As I mentioned at the end of the last post, we are now happily ensconced in Rarotonga, which houses the capital and is the most populated of the Cook Islands. Which is not saying much: Rarotonga is a speck in the ocean, more or less circular in shape and only six miles across, with a permanent population of 9,000. Pretty much everyone lives on the coast, for the simple reason that starting inland barely a quarter mile from the coast pretty much everything looks like this:
That is mist shrouding the peak on the right. This is our first full day here, which started out gloriously sunny but clouded over rather suddenly around 2:30 PM. Anyway, you can now understand why the population is concentrated on the coast. Everyone is connected by a single main road — only one lane each way — that runs the 20 mile perimeter of the island. There is also a bus line that has exactly two routes, indicated on the display at the front of the bus: CLOCKWISE and ANTICLOCKWISE. (See, here in the Southern Hemisphere the buses circle in the opposite dir…no, wait, never mind.)
We are staying at the Muri Beach Club hotel, which is quite nice, one of the nicest on the island (though, like everywhere else on the island, you still cannot the tap water, though it is safe to bathe and brush teeth with). It is only two stories tall, which is as tall as anything is here, and our room is on the second floor overlooking the lagoon that surrounds the island. It’s a nice big room and the view is tough to beat. There is a tiny island, called a motu, in the lagoon about 150 yards from our room, and the water is shallow enough at this point that you can with a little difficulty walk across. Alternately, the hotel offers free snorkeling gear and kayaks.
One of the big activities at the hotel — and throughout the Cook Islands — is getting married. This place is such a draw for destination weddings that on the immigration form that you fill in on the plane before arriving, where you have to check a box giving your reason for visiting, there are separate boxes for “vacation” and “wedding”. We have been here 28 hours as I type this, and we have already seen three weddings on the beach outside our room.
You’ll note that I said that the island is surrounded by a lagoon as opposed to the open ocean. There is a coral reef about a quarter mile offshore that completely encircles the island except across one small bay. The space between the beach and the reef is thus a quarter-mile wide circular lagoon the diameter of the whole island, warm and blue, dotted with coral outcroppings, and mostly shallower than ~10 feet deep. Pretty nice! Insanely photogenic, of course, and with lots of snorkeling opportunities as well.
Today dawned clear and warm with a glorious sunrise over the motu, visible from our balcony. Our big plan for the day was to borrow snorkel gear and rent motor scooters from the hotel so that we could putt-putt about 2 miles down the coast road to one of the premier snorkeling beaches. We had hoped to rent a 2-seater scooter so that Alice could fulfill her lifelong dream of being a biker chick, but they only had the smaller ones available so she had to drive her own scooter. Neither of us had ever driven one before, and told the desk clerk so, but she was unfazed, saying it wasn’t much harder than riding a bike, and she would check us out on them. The only criterion was that we needed a Cook Islands driver’s license, and you will not be surprised to hear that she could sell us a temporary one for $5.
So, Cook Island license in hand, we set off on our scooters on our great expedition, an adventure that lasted slightly under 8 seconds, that being the time it took for Alice to pull away from the hotel portico and crash into the fence that had been inconsiderately placed at the edge of the driveway. No damage or injuries except for her ego (plus having to cope with a somewhat irritated husband), but the desk clerk started smiling a little less and confiscated Alice’s scooter. This left us with a transport problem, but the clerk observed that a small rental car cost only slightly more than the two scooters, so we opted for that slightly less adventurous solution. (I still reserve the right to rent my own scooter later in the week while Alice is getting a massage or something.)
We snorkeled for about an hour, taking a zigzag route from coral outcropping to outcropping all the way out to the reef, a quarter mile away. It was excellent, not up there with the Great Barrier Reef of course, but exciting and fun nonetheless. The’s quite a diversity of fish (the largest about 30″ long), coral formations, even some giant clams. The water was warm and visibility was about 25′, pretty good though nothing like Australia. In short, a successful expedition.
As long as we had the car we figured we might as well explore the island. We stopped for lunch another mile or two down the road, at a place with an infinity pool leading to the beach. We sat at a table at one end of the pool and we rewarded with a wonderful view, all shades of green and blue: the pool, the lagoon beyond it, the sky.
And so we continued around the island, taking a leisurely hour or two to completely circumnavigate it. We passed through the main shopping drag in town, a slightly ramshackle looking area with a lot of what you might call “island character”. We stopped at a beach that was nearly overrun with odd little sand crabs, their bodies black and barely more than an inch across, but sporting orange antennae and one enormously oversized pink claw nearly the size of their bodies. Very strange and comical looking– I will have to look up the name.
And of course we stopped at a store that sold black pearls, a local specialty (as is true throughout much of the South Pacific). No purchases yet but I am waiting for the other shoe to drop.
And that was our day. We have not yet lapsed into tropical indolence but we still have four more days. Tomorrow we are having a guided island tour (I think we just did that, without the guide); on Thursday Alice is having a spa day while I go scuba diving. So we have managed to stave off boredom so far…