Paradise FoundChristchurch, Fall 2010
So, alas, I’m back from the Cook Islands. It’s nice to be home but I do miss the 85-degree daily sunshine and the crystal-clear, habitable water.
We (the 13 IES students going on the trip) left the University at 5:30 am on Saturday the 22nd and headed for the airport. Travel pretty much went off without a hitch. We saw the sun rising over the Southern Alps, though most of the North Island was covered by clouds, so not much to see there. We arrived on Rarotonga (the largest of the Cook Islands) at about 4:30 pm on Friday the 21st (yeah, figure that one out…). We disembarked directly on to the tarmac and walked into a terminal that was all windows and probably a grand total of 1500 square feet. It was exactly what I think of when I think of a tropical holiday destination. On the baggage carousel was a man, Jake, who we’d see twice more, playing a ukulele. It took the flight of 100-something a little bit of time to get through customs (there were only two customs officers) but in the meantime we all enjoyed the fact that it was 85-90 degrees farenheit and regretted having to wear pants and long-sleeved shirts to the airport.
We left the airport for our accomodation, which was a lovely little apartment (the bottom storey of a two-storey house) up on a hill in the village of Muri. We had a lovely view of the ocean (it was a circular island with an area of 26 square miles, so there weren’t many places without one), a kitchen, a pool – pretty much everything we needed!
After we had unpacked and spent some time around the pool we went down to the village and got some delicious food from a tiny takeaway place by the beach. On the way back up to the house we saw lightning, so we set up chairs on the porch and watched the storm, which lasted for hours upon hours. I went to sleep at one point and it had stopped by morning, but for the longest time it seemed as though the storm was just swirling around us and dropping virtually continous lightning. An islander later allegedly said that the storm was a once-in-a-lifetime type of thing, so we felt pretty lucky.
Saturday morning some of us were woken by roosters, which run wild on the island. We ate a quick breakfast and headed to the island farmers market, which was huge and had some fantastic offerings. I bought a t-shirt, at least one tropical (coconut, banana, and some other stuff I don’t remember) smoothie made entirely with local, fresh ingredients, and some delicious chicken. While we were checking it out a tallship sailed into the harbor, so I went over and grabbed some pictures. I have yet to figure out why it was there. After the market we went and made pareus (Polynesian sarongs), planted some taro (a kind of tuber), drank coconut milk straight from the coconut, and learned some tahitian dance from locals, which we were to perform at a banquet later that evening with some success. After the feast we all headed down to the beach and sat, appreciating the warmth and the beauty. After most people left me and my friends Max, Carlos, and Tim headed down the beach a ways. We found a rope swing hanging off a rather diagonally-inclined palm tree. After a couple of unsuccessful attempts to climb the tree by Carlos and Max, I headed back and chatted for a while before heading to bed.
Sunday we went to church (Christianity is a very big part of life on the island) in the morning and spent the afternoon snorkeling. The island is an atoll – the center is an extinct volcano which has subsided over millions of years causing a reef to form around it circumference. The reef is host to some fantastic species. I saw, and swam with, numerous creatures including black and white percula (a cousin of the clownfish), moray eels, blowfish, surgeonfish (think Dory from finding nemo), parrotfish, triggerfish, and all sorts of other stuff. It was truly incredible – a bit scary at times when I drifted over a black long-spined Caribbean sea urchin with inches to spare, but incredible. We ate a delicious dinner beachside at one of the hotels.
Monday we had three lectures – one on humpback whales, which were in the area breeding (we saw lots of them. They could come almost right up to the reef because of the dropoff); one on the history and politics of the Cook Islands; and one on the vaka, the sailing vessel used by the ancient Polynesians to travel among the Pacific Islands. We ate lunch at a lovely Indian restaurant downtown and in the afternoon we went to see a replica vaka. It was a very interesting vessel. It was a catamaran with a teck and galley straddling the pontoons. Sleeping quarters, room for 16 total, were in the pontoons (8 per) and there were two masts and a giant rudder (can’t remember the name for it). We went back for a quick cleanup and embarked on a progressive dinner, during which we went around the island for a three-course meal and three different local homesteads. The food was delicious and the people were wonderful. We finished at about 10 and headed home.
Tuesday morning I woke up at 5:15 and headed down to the beach for sunrise, which was reasonably nice. After breakfast we hiked the cross-island track, which is exactly what it sounds like. We headed up into the volcano remnants and up to a large rock formation called by Europeans “the needle,” probably because it was very tall and stuck straight up. We learned from our guide that it had been used as a navigational tool for native barracuda fishermen and explorers alike. We couldn’t go on top of it (although someone was climbing up it while we were there) because of safety concerns, but we did go along the side for a little bit, using chains and ropes for support. We finished there and headed for the bottom. We crossed several beautiful streams and ended at a waterfall, in which several people went swimming. We then had some free time, in which most of us grabbed lunch and hit the beach, before heading off to a barbecue at an inn owned by a Hawaiian. As usual, the food was delicious, and this time it was accompanied by entertainment: Jake on Ukulele.
Wednesday, our final day, we had two more lectures in the morning. One was on the economics of the Cook Islands and the second was about social issues. Following the lectures about half of us rented electric bikes and perused the island, and the other half rented kayaks. In the later afternoon we paddled outrigger canoes until it was time to leave for dinner, which was at an oceanfront resort. The food was, of course, delicious. The final meal became eventful when one of our numbers had a mild allergic reaction. He was taken back to the accomodation to retrieve medication and showed up some time later to eat desert, so we were all much relieved. After dinner we headed back and packed until midnight, when we left for the airport. On the way there, things took another twist when someone realized he had misplaced his passport. He had to be rushed back to the house where he found it lying beneath a bed. He returned to the airport with minutes to spare and, thankfully, we all left as one entity, with Jake playing his ukulele in the terminal.
It was really an amazing experience. Whereas in New Zealand Maori is a culture somewhat in coexistence with the predominent European model, the Cook Islands are still very much Maori land, with very few European residents. It was fascinating, and the best thing of all was running on “Cook Islands Time” – everyone seemed so laid back. It was nice to be in that kind of environment.
But now I’m back and I have another week to fill before heading back to class. What to do?
Sorry again for the length – these’ll get shorter as lectures pick up again and I stop doing so much cool stuff! Also, these were all taken with my point n’ shoot because I didn’t feel like carrying my big ‘ol DSLR around the island. Apologies for any lack of quality as a result!
You May also like: