving license, gave him a sheet of paper and told him to wait outside on the quayside. After a few minutes a cop on his squad bike motored in, gathered the slips of paper off a few fellow exam takers, and explained the short course he had to circuit while he followed and observed.
All this was quite amusing but Knox wanted to get on after standing in a queue for 40 minutes. The test was easy. Even though Knox went at a calm pace, conscious not to be hasty, he ended up way out in front due to the others, including the monitor, getting held up at the junction at the port. It was no worries though as the cop signed his slip when the test was done and sent him back to the queue. At last he had a bit of paper that acted as a license but unfortunately not the laminated photo-card he’d wished for. All in all the process had taken an hour but now we could drive the few minutes to the airport.
Air New Zealand where as helpful as a bunch of flowers in the lions den. Gina sat behind her desk sporting her grey uniform and a tacked on smile.
“Off course I can change the tickets, but there is a 20 dollar charge per passenger” she commented.
“Hold on a minute, we never got charged before, so why do the charges apply now?” Miko asked in reply.
“Oh well, I don’t know what happened before but I have to charge, head office tells us off if we don’t” Gina wouldn’t budge.
“Well can I speak to head office because it has been themselves that have waived any charges before?” pressed Knox, who wasn’t ready to give up.
“Off course!” she said as she dialled the number. Gina proceeded to talk to the person on the other end of the line, explaining the situation in such a way that her hard line stance would be backed up and the charge put in place. She refused point blank to pass the phone over to either of us and never mentioned about previous flight changes made for free. With a smile she hung up and confirmed.
“I’m afraid any changes made will incur a charge of 20 dollars per person”.
Smugness oozed from every pore as she said it.
“Can I have the number please?” Knox asked ready to change tact.
It was a local number that would patch through to Air New Zealand head office without having to burden the customer with a big cost.
“Okay, if I phone and change the dates, ensuring with the agent that it is free of charge, can you print out a copy of the date changes for us please?”, Knox motioned knowing this would then give them the required proof to show immigration.
“Yes but I’ll have to charge you 20 dollars each for the print out” said a belligerent Gina, completely unconcerned.
We just couldn’t believe how she acted, as if we were trying to undermine her authority, and could have said quite a bit due to the frustration but decided to keep our mouths shut.
All we had wanted was a few taps on a keyboard without it hitting the budget.
“Thanks for nothing”, was the sentiment as we left and saddled up. It was down to plan B.
‘If one wanted anything done, do it yourself’. We phoned Air New Zealand and with no hassles whatsoever they changed the dates.
“Will there be a charge for that?” Miko asked.
“No Miss, I’ll email you confirmation of the changes now” came Mary’s prompt and polite reply.
We were now due to fly to LA on the evening of July 11th, extending our stay from 4 to 7 weeks on these magical islands. A return to the immigration office saw formalities completed and 2 out of 3 stages put into place.
The last part of the jigsaw was Vara’s, where negotiations to have the rest of our stay in the villa went well. The only slight hitch was that for 2 nights before the flight to Aitutaki would have to be spent in Vara’s beachside compound.
Miko freaked when she saw the backpackers haunt with the noisy brash revellers. The studio’s, two up two down, where in a concrete block that was backed by its two up two down twin.
“90 dollars a night for that is ridiculous!” said Miko as she viewed the shabby, un-private state, although there didn’t seem to be any choice but to brace ourselves. Miko knew too well it would be noisy. Even though cleaner, it felt like Avalon hostel in OZ all over again.
The receptionist was adamant that it wouldn’t be loud when Miko questioned her and told her she would not tolerate it if it was. We did press the receptionist to see if she could shuffle things around like before and allow us to stay put but this was to no avail.
At least when we arrived back from Aitutaki we’d have the hillside villa overlooking the lagoon once more.
Wanting to keep the roll going we quickly turned out attention to sorting the practicalities of the American leg of the trip.
Most pressing was finding a combination of convenience and economy in traversing ourselves from west coast to east coast. It would be a brief vacation in the states, only a week. It was hard not to talk about this in a cheerless way because this would be the last leg of our circum navigation of the the world. We propped ourselves up in the knowledge that this was only the start of the rest of our lives and how the trip had opened up the flood gates to the idea factories that lay within each of us.
The drilling had tapped in to a treasure more precious than anything we had ever known. Within ourselves was a universe of equal infinity to the space that lay without and its size was incalculable, unquantifiable and ineffable!
We were both architects of our own lives and the way to build was to act on the teachings emanating from our own hearts that would lead them down the path of our best lives. To not listen would be to stick our heads in the sand and agree with society that we were worthless and expendable. Life wasn’t about to come to a mundane end once we had touched down in London after the transatlantic flight.
We may have felt a tinge of sadness, but we were excited. No-one should ever want things to stay the same, as its good to grow and discover. Life would be boring otherwise. The way was clearing for our next steps. That chapter looked to be titled, ‘writing the book in India ’. This would give us 6 months of work time in surroundings away from the dull UK.
Thanks to Andy, their STA travel agent in Belfast, we had accumulated hefty amount of points on our Virgin club cards, and this would now be very beneficial indeed, because we could purchase one return ticket to India for free.
For now a low cost carrier flight looked to be the way forward across the states. We settled for the cheapest flight we could find, which flew from LAX to La Guardia, that unfortunately had to connect through Houston. It would be a long day with Air Trans America, going in a round about way to New York, but the value was good.
There was a glitch when booking, because a UK home address didn’t fit the operator’s website. Making an old-fashioned telephone call gave a solution to the problem as the telephonist told us to put in the company’s address and call them back to alter it. It was a huge weight off our shoulders to finally book the flights.
As far as hotels went an 80 euro refund from Best Western head office solved the LA accommodation as we booked in for 2 nights at one of the company’s airport hotels. New York and its astronomical prices proved more difficult, but we found a website for Portland Square hotel, near the hub of the action, a few blocks from Times Square.
The rooms viewed on the site where contemporarily made up and this modern style, good location and reasonable price prompted us to book in for 5 nights. It really was a sigh of relief to get all this organized so we could now relax and enjoy the rest of our days on island time.
After all that work we were ready to take it easy. The soothing swish of the waves were therapeutic to the ears but not so was the thud as coconuts fell from a nearby palm. Miko looked up and inched away for that extra bit of safety in case another decided to drop on her noggin as she sat waiting for Knox to return. Soon enough, as the bright sun glistened off the lagoon, Knox paddled round the corner in his hired two seater water wheeler, giving Miko a chuckle.
Looming clouds from earlier had drifted away revealing the azure sky and enriching the colours of the scenery. Knox beamed while cycling the flippers of the propelling mechanism and knew it was a great way to investigate the reaches of their extensive playground where no speed boats, jet skies or other aggressive machinery cut a swathe.
Bobbing gently from side to side, we headed for the largest, and closest from our perspective, of the four motus. About fifteen metres from its shore, the boat ran aground in the sand leaving us to splash our way along the remaining distance.
The scene was like one from ‘Robinson Crusoe’ if one imagined the mainland of Rarotonga not being there. The motu’s interior were a thick crown of palms and bushes that contrasted the pale beach perfectly and it was quiet as can be.
Beautiful was how it looked yet reality bites when one least expects it. In the late morning sunshine we had been on the island for a couple of minutes when we noticed the attack formation as a squadron of nasty wee mosquito blighters charged in and we swung his arms in defence. The rocketing onslaught baying for our blood with sharp nozzles was at the ready.
There was no time to hang around and we quickly got out of mozzie land swatting off the persistent buggers that pursued us like hungry vampires out across the lagoon. We got away with only a couple of bites but were reminded that paradise islands aren’t always what they are cracked up to be.
Back out on the water we were safe as we continued to indulge in the fantastic living. Ceasing our paddling near a submerged log, we floated to gaze at the fabulous designs and colours of the fishes skimming in and out of their sheltered underwater world.
We stopped short of the outer coral reef where great waves of the ocean crashed, sending up a foamy white spray into the air. The power vibrated through the body creating wonder in the trappings of the South Pacific dream.
The suns heat blazed on the scene and in the middle of the lagoon there was no shade to be had, so we took the usual spot on the beach, where Madam bounced down to greet us along with a bunch of other happy canines. It was fun to see them messing about as a couple of the waggy tailed dogs splashed into the water pawing at a submerged rock, yelping excitedly as they danced a jig in an attempt to coax the tiddlers to come out to play. There were about five of them and we named them the ‘Movie Dogs’ as they reminded us of the film ‘The Lady and The Tramp’. Even though completely independent, these guys wore collars indicating that they had owners.
Many a nice breakfast and lunch was had on the balcony of the villa with the inevitable company of our fowl neighbours.
Roaming free in this hillside vicinity, a colony of twenty plus wild cocks and hens flourished in comfortable surrounds. These wild chickens kind of blow the myth that the rooster only cock-a-doodle-doos at day break. The big guys ruffled their feathers, flapped their wings, stretched their heads forward and up to blast their call any damn time they pleased. Oh boy, they can be incessant in their boisterousness to the point of real annoyance. The hens found the naughty boys a nuisance also as they were chased clucking and scrambling by the horney devils. Invariably they were caught and the dirty deed was done.
They were a funny bunch though and Miko found it hilarious when an insane Knox went and joined in, actions and all, with his best rooster screeching. It was also pleasing to see a colony of free chickens living life in the wild, interacting with fellow world occupiers and not being chased for their meat, certainly not by humans anyway as one couldn’t say that for the dog next door who engaged a game of chasies sending the chickens scattering like mad ones. They tended their young, rooted and pecked for food, squabbled with each other, never venturing far from their large patch, and felt safe enough to take the weight off their feet to relax a while in the garden. No coop here, no chicken wire to restrict movement and no farmer having to feed them a processed meal.
These fowl went where they wanted whether it be perching atop a clothes line or sitting in the back of a Ute. As for food they got fresh squigglies from the ground, gorged on coconut opened for them by the wee old woman next door, or gathered for a feast of breadcrumbs and fruit from their neighbours.
These fury peckers had a field day fighting over the crumbs thrown for them. They would charge from a distance when they saw us and dive under a shower of food. Texas Chick, a black and white speckled cowboy, waited at the edge. He was big but not king of the roost. That honour went to the fat black and rust rooster with iridescent wing feathers and reds and yellows of his fiery tail. They weren’t stupid enough to allow us to get too near but they did live without the dreaded fear hanging constantly over them. Little chicks followed mother hen in a close formation as she let them pick at the falling morsels first or lifted the crumbs for the chicks to take from her beak. She protected them chasing off the other hens who wanted to bully or steal food. Even the cocks got bullied from time to time from the pissed off mothers. All in all these truly free range birds were a good show to interact with.
Life is about learning lessons. Being truthful with oneself and facing up to ones actions is the surest way of progressing through life’s difficulties. Mistakes will be made along the way but investigate that mistake and a nugget will shine through that helps lift a life to a higher plain.
One time at the beach, Knox felt very deflated because he let himself down. We had been relaxing and taking some photos when three plonkers came and parked themselves a metre away ,even though there was an empty fifty metres to choose from. Knox had been in the water marvelling over some beautiful tropical fish when he spotted these intruders. He gave it a few minutes to see if they would move on but found it incredulous when they began stripping and slapping on the sun cream. He came out shouting his mouth off, gesticulating with his hands and giving the evil eye while shaking his head.
“There’s a whole beach to choose from yet you’re plonking yourselves there” Knox barked sick of pussy footing around. The guy and one girl ignored him as they waded out into the water choosing to remain oblivious. The other girl whined, “chill out bro, you’re free to move”.
Knox couldn’t believe her pugnacious attitude and spat back, “this isn’t Spain you know, you don’t have to search all day to get a free strip of sand”. He cursed under his breath frustrated with the situation.
The atmosphere was awful but we held our ground and refused to budge although Miko was embarrassed with all the shouting.
Knox looked at himself and his surroundings, cringing not with his message but only how he had delivered it in temper. He realized that to approach a subject calmly but firmly leads to a much stronger case that is respectful to Miko and that by shouting in anger he had brought shame and disrespect on himself. The upshot of the event was that within thirty minutes the group worked out that they could wade over to mozzie island. The guy gave a real theatrical apology before laughing with the other plonkers as they paddled into the water.
“Enjoy yourselves” Knox commented in the knowledge that a hungry bunch of mozzies awaited the trio.
It wasn’t very pleasant to wake up in the knowledge that the next two days would be spent in environs akin to an 18-30s club. This really wasn’t the atmosphere that we wanted to participate in but we would have to grin and bare it. We were up though and had our stuff packed and ready to go when a god send phone call chirped us up.
There had been a cancellation and we could stay in the villa after all. Relief wasn’t the word!
“Its like Liverpool scoring super goals all season”.
We danced to the island music and gave thanks for our deliverance.
The lady taxi driver picked us up at 5 in the morning. Darkness still blanketed as rain lashed from the heavy sky. By the time we’d reached the quiet airport it had stopped. Check in came and went within a matter of seconds, and in due course we were ushered out to the tarmac to board the smallest plane either had ever flown on, a 34 seater SAAB 340 twin propeller, for the 45 minute hop to Aitutaki.
Our seats were at the front by the exit, and we were given some extra information. In case of an emergency, we need able bodied people in these seats to help with evacuation, i.e. to help open the heavy exit doors’.
It was enchanting to see the dark skies over Rarotonga merge into the dawn’s first glow at the horizon, silhouetting the clouds that cow licked the thin air. Like opening the door of a dark room, the orange band expanded as the light rushed in. Blue skies slowly washed the erased black, magically contrasting the night viewed through the opposite window. A pale light prevailed as the plane touched down on the air strip, hilariously titled, Aitutaki International Airport. By the outhouse terminal building, the aeroplane proudly rested, angled on its landing pad with its own steps leading to the tarmac, and gallantly stood in the foreground of the breaking dawn.
“All in a days work” it reverberated from its destination on the edge of existence. The porter driven luggage cart ambled to the side of the structure to create a low tech baggage re-claim for the arriving passengers.
Escaping the early morning mozzies, we were met by the transfer guy and boarded their bus. We had to spend one night in different accommodation from the other 6 nights. We had to accept this alternative because of the availability havoc created by the TV crew but there was a dread as to how ‘Paradise Cove’ would shape up with its shared facilities. Assurances had been stressed that both accommodations were of a high standard yet our worst fears were confirmed as we were brought back down to earth with a bang. No-one was there to greet us, instead we had the introduction of excrement in the open lounge and a legion of excited mosquito’s that wasted no time in bombarding us like hungry vampires.
In the 30 minutes before anyone came to ‘welcome’ us, wE inspected the shared facilities and swallowed hard. The kitchen was a greasy filth pot and the solitary bathroom failed the test miserably as dirty foot prints were implanted in the stinking bath mat, along with debris of god knows what, and this matched the used sticky plasters together with the tap heads laying on the base of the shower tray. One would feel dirtier after a shower than before and made one heave to imagine what the room would be like.
Finally an older woman rode up on her moped just after 7.15.
“You must be the new arrivals”.
We looked gloomily at her.
“Umm”, we managed.
“You just got here?” the woman asked.
“About half hour ago”.
This was greeted with a shrugged silence. We were shown the room after the woman had made a few calls. The basic, unclean, and crumbly chamber wasn’t a pretty site and neither was the dodgy lock that allowed the door to be pushed open enough for someone to look in.
We needed air. A walk, along what seemed like a never ending road with no shops or restaurants and only a smattering of guest houses or hotels, allowed us to let off steam and clear our minds.
On the way back shore side we decided to contact their travel agent and put the case forward.
We spoke to the agent as we beat off the thirsty mozzies. At first the woman didn’t listen, she just raised her voice and droned on about cancellation fees.
Finally we got through to her how we had been mis-sold on the accommodation and she explained that she had to speak to her boss before ringing them back.
Within 15 minutes we got the positive answer we wanted, that we were being moved at no extra cost to accommodation of a higher standard, and that someone would be along to pick us up within the hour.
In the meantime we went and sat on the white coral beach, looking out over the flat glassy lake like water of the vast lagoon that stretched to the outer reef and beyond to the ocean.
The fish were spectacular in the clear sea with dazzling coats of blues and yellows, or the zebra stripes with a big orange dot on were the fantastic colours of the delightful Little Mermaid in real life. All the while the sea floor was littered with the painstakingly slow sea cucumbers that made snails look like the Ferrari’s of the animal kingdom. Such beauty was unbelievably true and to be-hold the gorgeous scene lifted the spirits up.
The pretty gardens of Popoara wound a path to the privacy of a modern bungalow that had cleanliness throughout, an en-suite and even a kitchen area. It was a pity about the face on the grumpy westerner owner, but sure you can’t have everything!
Again the surroundings smiled in the bright hues of flowers that danced in the sun light, and we were much happier with our lot. It was noticed quickly though that the netted shutter on the patio doors wasn’t just for show, as the little piranha’s of the air screamed in search of feasts.
The South Pacific Islands were really the first place we had had to deal with daytime mosquitoes. And, in some parts these little bastards infested the air with their annoyance. Knox was driven to the point of insanity while trying to make a phone call from the outdoor phone that prompted him to channel an outburst onto the page.
THEM NASTY BASTARD MOZZIES
I’m on the telephone,
Can’t ya see?
Can you give it a rest
And stop picking on me
It’s the middle of the day
And the sun is shining bright.
Here’s me always thinking,
Vampires only came out at night
Jacking my body, legs shaking
And hands in a flap.
I’m waxing ‘French’ lyrics
In a gritted teeth rap.
You feast on my blood with
Your needley nozzle bite.
When I see you up close you’re
Like that bloody gremlin, Stripe!
From above and below,
Front, side and back
The multitudes gather.
Their formation is attack.
Like waving a red flag,
With a kamikaze hum,
They zip from that swat
And bite you on the bum.
Evasive in flight.
Relentless for their meal.
Now ya see them, now ya don’t
But one knows them by their squeal.
I’ve got nowhere to hide
And nowhere to run.
All I do is slap myself
And look silly in the sun!
Irritating to insanity,
Leaving a big red itchy lump.
If only I could catch them all,
I’d line them up for a thump.
The islanders don’t seem to mind
As they take in the heat.
They just laugh at the tourist
And call them fresh meat.
Is this a blood donor conspiracy?
To build up new stock?
Is this the Aaaagggghhhh Files?
Or a story by Hitchcock?
The Aitutaki Airforce,
It’s your island paradise.
You make sure we don’t stay
But that a visit will suffice
A word for you mosquito
That I hear buzzing around,
Do me a favour
And go hit the ground!
The late morning and afternoon was spent on a scooter adventure around the island, checking out the town with its half dozen shops, and Reno’s, where they would spend our other 6 days.
Even though the long straight roads seemed never ending, it didn’t take long to zip around the small island. There wasn’t much choice of supermarkets but we would get by for a week. The island really was off the beaten track and its seclusion was played out by what it had to offer, a quiet haven away from the worlds ills. The cloudless sky appeared really flat, giving the impression that one was in the horizon where the land meets the heavens.
Reno’s was much closer to town giving it a convenient location close to the food sources but the beach, with its couple of tyres tossed into the lagoon, wasn’t much to ride home about. The over all impression of the resort was ‘Umm’! Contrary to the picture shown which gave them an expectation of an Aussie style caravan park cabin, we where actually in a ‘unit’, that was one of four in a two up two down configuration. They were occupied so we couldn’t peek inside, but from the outside they seemed reasonably fresh with good partitions separating the private balconies. We’d give the place a go.
We proceeded to take a jaunt around Aitutaki in search of a wharf to organize a water taxi that could transport us to some of the outlying islands within the sheltered lagoon. Obviously it was only the tour maps and magazines that really used the phrases. Our questioning was met with some dumbfounded expressions from the locals, with everyone pointing to the norm- six hour lagoon cruises that included lunch, a bar, a tight time frame not of ones own choosing, and a whole bunch of other tourists to strip the romanticism from the trip.
One fisher man alerted us that many of the cruises were being halted due to the ludicrous ‘diarrhoea’ TV programme that was to start filming on the lagoons star attraction, ‘One Foot Island’.
Seemly the whole place would be shutting down in a few days and the tour operators had been paid off by the TV Company, meaning no-one would be able to get out there. Money talks eh! The fisherman asked where were we staying, and explained Reno’s might be able to help. We knew we had to move fast before ‘reality’ TV took over. So we sped at a whopping 40 km/h back to Reno’s.
Alan the manager was very helpful in phoning around to find us a tailored tour but as per usual we had a hard time finding someone who would take us privately as they only offered tour group cruises.
We refused to do it! With persistence we had a break through and got an offer from a guy called Quinton, who would sort out a private charter on his ‘Wet and Wild’ boat.
“No problem mate”.
We organized to meet the next morning at 10am and pay 45 dollars each for the desired trip.
The date is 6.6.6, the three sixes! We hoped the day wouldn’t be too devilish! Some you win and some you don’t.
Knox got up at 6.20 and scooted down to the market in town, expecting to find a bit of bustle around fresh fruits, veggies and the nights catch. What a let down. A few empty tables sat under the cover of a large semi walled shed, where 2 men perched themselves like gnomes on one, dangling their feet, while a woman yakked and dragged a set of shelves out from the corner before placing on them a few local bottles of ‘cure all’ health potions beside a bag of doughnuts. These were joined by a very small catch and that was that; no signs of the anticipated rush from the hotels who supposedly raced to get the best produce.
“No veggies or fruit on sale here!” the woman stated bluntly.
“Have I come on the wrong day?” Knox pushed the enquiry.
“No, get your fruit and veg at supermarket, came the abrupt remark. “You’ll get oranges and apples from New Zealand there”.
“Is there no tropical fruit grown locally?” Knox persisted, if a bit hesitant.
“It’s not the season”.
And that was it, a resounding failure at the market.
“Oh well!” Knox shrugged it off and retreated to Popoara for breakfast and we prepared for the days big event.
Quinton had been born in the Cooks, but lived most of his life in OZ therefore developing into a typical Aussie bloke. Our skipper was a pretty chilled character with his board shorts, Polynesian skin and his long black beachy hair. He met us with a smile and a shake of the hand.
“G’day, lets get out in the blue”.
Wading ankle deep, straight from the powdery sand, they climbed the mini step ladder and into the back of the boat. Quinton topped up on fuel before pulling up anchor for a seriously fun ride. He eased the 15 foot white hulled cruiser through the turquoise waters around a sandbar. It was easy to see with the rods, tackle and stowed harnesses that the vessel was well used for trips beyond the outer reef for some deep sea fishing. This was definitely not on the agenda here.
Getting the camera out, wE sat snugly on the bench at the back, smiling with gratification and appreciating the desired cloistered position we had chosen.
The scenery was incredible as each corner of the triangle shaped lagoon stretched out for miles around them, where the edges were dotted with uninhabited motu’s.
“You ready for some speed?” enquired Quinton with a mischievous glint in his eye.
The throttle was opened and the boat lifted to power with comfort towards Tapuaetai, One Foot Island.
“Are you going up front?”
“Maybe in a while”, Knox responded mildly in his mesmerized state, as Miko got her butt off the seat.
“Get up there now man, take in the scene”, Quinton ordered with a laugh.
We proceeded to perch on the bow, feeling the full magnificence of the panorama and the rushing air across our skin. Coral formations could easily be viewed below the surface in the lagoon that was generally only 15 foot deep and 25 foot deep at its height, a stupendous gigantic swimming pool.
We were just amazed and calmly ecstatic as we beamed from ear to ear. We found amusement as our romantic cruise crossed paths with a six hour jalopy that Quinton left delightedly in his wake.
We shored up on One Foot Island and Quinton went for a bit of shade as he eased himself against a palm tree. This wasn’t just peaceful, this was deserted, and we were glad to see the film crew faraway in the distance on the next island.
The tiny post office / shop set up as a gimmick to stamp passports by one of the cruise companies was shut because of the handsome payment received to cease operation during the nonsense. This suited us just fine. The island was over whelming with a fantastic energy and beauty that coursed through our souls as we capered along the lonely beach.
It felt like the two of us had been ship wreaked on paradise. We skipped through the powdered sands giggling with a pose under a wedding arch fooling around.
An ankle deep paddling with a silky touch between the toes brought us to a circular mound of sand, ten meters off shore, and then across to a natural rocky pier jutting out from the island. It was so comfortable to splash through the waters as every foot fall could be clearly judged.
All the senses crackled with electricity at the marvels we were experiencing. We strolled out towards the natural pier that flashed with brilliance in this ocean wonderland as ouR investigations of the shallow waters turned up royal blue starfish clinging to the rocky jetty, darting stripes and swirls swimming free, sea cucumbers belly flat to the bed, and the striking emerald zigzagged mouths of shut tight clams.
We were in our element. Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah! With deep gulps of air, we sat back on the soft sand and breathed in the natural grace aware of our good fortune. Crabs ran and hid in their shells, poking uncertain heads out, dipping tiny claws into the air as we held their conical homes up and off the ground with a cheeky grin and a chuckle before setting the scuttlers on their way.
Knox then proceeded to pick Miko up in his arms for a picture perfect moment captured for their romantic memory.
We laughed, kissed, danced and sighed with satisfied awe, glad to have been independent away from the maddening crowd. The hour and a half flew by before boarding Wet ‘n’ Wild, to return to the main island.
We were on a high of a day and it would hold close to our hearts for ever. After shoring up on Aitutaki, we padded ourselves across the beach and into Samade Hotel to treat themselves to a cocktail, before Reno’s pickup.
The ‘Ootu’ and ‘Mia tai’, went down smooth and refreshing as we clinked glasses to another wee part of the dream accomplished.
The trip to Reno’s was less dramatic and thrilling. The transport didn’t show because it broke down on the way. Not the best sign in the world eh! It was left to the Popoara staff to drive us there.
The No’1 unit allocated to us was upstairs so there was a view of sorts over the shore line bungalow’s roof across the courtyard. We walked in and looked at the décor for the first time and gulped. Freak but not la chic!
The 1980’s sofa and chair were dressed in bright orange throws with white flowery patterns while the beds, one double and one single, sported a lime green duvet covered with red and white flowers on one and a sickly pink on the other. All this shockingly matched with purple sheets. The drastic colour co-ordination that had us gagging with laughter was only worsened by the 1970’s brown table cloth and the fake wood panelling boards for walls that were decorated with taped on posters of lagoon views. The 1970’s retro style of the rickety cup-boarded kitchen, painted red and white with dodgy doors and a half broken two ring hob, left us astonished by the designers obvious colour blindness. But at least it was clean and fairly well serviced.
We would cope with the room for the next 6 days, especially as here the mozzie problem had magically disappeared so we could sit on the balcony and feel comfortable day and night.
Reno’s offered their guests free use of bicycles so we made the most of them and cycled the long straight road the next morning on route to Maungapu, Aitutaki’s highest point at 124metres.
It was kind of steep but very short compared to Mount Warning in OZ and it was a relief that there was no 45 degree angle to scramble up near the top. The reality here was a pretty easy climb as we walked a grassy path edged by blooming bushes that give us a 20 minute stroll to the summit. Our wee accomplishment was rewarded with a magnificent panorama of the whole island cluster.
The emerald mounds of the motu’s were breathtaking against the glistening lagoon pool, while the immediate surrounds of palm trees and long golden straw grass gave a gentle sway to the soft cool breath of the breeze. We ran back down again, sliding on the gravel and almost falling on our arses, before mounting the trusty steeds in search of a deserted beach.
This didn’t take to long too find along the north of the island. A sandy coraly mix gave a comfortable cushion in this hushed expanse lending an extremely relaxed air.
It didn’t take long to realize that 7 days was way too long to spend on Aitutaki as there really wasn’t much to do. To stave off boredom we entertained ourselves with the word game scrabble, although the term ‘entertained’ had to be taken at its loosest meaning when we played for the umpteenth time. Knox was on a roll and had that winning streak in every contest, which he thought was hilarious.
“Is H.E.N a word?” a frustrated Miko asked as Knox burst into roars and generally took the piss out of her seized up mind.
It was clear the run of games was making her daft! Knox had his own melt down as he lay on the end of the bed draping his arms and head over the edge and played dead.
“I’m an extra from Colombo darling!” he smirked up at Miko, who in turn found this extraordinarily funny, as the 70’s setting fit the profile perfectly.
“Just one more thing!”
The big kick off had been and gone and Knox wasn’t having an easy time of it getting to watch the ball rolling. His head was spinning frantically on who was playing, when, and if he’d get to see any of it. Fortunately he did manage to get hold of a printed page from the Cook Islands news that detailed the local TV schedule for matches. This give him hope for his return to the main island.
Here on Aitutaki though it was Miko who suggested they cycle to one of the bigger hotels in the hope that footy was shown. We stumbled across ‘Are Tamanu‘ to find re-runs of the opening two matches and discovered to his annoyance that the first English match had been aired live at 3am that morning. He contented himself with at least getting to watch some, and it was made exciting due to the fact that he didn’t know the scores.
We downed some Vaca beer as we dug in for a 5 hour marathon. Miko didn’t feel at all tipsy in her relaxed position on the hotel sofa but when the fresh air hit her, out on the bike, she was all over the place, zig-zagging all the way in a fit of giggles to Reno ’s. Groggy from our early morning boozing we snoozed for a while, before waking up with an evening hangover.
The last day was a total washout. A few showers had come and gone over the week, but this was different. A storm was brewing. Rain poured from the all encompassing blanket of cloud as the palms waved and the grey sea chopped.
The clouds started to close in until the reef, 25 meters away, wasn’t visible and neither were the hills behind. The patio door slammed shut as the rain lashed the building, rattling.
Miko hoped it wasn’t an incoming cyclone! Water cascaded from the gutters while bushes got rocked from side to side like a Childs wibble wobble. The windows jerked to the gusts of howling winds.
We watched out doors at natures might when all of a sudden the wind ceased, leaving the plant life eerily still while the torrent continued to team straight down from the billowing, sparking clouds. It wasn’t until near 5pm when the rain stopped and a brighter sky poked past the remaining cover. The birds wasted no time peeking out, chirping to the accompaniment of the rooster’s crow.
We relaxed with the evening gift of a spectacular sunset as the sun slid behind a couple of palms over the ocean like a volcano bubbling in the sky. The remaining black clouds held the fiery orange and reds in an intense inferno as the glow fell on the rippling calm of the waters, lighting around like an enormous candle.
There was no depression on the flight out of Aitutaki. The experience was truly wonderful and had been the bulls-eye of the target yet it was much much more than swimming in the blue lagoon or waltzing across the delectable white sands. To have climbed the summit of a goal is empowering and this voyage had been perceived as a huge mountain, not as much by us but more so by society around us.
This is supposed to be the type of life for the very wealthy and now this point had been exposed as a lie, because it is the type of life for those who want to have it. Besides, we were heading back to the exquisite Rarotonga where we would have the modern villa to relax in.
It was light when the plane touched down at Rarotonga’s small airport. It would have been a long wait for the first bus so we decided to walk into the town’s centre even though rain spat.
Twenty meters up the road from the airport entrance, a jeep pulled over and the woman, who had sat opposite on the plane, poked her head out the window.
“Where are you going?” the lady asked with a smile.
“Into town”, we answered grateful that someone had stopped.
“Jump in”, she smiled again.
That was the spirit and the warm hospitality of Raro.
We were at the net, ahead of schedule, before the very feminine guy with heels, opened up at 8am. A week had left them with a pile up of communications.
Naoka sent news of movement after our letter. The ministry of Tourism had been on Tongan TV and mentioned comments we had made in the letter.
Naoka explained how the Otu’haka Beach Resort had been threatened with closure on numerous occasions. Indeed a few conversations with other travellers who had passed through Tonga revealed similar stories about Dan and Loni. There were also mails from respondents that had read the letter on the Tongan newspaper website. There were a couple of unflattering remarks centred on Tonga being a ‘third world country’, and the perceived racism shown by us! What a world were we living in!
But the majority, all Tongan Nationals, empathized with the points made and thanked us for bringing up the subject.
The Wicked Campers front came to an end with an extremely sarcastic email from ‘Fred’, in their ‘customer care’ dept, stating ‘he wished he could write as well as us’, and there would be no more refund! That’s customer care for you!
Home sweet home. Back at Aroko Drive, Knox was restless about the world cup and where he could watch it. There was no question, he had to see it! He didn’t want to traipse on the bus to bars all the time so flicking through the phone book he narrowed down a few options, made a few phone calls and came up with an electronic shop prepared to hire out a TV for 100 NZ dollars for the 4 weeks needed.
Disappointedly by 5 there was no sign of the man from Monarea Electronics as Knox paced up and down, peering out the window every few minutes.
“Why don’t you ask the man you say hello to across the lane?” Miko jokingly suggested.
“Ah, I don’t know, I can’t just go up and pop the question”, Knox fretted but the tempting thought had crossed his mind.
Stuart was in his 60’s, a Scottish bloke far from his native shores. He had married Oru, a Cook Islander, and they now resided in their new house on the hillside over looking Muri lagoon. Knox decided to walk down to the end of the lane to see if the shop guy looked likely to be on his way since there was no answer to the ringing phone. Miko giggled as she watched him walk down the hill past Stuart and Oru as they sat on their balcony.
“Now, he’s going to have to walk all the way back up again, building up the courage to ask!”, Miko said to herself, rolling her eyes, yet egging him on in her mind.
“What’s he like eh!” she said aloud. “A football maniac!” She felt her stomach rumble, and stuck dinner in the oven.
The TV never turned up as Knox trudged back up the rocky path from the bottom of the hill. At Stuart and Oru’s, Knox said hello as usual before subtly brass-necking it.
“Do you know anywhere I could rent a tele from?” Knox blurted out with a touch of the jitters.
Stu invited him up the stairs on to the decking and proceeded to flick through the phone book that he retrieved from inside. Knox explained how he’d tried a couple but, after organizing a price and delivery, he’d been let down. There wasn’t much choice, but Stu tentatively pointed to another that might be able to help before the conversation flowed with talk of roots and the past. Stu suggested that Knox go and see if Miko wanted to come on over for a chat so he decided to go and see.
“They’re a lovely couple Miko, are you coming over?” he told her without mentioning what he went there for.
“Uh?” Miko responded, confused at the direction. “Dinners on” she sighed, exasperated as she checked the pizza in the oven.
Knox returned to Stu and Oru’s with the news that dinner was on. Stu got him to follow into their lovely modern single level bungalow that was raised up on stilts with lots of work space in the garages below. Their chat centred on the easy build system, shipped from New Zealand that kind of clicks together.
The total cost including shipping and labour was very inexpensive compared to the dazzling prices of the UK. Stu shuffled down the hall because of his strapped up ankle and proceeded into the large back bedroom.
“How would you like to use this?” he smiled as he pointed to a 21” TV in the corner. It was exactly what Knox had wanted but the surprise was still unexpected.
“I’m not going to say no!” replied a gob smacked Knox hardly able to contain his stretching smile. As easy as that, the pair carried it down to Stu’s car and drove it the 50metres to the door of the villa. This was just pure magic and a nice bottle of white was the least we could do in return of the favour.
Sometimes it would rain for days which could be frustrating at times but was a blessing in disguise as we didn’t waste time. Journals were brought out and the first chapters of the book was started. It really was the push we needed as we dived into work with zeal, conveying a structure to their writing that encompassed boundaries and style.
We felt invigorated as memories showered through our minds and out on to the page. The simple daily task of jotting in the diaries helped to unlock the treasures hidden inside our heads as we thrived in the roll of self-employment.
Sometimes just to get us out, we would brave the pissy weather and charge to the internet café five minutes walk down the road.
The shack was owned by a Cook Island born Londoner, Dougie, who was a real ‘Del boy’ character out to make a mint on get rich quick schemes but not quite making it past the drawing board. Luckily his island blood gave him the chance to escape the rat race of London and set up shop in the Cooks. Bowen, his 16 year old son not unlike ‘Rodney Trotter’, grumbled about having to help out in the wooden hut that was the net café as well as having to listen to his catch phrasing dad. Haphazard described the operation.
Dougie did try hard in his venture but, like Bowen did, one had to laugh at his amusing antics. His latest scheme to pull the punters in was to show the football matches live at the ungodly hours they were on and sell them his crusty sarnies and his famous ‘paw paw’ or ‘banana shakes’, famous because they were the only flavours he had!
“Are you coming down to watch the match tomorrow?” Dougie would ask.
“Sure I’ve got my own tele, Dougie.” Knox would often reply to which he give the pre-recorded answer, “Shit yeah, I forgot!”
Rhubarb and custard, lemon meringue, strawberries and cream where the names that popped into Miko’s head when she set sight on the delectable nature of the flowers that Knox gave her everyday. Even when he got caught on picking them from the edge of someone’s garden, he would still go back for more another day. The things one does for love!
In truth, bright blooms that flowered so gracefully on Rarotonga did so in abundance. Some days Knox would produce trumpet shaped wonders of the hibiscus genus that blossomed in many variations of colour from scarlet to soft pinks, whites and yellows among others. These large petalled, long stamened flowers were bold and beautiful. On other days it would be the spidery white creation or the overlapping petals of the Frangipani, with its white, yellow and hint of pink that snuggled neatly behind Miko’s ear.
There was so many to choose from including Gardina, a pretty little white one, that was the national flower of the Cook Islands. One of Miko’s favourites was the ivory coloured, crepe paper look of a huge hibiscus with floppy petals and laced with tiny streaks of pale pink, on the tip of the stamen, protruding a few inches from the trumpet, little orange fur balls that dangled in the breeze. This was a brightness that enriched these islands whether in the hair, garlanded round the neck, or copied with vibrant colours onto clothes or household fabrics.
Football wasn’t the only thing on CITV as plenty of rugby, the odd recorded British or American drama was shown, along with the daily slice of world events using the medium of New Zealand’s evening news hour. Local programmes, mainly centring on their own news, were of a low budget and used basic technology.
It was informative to a point but very rigid and serious. There were some comical commercial moments when Mike Taraore and Kiki Nganu from the CITC Supermarket were definitely the stars of the show. With some dodgy instant clothes changing edits, the ad was set up like a news room. Mike would pull funny hand and face movements as he introduced the ‘Straight off the boat’ special offers and the chance to ‘win’, with a high pitched voice, a scooter. From his news desk, Mike would pass to Kiki, the reporter in store, who would put on his best Italiano accent while passionately showing off the pizza with its slashed price. We aren’t into adverts but this duo certainly gave us a few laughs.
One afternoon, Cook Islands radio station sombrely read the news item which stated how seven dogs had been found dead in the sea at Muri lagoon.
We only snipped the end of the item so we frantically switched on the television at news time to see if we could gleam more info while praying it wasn’t any of the dogs that we had come into contact with.
There was no mention of it only another story about chickens found dead in a stream further round the island. We rang the radio station but they didn’t have any more information on what had already been said.
The next morning he saw Anton, the majority owner of the four hillside villas, working in the gardens so we went to delve for some more news. Anton explained that the dogs had been poisoned some where between Vara’s beachside and the petrol station beyond. One woman had been forced to watch a neighbour’s pet collapse and die right in front of her as he gagged and vomited blood. This made them all sick to the stomach.
“Do they know who did it?” asked Knox
“There’s one person everyone suspects as he has made a comment once that he’d shoot the dogs”, Anton told him freely.
“There are a few shore line owners who also don’t like the dogs wandering through their gardens. It’s just sick and when they do catch who done it, puh, he’ll be lynched”. Anton continued, as he gave that disgusted look. Luckily his own pets hadn’t been caught up in the slaughter and for now they would be kept indoors.
The next day there was a headline in the local newspaper, ‘Three agencies investigate dog deaths’. The National Environment Service, Public Health and the Police, were jointly investigating the deaths. Police had removed four dogs, which were examined by a veterinarian. Her initial diagnosis of possible rat poisoning were soon dashed and things were pointing to a toxic insecticide, which was sold in one litre concentrated bottles several years ago and, because of its high concentration, could last a farmer up to five years. “It was no longer on sale” the chief inspector said. “It’s lucky it was dogs that became victims and not humans!
That depends on which way one looks at it. We wanted to go to the beach straight away to see if the dogs we had played with were still around but to our dismay they didn’t show.
We were worried but remembered that these were pets and, like Anton, the owners may have been keeping the dogs close by. With a big sigh of relief in the next few days, all the dogs ran up to us with their tails wagging.
Stuart, the football angel who’d provided the TV, unfortunately received the news that one of his 11 brothers had died. Even though at a ripe old age, it still makes one not take things for granted because one never knows what’s round the corner.
The up shot was that Stu had to take a trip back to Scotland, but the kind man made arrangements for us to leave back the TV the day before we left Raro.
It’s a wonder that we weren’t in the Guinness book of records for the quickest sight seeing tours. There was no tour group here as we hired a little racy moped to scoot around the island.
The traffic could never be called heavy and the circular road was an easy trail to cope with. It was plain to see that religion played a large part of the islander’s life, as church after church of differing; mainly Christian, denominations displayed their signs. Five CICC churches, built of coral limestone by missionaries, stretched back more than 150 years and had that real Christmas card look, without the snow of course.
All were stamped with traditional architecture, white washed walls, stained glass windows and each with small graveyards to match the size of the communities’ worship houses. Burials in the Cooks were an interesting affair.
There were obviously some graveyards but it was noticeable to see graves in the gardens of homes. At first a bit unsettling, the site became quite a comfort as one could understand the respect being shown as family members are interred on the plots of land where they spent their days. It was distressing to hear a story from Oru of tenants renting a property on her families land, having a total lack of regard for the deceased as they piled rubbish on top of a family grave before setting it alight. It was no surprise that the people were evicted after being ordered to clean up the land.
The sun shone after a grey start as we saddled up and took off, taking the roads in island style, nice and relaxed, no hurries man!
Like most things in Rarotonga the first stop wasn’t too far away. We passed a few resorts, negotiated a few corners and motored a few kilometres to reach Marie Nui gardens. The gardens were attractive, even if they were a bit overgrown. It was disappointing when described fountains were no-where to be seen, and some bridges were so thick with branches, as to be impassable. The neglected feel gave the look of a fairy story garden that has been cast a growth spell, although one could still see some of the tender care put in to this non-profitable project as all the proceeds were re-invested.
We floated along a tunnel, naturally created by the tall white trumpet flower bushes, following the main trail to another trellis archway decorated with delicate petals of white and yellow. The tree line passages and designed shrubberies created a peaceful ambience that thrived in the fresh air. An atmosphere of calm filled the mind with fragrant aromas clearing the senses and stimulating the soul to give the tour a good start.
Back on the road we continued to follow the coastal route that never ceased to draw amazement as the turquoise of the inner reef was more often than not visible as it lapped near the continuous narrow beach surrounding the island.
To contrast this, the greenery of trees, grass and bushes filtered in different hues to join in with the feeling of well being. No wonder so much smiling goes on here. Just before the half built eye sore of the derelict Sheraton resort site in the south of the island, we took a right turn off their clockwise direction to head inland passed the plantations and forested hillside to Wigmores waterfall. Hardly the spectacular rush of water expected but this was a charming sight. A few trails pass through the hills from here across the island but without walking shoes it was a no-go zone. Our repellent preparation gave us armour against the supposed swarm of mosquito’s that never materialized though, but we weren’t about to hang around and give the wee suckers an opportunity.
In the North West, we zipped to the spiritual outpost of black rock. This was a spiritual departure point for the ancient Cook islanders.
They believed when they died they would jump off black rock and make their way back to their homeland, Avaiki. The huge jet black volcanic rock boulders, jutted out into the azure from part of Nikaio beach, and would be the last view of Rarotonga for the departed souls. It was a place of solace that had us mediating thoughts while appreciating the beauty around them. We said a prayer as we remembered the story, for the spirits whose time it was to go from eart.
We left the sacred ground but our contemplation was followed up as we stopped for a few minutes silence at the large, old cemetery near the airport, which was side by side with the allied forces war cemetery for locals who had fought through differing conflicts.
Soon enough we were in Avarua to take in the ‘7’ in one, coconut tree, a tight circle of coconut palms who now appeared to be missing a member, and the palace, a dilapidated plantation house.
Near this was a topical and colourful mural on the side of the library wall. It delved into the delights of the Cooks, depicting it as a living flowing rainbow incorporating turtles, fish and lizards in a story of oneness with nature as hair turned to clouds to rejuvenate the foliage, while man attempted to harness the power of the sun, and the moon pulled the tides. It was this poetry feel that had enabled us to get used to the island life in seconds. Yes, even though tourists flocked here, Rarotonga hadn’t lost its beauty by constructing ugly towers along its shores.
Day by day over the last 3 weeks, teams fell by the way side in one of the world’s biggest sporting competitions. Knox’s continuous whirling mind had him up as early as 3am to catch a match. With the TV volume down, he would sit on his pillow on the floor with only the flickering light from the set as his companion.
Miko mostly slept oblivious to this, although on some occasions would stir, groaning before burying her head again. The final didn’t disappoint as Italy and France clashed using every ounce of energy they had. Then it happened, the moment that wrote all the world headlines. On his swan-song, on a night (or the morning in our case) that was written to be his crowning glory, destiny handed out a cruel stake. Zidane lost his rag and head butted Materazzi after insults had been exchanged. The French man took the walk of shame, his final walk of a glittering professional career.
Then came the event that wrote all the headlines in the Cooks. A strange thing happened as the game moved into penalties. A ‘REW’, indicator showed at the top left of the screen. Knox noted it but thought nothing of it for a few minutes. It was only when, just as the 3rd penalty was about to be taken, the TV went blank that it clicked in his mind what had happened. One could feel the screams around rooms all over Raro as people realized that their final was up and no amount of shouting at the tele would change the empty screen.
At the TV station no-one was about. Everyone was off to church leaving the wise to decide to record this event so they could repeat it later in the afternoon. Doing it on the cheap didn’t work for when the match ran through extra time and into penalties, the tape ran out! Automatically the recorder went into rewind, allowing the link to stay on, but as soon as the rewinding was complete the VCR knocked off by itself blanking the channel.
Italy of course went on to win but the local paper was in up-roar the next day because of the debacle created due to the amateurish set-up of the TV Company. Quite an unexpected anti-climax to Knox’s world cup haha!
We sat on a downer on the day of our departure trying to warm in the benefits of the green tea. We both couldn’t concentrate on writing the book as we pottered about packing bits to get our mind off the reality of going that night.
More bad news in the world had startled them. Bombs, killing 160 plus people in Mumbai, had detonated on the cities commuter trains. Would these atrocities ever stop? It wasn’t a comfortable feeling for us, as we knew we would be travelling to Mumbai in just over 2 weeks but our strong, determined minds would not let these terrorists rule our lives. We would follow the path we were on.
Just how we had come to the Cooks, the rain poured on departure. While, we travelled in the packed mini bus, the silence was deafening as everyone contemplated their Cook Island dream. It was sad to leave, but the islands had given us so much pleasure.
“Bye bye Rarotonga, our paradise, until next time”, we sang in our minds remembering the sunny tunes.