For the 2nd consecutive February, I managed to escape the bitter Tokyo
cold for a warm South Pacific island paradise. Fiji travel last year,
Cook Islands travel this year. The Cook Islands was exactly what the
doctor ordered, with the summertime temps typical for the average
February, with highs around 29°C (84°F) and lows around 23°C (73°F)!
Yes, like I said… PARADISE!
And my timing was almost perfect. On the previous Saturday, February 8,
Tokyo received 27 cm of snow, the most in 45 years. And just as I was
leaving for Narita airport on Friday afternoon, February 14 to depart
for my Cook Islands travel, it was commencing to snow yet AGAIN for the
2nd consecutive weekend and there were already beginning to be delays
in the Tokyo metro transit system.
Fortunately, I managed to miss all of that, I was able to reach Narita
airport okay, and my flight departed on time! A few days later, I read
in the local Cook Islands newspaper that it had snowed ANOTHER 27 cm in
the Tokyo area over a 2-day period.
(Cook Islands salutation for
"May you live long")
When I stepped off the airplane at Rarotonga International Airport
around 5:30 am on Sat. Feb. 15, 2014, the full moon was setting in the
west and Venus had just risen in the east (you can view both in my
video below). I had a feeling the stage had just been set for a
magnificent 7 days in the Cook Islands.
After going thru immigration, that feeling was reinforced even further
when I was greeted by 74-year-old ukulele player Jake Numanga, who has
welcomed travelers to the Cook Islands at the Rarotonga airport for 34
"Papa Jake" Numanga,
entertaining Rarotonga airport passengers since 1980
Papa Jake, grandfather of 20, was also there at 6 am the
following Sat. when I left, serenading departing passengers, as he is 7
days a week. What an amazing guy! You can also see Papa Jake in my Cook
Islands video below.
Saturday Morning Market
One of the first things I did after arriving in Rarotonga and checking
into my hotel was to visit the Saturday morning market (Punanga Nui
Market) in Avarua Town. This is a must-see site when you visit
Rarotonga. You’ll find an amazing assortment of food, drinks, clothes,
crafts, and even the beautiful black pearls for which the Cook Islands
Rarotonga Punanga Nui Market
Two of my favorite food stalls were the tropical fruit smoothies and
the tornado potatoes (the first time I'd ever had one of these -- I
ordered the garlic flavor), both
of which you can see in my video below.
But by far the most exciting
part of the Saturday morning market was the stage at the far eastern
end, where I was blessed to be able to catch absolutely precious young
Cook Islands children performing their native dances.
My favorite was
the little girls at the 6:30 mark in the video below, who were SO
cute with their little coconut shell bra cups.
Afternoon Ghost Town
One of my biggest shocks of my entire stay in the gorgeous Cook Islands
occurred on that Sat. afternoon. After visiting the Saturday morning
market, I bought some New Zealand dollars (the local currency) and then
late brunch at the highly recommended Café Salsa, where I ate a
remarkable THREE times while in the Cook Islands.
I then observed one of the most
stunning things I can ever recall seeing in my entire 6-decade
existence. Between 12 and 1 PM, almost all shops and businesses started
closing...I'm talking convenience stores, supermarkets, restaurants,
you name it, transforming Avarua Town into an instant ghost town.
island's anticlockwise bus service is also curtailed on Saturday
afternoon, and I couldn't even find a place to buy a cold soft drink or
a bottle of water, so this came as a big shock to a guy accustomed to
having vending machines 24/7 on virtually every corner in Tokyo.
The Saturday night nightclub scene was pretty pathetic as well, and the
Staircase, Whatever Bar, Hidies Bar, Rehab Bar, Trader Jacks, & the
Garden Bar in the Banana Court were all dead. As I learned later, due
to the very religious nature and
strong Christian influence in Rarotonga, almost all Cook Islanders
church on Sundays, and so there's not much Saturday night partying
Friday night, in fact, is the best time for Rarotonga
nightlife. Also, one cannot purchase alcohol in stores after 9 pm or on
Sundays. Most businesses are also closed on Sundays, except for
gasoline (petrol) stations.
One thing that WAS pretty cool, though, on Saturday night, was the
open-air party buses with flashing colored lights & loud music that
I saw filled with frolicking party-goers, and which I was able to
capture in my video below. A kind of "disco on wheels."
Rarotonga Cross–Island Track
Being a big hiker back in Japan, one of the items at the top of my Cook
Islands to-do list was to hike the Rarotonga Cross–Island Track.
Because I had read about this hiking course before my trip, I made the
unusual decision to bring along my hiking boots, which really came in
Rarotonga Cross-Island Track map signboard
main highlight of the course is the beautiful,
phallic-shaped, 413-m-tall, volcanic outcropping called Te Rua Manga (The Needle), which is clearly
visible from some parts of the trail where
there's a break in the jungle and is known locally as a point of male
Te Rua Manga (The Needle), elev. 413m
was also designated by the Dalai Lama as one of the 8 remaining energy
points in the world when he & his followers hiked to its base in
The hiking course itself (2 track sections) is only about 3.2 km long,
requiring nearly 3 hours of hiking, but many folks choose to do it from
sea-to-sea (as I did), which is about 7 km, requiring around 4 hours of
Cross-Island Track sections (north to south)
Hiking time (h:mm)
* hiking trail sections
They recommend that you hike the course from north to south, and now
after having done it, I understand why. The ~400m climb up to The
Needle from the north side is steep, but not so difficult.
down the Papua Track section is quite steep and a little dangerous,
with ropes installed in some of the steeper sections, which I imagine
can be very slippery when it's raining. Yes, it's probably better
to be going down these sections instead of up, so starting from the
north end of the course is definitely better.
The hiking trail ends at Wigmore's Waterfall, which was a bit dried up
the day I hiked through there, but it looks like a nice place to cool
down after your hike. I was totally impressed by all the greenery and
lushness of the rainforest along this Rarotonga Cross-Island Track,
especially on the downhill section of the trail which follows and
crosses the Papua Stream a number of times, where you can see
incredible giant ferns and a number of small waterfalls.
Small waterfalls along Papua Stream
One good thing
about the hike is there are no snakes, wild animals, or poisonous
insects on the island, so all you really need to worry about are bites
from mosquitoes and the occasional centipede or wasp. I applied insect
repellent at the beginning of my hike, so I had no trouble with the
Oh, one final point. The same guy who's climbed the 25
mountains in Japan lost the main trail, and wound up climbing up to
elevation of over 340m on the WRONG trail! Duh! To be honest, I still
don't know how this happened, but I believe I lost the trail at one
point when I crossed the Avatiu Stream.
Not a BIG problem, but it was
irritating that this stupid, but fairly common, mistake
wound up costing me a good hour and a half (An
Aussie guy staying at my hotel told me he made the exact same
mistake.). It's certainly not a place
you'd want to wind up having to spend the night, as there is
cell phone service up there and you'd probably be eaten alive by the
If you keep a keen lookout for the little orange triangular
trail markers (which are not always that frequent or clearly
visible, especially after a stream crossing), you shouldn't have any
trouble following the hiking course.
For a true back-to-nature
experience, I would highly recommend the Rarotonga Cross-Island Track
to anyone who is in reasonably good shape and has some mountain hiking
experience. You may enjoy the rest of my photos I took along this
hiking course, which are linked below to my Cook Islands Flickr album.
Maire Nui Gardens
The Maire Nui Gardens was one of the most delightful
things I saw in
Rarotonga, and it reminded me a lot of the Garden of the Sleeping Giant
orchid garden I saw the previous year during my Fiji travel. Located on
the south coast across from the Little Polynesian Resort, these HUGE
botanical gardens contain many representative samples of much of the
fruit and flora of the islands.
Rarotonga Maire Nui Gardens
The Hidden Spirit Cafe & Grill in the gardens
serves up espresso,
fresh mint tea, and other mouth-watering concoctions like organic
salads & tropical fruit smoothies made from items grown in the
gardens including guava, star fruit, papayas, chili peppers, surinam
The Hidden Spirit Cafe also offers delicious seafood on their nighttime
grill on Tues., Wed., & Thurs. nights. Admission to the gardens is
only NZ$5 (US$4.25), which
dropped in the front entrance honesty box.
Rarotonga Maire Nui Gardens
Rarotonga International Airport's
Jet Blast Areas
Rarotonga is a small island, only about 11 km (~6.8 mi.) across, and
because of the close proximity of Rarotonga International Airport's
only runway to the nearby roads, it is possible to get VERY close (I'm
guesstimating less than 100m) to aircraft while they are landing or
Rarotonga west end jet blast area sign
As a result, despite all the world-class beaches, 600-m tall peaks, and
lush green jungles this stunning South Pacific paradise has to offer,
one of Rarotonga’s most popular & unusual tourist activities is
called the Jetblast, where folks stand at both ends of the runway prior
to landings and takeoffs and await to get jetblasted by the planes
which literally fly only meters above your head.
Scary? Yes. Crazy? Yes. A little dangerous? Maybe. Thrilling and a LOT
of fun? Hell, yes! After all, where else in the world these days can
you do this? I was able to catch 4 takeoffs and landings in my video
below, but by far the MOST exciting was the westbound takeoff @ the
east end jet blast area (52:55 mark) when I was literally blown to the
ground by the jetblast. It was kind of what I imagine it'd be like to
be in a hurricane or a wind tunnel. Wow!
Just before this plane took off, a lady driving by in her truck stopped
to tell me & 2 Kiwi ladies that we should move our scooters, or
they would surely be blown over. She was RIGHT. Great advice!
Another good one is the video clip (52:06 mark) just prior to the one
was an eastbound landing @ the west end jet blast area where we could
first see the jet making its final approach from quite a distance and
then landing just right over our heads. It was just a
little scary seeing a jumbo jet flying RIGHT at us!
Rarotonga west end jet blast area
(view this EXCITING eastbound landing
@ the 52:06 mark in the video
Here's how the jet blast areas are advertised in one of the tourist
maps I picked up at the airport:
Want a rush? Stand directly in the
path of a jumbo jet.
Warning: Bring spare underwear!
After a couple days of riding Rarotonga's clockwise and
anti-clockwise buses around the 32 km (~20 mi.) circular perimeter
road, which only come around once an hour, I decided to rent a mountain
bike. But as I was entering the Polynesian Rental Car and Bike shop in
the Edgewater Resort, I noticed a sign on the door
electric bikes. It read: "Speeds up to 25 km/h (~16 mph) and no need
for a driver's license." Wow. I thought, this is the ticket.
My Ecogo electric rental bicycle
Well, I learned very quickly the limitations of my Ecogo electric
battery only lasts for a couple of hours and then had to be recharged
all night to get back to a full charge. Plus, the HUGE battery, which
sits above the rear wheel, weighed
So as much as I wanted to be environmentally-friendly during this Cook
Islands travel, I decided after a couple of days that I needed more
mobility, so I upgraded my rental at the Polynesian Rental Car and Bike
shop to a 115cc Yamaha Cygnus scooter for just a few more dollars a
day. Great choice! LOVED this bike, and it worked beautifully for me
for my last 3 days in the Cook Islands.
My Yamaha Cygnus 115cc rental scooter
Yes, I did then have to go get a NZ$20 (US$17) Cook Islands driver's
but how cool is THAT? How many folks do you know with a genuine Cook
Islands driver's license? And it
doesn't expire till my birthday in 2015, in case I get a chance to go
back. What a
Southern Hemisphere Night Sky
For the first few nights I was in Rarotonga, there was a full moon and
intermittent cloudiness, so I wasn't really able to do that much good
stargazing using my GoSkyWatch iPad stargazing app. But I was able to
see many stars and constellations I'd never seen before in the Northern
Hemisphere, including the Southern Cross (Crux), which coincidentally I
had first spotted from my Sydney to Rarotonga flight, even though at the time I
didn't know what I was looking at.
But on the final night of my stay in Rarotonga, it was a perfectly
clear night and the still almost full moon didn't rise until around
midnight, so I was able to see one of the most breathtakingly beautiful
skies I think I've ever seen. And that's really saying something,
because I've been stargazing since earning the Astronomy merit badge as
a boy scout.
And trust me, that was a very LONG time ago.
There were SO many stars that it was almost like the entire sky was the
Milky Way, making it difficult to pick out the even more prominent
constellations like Orion without the benefit of my stargazing app. I
will never, ever forget the beautiful Friday Feb. 21st, 2014 Rarotonga
I was really looking forward to staying at the Reef Motel because of
its proximity to the airport, and it was the cheapest place I could
find on the west (sunset) side of Rarotonga (besides the backpacker's
hostels). It's right on the beach, you can catch some beautiful sunsets
from there, the staff were very cordial, and the golf course, some
tennis courts, Black Rock Beach, and the Rarotonga hospital are
Reef Motel beach
I also appreciated being able to access the island's Telecom wi-fi
network, which is very cheap. My NZ$10 (US$8.50) account lasted me
entire week, for basically just checking email, Facebook, and doing
some minor websurfing.
The common courtyard barbecue/cooking facilities were nice as well,
providing BBQ grill, picnic tables, and a kitchen with microwave, hot
plate, and oven which I didn't have in my room.
Reef Motel outdoor cooking/dining area
I did encounter a couple of problems, though, that overshadowed what
could've ordinarily been an enjoyable stay. When I reserved my room
online @ booking.com, it was for an air-conditioned room. But when I
arrived to check in, my room only had a ceiling fan. This was not the
Reef Motel's fault, nor do I believe it was a malicious attempt @ false
advertising by booking.com, but it was a major disappointment
The other problem was a tree branch that was scratching across the
metal corrugated roof right above my room, which I reported directly to
the hotel owner on the 2nd day of my stay. Regrettably, it wasn't until
the final day of my 7-night stay at the hotel that the tree branch
finally got cut off,
resulting in a number of sleepless nights.
The noisy, cock-a-doodle-doo-ing roosters every morning @ 6 am didn't
help with my insomnia either. On the bright side, they at least did
give me a small discount on my room rate upon checkout.
For the most part, I enjoyed the Reef Motel, but the online reservation
& the noisy tree branch above my room all week definitely cast a
shadow over my stay there.
My Cook Islands Travel Photos
images in the collage below are just a small sampling of the 253 pics
in my Cook Islands travel
hosted at Flickr. Clicking on the collage will open up the
Flickr album on a separate page. I hope you enjoy them!
Besides being able to see 2 amazing Cook Islands dance shows
& other musical performances, other sights I was able to
capture on video include the tornado potato, a panorama from the
413-m-tall Needle (Rarotonga's most famous landmark along the
Cross-Island Track), and a number of views
of the beautiful white sand beaches and azure-colored water.
But I think 2 of my favorite clips were taken at the Rarotonga airport
jet blast areas, the 1st @ the 52:06 mark showing a jumbo jet
heading right for me and landing RIGHT over my head, and the 2nd @ the
52:55 mark showing me
just about losing my lunch as I was literally blown to the ground
behind a jumbo jet taking off!
was a magnificent trip and I was blessed to have sampled so much of the
amazing Cook Islands culture & beauty. I hope this video helps you
catch a quick glimpse of this spectacular South Pacific paradise.
(If player above is not visible,
you can view video @ YouTube here.)
0:00 Air New Zealand inflight airshow
2:06 Stepping off the plane @ Rarotonga International Airport
2:34 74-year-old ukulele player Jake Numanga welcomes tourists
3:02 Courtyard outside departure counters @ Rarotonga Airport
3:17 Beautiful blue Cook Islands ocean
3:58 Rarotonga Punanga Nui Sat. morning market
4:31 Making of a tornado potato
4:52 Cook Islands children performing their native dances
10:01 Grilling of kebab sticks
10:13 Making of tropical fruit smoothies
12:42 Cook Islands rooster cock-a-doodle-doo-ing (TWICE)
13:24 Young boys swimming in Avatiu Harbor
14:51 Sat. night party buses
15:43 Singing @ Avarua Cook Islands Christian Church, Rarotonga
18:28 Ru & the Boys ukulele band (Dad: Ru, Son: Abraham)
25:18 My electric rental bicycle
26:02 Muri Beach, Rarotonga
26:26 Westbound nighttime takeoff @ Rarotonga Airport west end jet
26:59 Rarotonga Cross-Island Track
28:04 Panorama from The Needle (Te Rua Manga)
28:57 Wigmore's Waterfall
29:39 Island Nights dance show @ the Edgewater Resort (5 dances)
48:09 Eastbound takeoff @ Rarotonga Airport east end jet blast area
48:54 Pacific Resort beach, Rarotonga
49:15 New Zealand girls on beachside rope swing @ Koka Lagoon Cruises,
52:06 Eastbound landing @ Rarotonga Airport west end jet blast area
52:55 Westbound takeoff @ Rarotonga Airport east end jet blast area (I
was literally blown to the ground from the jet blast!)
55:09 Taking off from Rarotonga Airport & bidding farewell to the
56:40 Sunrise from my Bangkok to Tokyo flight
Cook Islands Google Map
If you've ever wondered exactly where in the South Pacific Ocean that
Cook Islands is located, it lies around 3,000 km (~1,864 mi.) northeast
Auckland, New Zealand, or nearly half of the way to Hawaii. The Cook
Islands' main island
of Rarotonga where I stayed is located @ approximately 21 degrees south
160 degrees west longitude, lying just east of the international date
The Cook Islands is in the same time zone as Hawaii (UTC minus 10 hrs.)
and always has the exact same time as Hawaii, since Hawaii does not
observe daylight saving time.
To get a better feel for the Cook Islands' location,
you can zoom out in the Google map below, or click open a Google map on
a separate page. Also, if you have Google Earth installed on your PC,
using GE's tilt & rotate features, you can check out the 3D view
& actually fly around Rarotonga as if you were in an airplane:
Oh, by the way, if you're from Japan or America or any of the other
countries that use standard Type A, 2-pronged plugs for your
electrical appliances, if you want to recharge your camera, cell phone,
PC, etc. in the Cook Islands, you may want to bring along an electrical
work with the same Type I, 50 hz, 3-prong wall outlets they use
Australia & New Zealand.
What a great, exotic place the Cook Islands is! I was very impressed
with the very cordial Cook Islanders and appreciate them sharing their
paradise with me.
There's a lot special about Rarotonga, the Cook Island's main
island....no traffic lights, no tall buildings (of any kind), and it
was voted #5 on Trip Advisor's list of the Top 10 South Pacific Islands
as part of their 2014 Travelers' Choice Awards.
My 7 days in the Cook Islands passed by TOO quickly, and I hope
I'm blessed with another opportunity to return someday.
I hope you found this page both informative & entertaining,
and that it will benefit future
this Pacific island
It is also my hope you will find time to check back again soon to this
Cook Islands travel
page as I
it in the future with more details on some of the other local
you have any questions or comments, or perhaps have already visited
the Cook Islands, feel free to share your experience in the comment
Thanks so much for visiting and please come back again soon...
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