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Cook Islands Travel

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! smiley

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.

Kia Orana
(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 years.

Papa Jake Numanga
"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 is famous.

Rarotonga Punanga Nui Market
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. smiley

Saturday 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 had a late brunch at the highly recommended Café Salsa, where I ate a remarkable THREE times while in the Cook Islands. smiley

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.

The 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. smiley

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 worship in church on Sundays, and so there's not much Saturday night partying going on.

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." smiley




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 handy.

Rarotonga Cross-Island Track map signboard
Rarotonga Cross-Island Track map signboard


The 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 energy.

Te Rua Manga (The Needle)
Te Rua Manga (The Needle), elev. 413m


The Needle 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 2002.

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 hiking.

Rarotonga Cross-Island Track sections (north to south)
Section name
Distance (km)
Hiking time (h:mm)
Avatiu Road
2.5
0:45
Avatiu Track *
1.5
1:15
Papua Track *
1.7
1:30
Papua Road
1.3
0:30
Total
7.0
4:00

  * 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.

But going 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
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 little bloodsuckers. smiley

Oh, one final point. The same guy who's climbed the 25 highest mountains in Japan lost the main trail, and wound up climbing up to an 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 no cell phone service up there and you'd probably be eaten alive by the mosquitoes.

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
Rarotonga Maire Nui Gardens


The Hidden Spirit Cafe & Grill in the gardens serves up espresso, cappuccino, 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 cherries, etc.

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 can be dropped in the front entrance honesty box.

Rarotonga Maire Nui Gardens
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 taking off.

Rarotonga jet blast area sign
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 above which 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! smiley

Rarotonga jet blast area
Rarotonga west end jet blast area
(view this EXCITING eastbound landing
@ the 52:06 mark in the video below)


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!  smiley

My Wheels


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 advertising their 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.

Ecogo electric bicycle
My Ecogo electric rental bicycle


Well, I learned very quickly the limitations of my Ecogo electric bicycle. The 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 a TON!

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.

Yamaha Cygnus 115cc scooter
My Yamaha Cygnus 115cc rental scooter


Yes, I did then have to go get a NZ$20 (US$17) Cook Islands driver's license, but how cool is THAT? How many folks do you know with a genuine Cook Islands driver's license? smiley And it doesn't expire till my birthday in 2015, in case I get a chance to go back. What a great souvenir!

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. smiley

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 night sky!

Reef Motel


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 all very nearby.

Reef Motel beach
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 nearly the 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
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 nonetheless.

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. smiley 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 glitch & the noisy tree branch above my room all week definitely cast a shadow over my stay there.

My Cook Islands Travel Photos


The images in the collage below are just a small sampling of the 253 pics in my Cook Islands travel photo album hosted at Flickr. Clicking on the collage will open up the Flickr album on a separate page. I hope you enjoy them!

 Cook Islands collage
View all 253 Cook Islands pics in my Flickr album here:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/wolffman/sets/72157641539142933/


My Cook Islands Travel Video


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! smiley

It 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. Enjoy!



  (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 blast area
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, Muri Beach
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 Cook Islands
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 of 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 latitude and 160 degrees west longitude, lying just east of the international date line.

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:



Cook Islands 3-prong, 240V wall outlet


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 plug adapter to work with the same Type I, 50 hz, 3-prong wall outlets they use in Australia & New Zealand.

Fiji 3-prong, 240v wall outlet
Cook Islands 3-prong, 240v wall outlet
(photo credit: Wikipedia)


The adapter plug below I picked up for around 5 bucks @ Yodobashi Camera in Tokyo's Akihabara Electric Town, where it is sold as a Type O2 plug.

Type O2 adapter plug
Type O2 adapter plug
(photo credit: rakuten.com)


Cook Islands Links


Here are just a few of the 40 sites I bookmarked prior to my Cook Islands travel which may be of use to future visitors:

Cook Islands Wikipedia page 
Cook Islands Tourism site
Rarotonga & the Cook Islands Lonely Planet page
Cook Islands profile by BBC News
Cook Islands News
CIA World Factbook on the Cook Islands
Cook Islands Airports
Cook Islands Meteorological Service
South Pacific Cyclone Season Alert (issued by U.S. State Dept.)
Rarotonga Hotels (Trip Advisor)
Things to do in Rarotonga (Trip Advisor)
Cafe Jireh (Probably the best breakfast spot in Rarotonga. Order "The Caveman" for a serious western-style hunger buster. Right across from the airport.)

Y'all Come Back Now, Ya Hear?



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 visitors to this Pacific island paradise. It is also my hope you will find time to check back again soon to this Cook Islands travel page as I update it in the future with more details on some of the other local sights.

Should you have any questions or comments, or perhaps have already visited the Cook Islands, feel free to share your experience in the comment section below. Thanks so much for visiting and please come back again soon...

Cheers,
Gary



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