Visitors Guide C
This a great little restaurant on Aitutaki (closed Sunday). Your chef and host is Tupuna, a terrific cook with a flair for presentation and the atmosphere is certainly ‘island’ with a white sand floor and visiting cats. Take along the mosquito repellent as the entire front opens to the evening air. Transport can be arranged with a private operator. For a menu from Café Tupuna, click here.
Captain Tama’s Aquasportz Centre on Muri Beach next to the Rarotongan Sailing Club rents out kayaks, windsurfers and snorkelling gear. It also has glass-bottom boat cruises around Muri Lagoon that include lunch.
There are Avis and Budget offices on Rarotonga. Avis has offices in Avarua and at the airport (open for all international flights), Budget has offices at the airport, in Avarua, Muri, the Edgewater Resort and opposite the Rarotongan Beach Resort & Spa. There are also a few local firms that rent cars and scooters. Driving is on the left-hand side of the road and drivers need to get a Cook Islands driver’s licence from the police station in Avarua ($10 on producing your own licence).
Castaway Resort’s villas are on a lovely stretch of beach near Arorangi village. There’s a range of accommodation from garden to beachfront and all are self-contained with shops nearby. It’s a warm, friendly and welcoming place with a restaurant/bar by the pool.
Cook Islands culture and dance can be seen at the many and varied Island Nights and particularly during the annual Constitutional Celebrations. Sunday Church could be classified as a ‘ceremony’.
The CITC Pharmacy in the CITC Shopping Centre (Avarua) is well-stocked and opens from 8:00am to 4:30pm Monday to Friday and from 8:00am to midday on Saturdays. There is also a pharmacy near the 24-hour petrol station in Nikao.
Children – Activities
The Cook Islands, on the whole, is not as children friendly as say Fiji or Vanuatu. Many of the accommodation properties have an adults only policy (or no children under 12) so, if travelling with children look for mid-range self-contained properties or the larger resorts (Edgewater, Pacific, Rarotongan Resort & Spa on Rarotonga) which have kids clubs and activities for children as well as babysitting. (also see Kids Clubs)
Children (Travelling With)
Travelling with kids is something that can make parents say that getting there is anything but half the fun. While flights to The Cook Islands are comfortable with in-flight movies and meals, add the trip to the airport, the 2 hours prior for check-in and security, the flight and then the half hour on arrival to get through customs and collect baggage with tired kiddies and, well… The first thing to do is plan and prepare. Packing a couple of favourite games and toys is a good idea and perhaps a few little wrapped presents to open when they get bored – every hour or so there’ll be something else to open up and amuse them. If your little one is a budding artist, invest in a magnetic drawing board with pen attached. The person behind will appreciate not having to pick up coloured pencils, too! Or you can invent little games like find out how many passengers are on board or how many windows there are on the plane.
Some people choose night flights thinking their children will go to sleep at their usual bedtime. The reality is, the excitement of the trip will mean they’ll probably nod off just before you land and you’ll have to carry the little darlings through customs at midnight. To encourage sleep and make them feel at home in-flight and when there, don’t forget that favourite blanket or cuddly toy. If possible go for a day flight with plenty of activities in the hand luggage and try and keep them active until it is bedtime at the resort.
Also pack their favourite food and drink. Airline meals have a tendency to come at a time your body doesn’t want them. And remember to order children’s meals ahead of departure – they don’t automatically appear and it can upset some children to see other kids getting a burger and a chocolate when they’ve been given the curried chicken and rice. Also take a change of clothes – even adults can’t get the top off those tubs of orange juice without wearing some of it.
It’s also worth getting to the airport early so you don’t have to queue and panic. Final tip – some parents think a little in-flight sedative will make the flight more enjoyable for all. Some anti-histamine medications (like Phenergan) can have the opposite effect so with children so do try at home first. I once flew from Sydney to Nadi with a two-year-old next to me clambering for the overhead lockers because of this – and, to make matters worse, he was mine.
Attending church is an important part of Cook Island society and the hymn singing is wonderful. Visitors may attend church on Sundays (the locals dress up for church, as should you) but if you only want to sample the singing, stay outside. If you go inside you will be expected to stay for the whole service. On Rarotonga, visit one of the several branches of the Cook Islands Christian Church. The CICC in Avarua (1853) has its Sunday service at 10:00am and the historic limestone CICC church (1828) in Arutanga on Aitutaki is worth a visit. Women need to make sure you cover your shoulders and men to wear a shirt (can be short sleeved).
The climate is similar to Hawaii. It’s tropical, with the heaviest rainfall and humidity through November to February. This is also the cyclone (hurricane) season but don’t let that put you off a planned holiday – chances are you won’t strike one. The locals call rain ‘liquid sunshine’ and it can bucket down for five minutes and then be sunny again. The maximum temperature is around 28°C. The water temperature is pleasant all year round. Click here for the Rarotonga weather forecast.
Club Raro looks better in the brochures than reality with clever pool photography, the decking with the sea beyond and rooms called ‘beachfront’. There is no beach as such but there are good views of the ocean to the reef. What Club Raro does have going for it is its proximity to town, relaxed atmosphere and affordability. In the brochures it also says weddings can be arranged. Hopefully they do this on the deck above the ocean and not between the ping pong and pool tables.
If you’re a member of a club at home, why not see how the local equivalent works. Here are a few contact numbers – Rotary Club of Rarotonga 24 163; Alcoholics Anonymous 23 291; Rarotonga Bowling Club 26 277; Rarotonga Golf Club 20 621 (firstname.lastname@example.org); Rarotonga Squash Club 21 056; Rarotonga Sailing Club 27 349; Returned Services Association Club 20 590.
Could there be any more versatile tree than the coconut palm? If it had been manmade rather than natural it would surely have one of those zingy TV commercials – “it chops, it shreds, it dices, it slices…” Think about it – not a part of the tree is wasted and no wonder it is called the ‘tree of life’. It provides natural shade and shelter, the trunk can be fashioned into bowls or part of a vaka (outrigger canoe), the leaves woven into baskets, the husk turned into fibre and the leaves matted together for roofing. And, of course, the flesh of the coconut is nutritious, the juice is a great thirst quencher and, once you know how, the trees are easy to climb. There are actually two liquids in a coconut – the fresh coconut juice from the green coconut (which is so pure you can use it as a saline drip in an emergency!) and coconut milk, which is extracted from the flesh of mature coconuts. This is often sold in tins labeled ‘coconut cream’. For a recipe using coconut cream, see ‘ika mata‘. The jewel of the coconut tree is the heart of the palm. This is a delicacy and ‘heart of palm salad’ is known as millionaire’s salad because you have to kill the tree to get to the heart. In some Cook Island wedding ceremonies, couples seal their vows with the planting of small coconut palms (otu).
Coconut Crusher Bar & Restaurant
The ‘Crusher Bar’ is an open air bar on Aitutaki (near Paradise Cove on the way to the airport) with picnic tables under a tin roof and it can be a lively place to party, particularly Saturday ‘backpackers night’ that offers good value food and drinks. There’s live entertainment several nights a week and Sunday nights serves up a roast or fish of the day.
TelePost (CITC Shopping Centre, next to ANZ Bank) opens 8:00am to 4:00pm weekdays and 8:30am to midday Saturdays for stamps, phone cards, faxing and Internet access. Telecom Cook Islands (walk up to the Earth Station Complex on Tutukimoa Road) is open 24 hours a day for overseas phone calls, telegrams and Internet access. Both are slightly more expensive than other Internet cafes but possibly slightly faster and more reliable. The public fax number for Rarotonga is (682) 26174.
Well, he had to get a mention! Cook named the islands he came across the Hervey Islands and they were renamed the Cook Islands in 1824 by Russian cartographer Johann von Krusenstern. For trivia buffs, Cook kept a pet goat aboard the Endeavour.
The coral, colourful fish and excellent visibility in the waters around Rarotonga provides great snorkelling and diving. There’s no soft coral in the waters around the Cook Islands. Hard coral (the bommies that look like huge brains and the hard, tree type corals) are in the lagoon at Aitutaki. Coral attracts lots of fish and other marine life. Apart from looking you can also explore with your ears. If you listen hard, you will hear soft, crunching sounds – the noise of fish chewing on coral.
Coral cuts can be irritating and occasionally nasty. They can turn into tropical ulcers because of the constant heat and humidity within two days if the wound is not cleaned out every couple of hours. If you get a scratch or graze (and it can happen without you knowing while snorkelling – it’s only when the air hits do you realise), nature’s cure is to squeeze lemon or lime onto the wound (the sap of the frangipani is also said to work). The best stuff to cleanse the wound is Hydrogen Peroxide (if it doesn’t fizz, it’s not infected), followed by an anti-bacterial cream and cover with a dressing. But still clean it out every couple of hours for the next six hours. In Australia or New Zealand you would leave it uncovered and let the air heal – in the tropics it’s the reverse. Having said that, cuts are rare if you wear reef shoes when walking on coral and if you watch where you snorkel. Watch any scratches as well because coral dust can get into them.
Most international cards are recognised by hotels, restaurants, shops, car rental companies and tour operators. Mastercard and Visa are preferred to American Express and Diners. ATMs accept most credit and debit cards.
Most crime in the Cook Islands will be petty and can be prevented with common sense. Don’t leave things unattended in a car, on a beach or a clothesline. Sexual assault has been known to happen. Women should remember that there’s safety in numbers and not to wear scanty clothing outside resorts.
Crown Beach Resort
This resort is private, on the western side of Rarotonga (good sunsets), and consists of self-contained one-bedroom villas. It has a good beach and a freshwater pool. There are a number of restaurants close by and Windjammer Restaurant (current favourite with locals) is at the top of the property.
Back in the 80’s the Cook Islands dancing competition was an event where all the islands came together to compete. Interest declined to a point where there were not enough teams competing so a grand prize of $10,000 was offered. This event co-incides with Te Maiva Nui in August. A must see for a true cultural experience.
The currency in the Cook Islands is the New Zealand dollar. You may receive strange shaped coins occasionally (Cook Island currency) – these can only be used in The Cooks – once you board the plane they become souvenirs. You can buy a mint condition Cook Islands $3 note at the Philatelic Bureau for $7 as a souvenir. Isn’t that a nice little money earner? If you don’t need one looking crisp and new, just ask a teller at the ANZ or Westpac banks if they have any. These cost $3, so it’s a bargain. There are two versions of the $3 note – and Aitutaki pink one and a Rarotonga green one (both are legal tender within the country). Banking facilities are available for international arrivals. There are Westpac and ANZ Banks in Rarotonga. Westpac is next to Island Craft in the Main Street and opens 9:00am to 3:00pm weekdays and 9:00am till midday on Saturdays. The ANZ is next to the Visitor Information Centre and opens 9:00am till 3:00pm Mon to Thurs and till 4:00pm Friday. There is an ATM at the ANZ and Westpac represents American Express.
This is my favourite currency conversion site – www.xe.com
On arrival in Rarotonga the customs official will stamp a 31-day entry permit into your passport. Even if you arrive without booked accommodation you should write the name of a hotel in the relevant space on the arrival card before you get to immigration.
Cyclone activity is confined to the period November to April, with greatest frequency in January and February. Please, don’t include this as part of your holiday (or non-holiday) planning – while they occur more frequently in Vanuatu and Fiji, one may skirt the Cook Islands every few years resulting in higher than usual tides and some rain. A cyclone may actually ‘hit’ the islands every decade or so, and you’d be pretty unlucky for your trip to coincide with this. Even then, they pass in a day or so and you get plenty of warning when one is approaching.