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A LOVELY BUNCH OF COCONUTS IN PARADISE!! The Blondies visit the Cook Islands

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The sun is shining, the warm tropical air smells sweet and we all share the familiar buzz of an exciting new adventure about to begin as we jump into our bright yellow hire car. Ziggy, our 9 month old boy is in the front with us, reaching forward trying to push as many buttons on the dash as he can before I put the seatbelt on. Looking over my shoulder into the back seat I see our 3 year old Marli sitting up on her knees peering out of the window like a happy puppy dog soaking in the sights and smells of this new tropical paradise – you can’t wipe the smile off her face!!

“Kia Orana” welcome to the Cook Islands. 

With a maximum speed limit of 50km/ph and no child restraint rules, we embrace the relaxed ‘island life’ and take off to explore this piece of paradise.

The Cook Islands is a collection of 15 small islands located in the South Pacific Ocean and we are lucky enough to be visiting the main island called Rarotonga. Looking around we immediately notice the lush green jungle with steep mountains towering over the beaches below. The road hugs the shoreline that features glowing turquoise water and our favourite trees – coconut palms, as far as the eye can see!! Turning on the radio as we cruise along, we are greeted with the sweet, tropical tunes of a ukulele – can it get any better?!

We have 7 full days to enjoy and explore the wonders of this small island thanks to Jetstar Airways and we can’t wait to immerse ourselves in the islands culture and dive into its pristine waters! The Kids loved the aeroplane trip over which was a major highlight in it self if you ask Marli – especially with the awesome kids snack and activity kit we pre ordered for her online before our flight. We travelled mainly at night so we slept on the plane and arrived in the early hours of the morning which meant we had a full day to get settled in and explore.

There is only one main road that circles Rarotonga and it takes us about an hour to drive the circumference which is only 32km. If you don’t want to hire a car (or a moped), you can catch the bus, there are only two and they are simply labeled ‘Clockwise’ and ‘Anti-Clockwise’ – so there’s no way you can get lost as all roads lead to home! We love this simple concept and are also glad there is a government policy in place that ‘no buildings can be higher than the tallest coconut tree’, so there is no high rise or major developments in sight.

Taking the ‘back roads’ we find ourselves driving through farm lands featuring banana crops, starfruit, passion fruit, guava, papaya and taro to name a few. We later discover that taro tastes amazing fried and served with sweet chilli dipping sauce. Being a root vegetable it is often referred to as ‘the potato of the tropics’ and as a staple island food it is growing everywhere.

We drive along the narrow roads and pass the occasional local who gives us a friendly nod or wave. Marli is in heaven as she spots large pigs, goats and cows at every turn. We have never seen so many chickens and roosters happily free roaming the land, they are everywhere! If I was a chicken, this is where I’d live!

It is not long until we find a narrow winding road that takes us up into the hills. These amazing mountain peaks have their own clouds and it feels like we’ve stepped back in time into the jurassic era – at any moment a Triceratops or Velociraptor will jump out at us from the jungle!! …for this reason we had Marli on dinosaur watch and she took this job very seriously.

There were no dinosaur spottings but we stumble upon a 600 year old village site that was home to the famous Tinomana Tribe. The village was abandoned in the early 1800s with the introduction of Christianity and is now open to locals and visitors. Impressed by the amazing view of the island we couldn’t resist paying the entry fee (to the Highland Paradise Cultural Centre) so we could explore these beautiful grounds and learn more about the history of this tribe and its land.

Walking the 25 acres of beautiful manicured gardens is so invigorating. It features recreated huts, tribal artefacts and canoes. We learn about the tribes meeting place and place of worship called a ‘Marae’ as well as tribal justice, human sacrifice and even cannibalism. Tribal warfare and fighting between island tribes was the main reason for human sacrifice, which would only occur at times of war. Revenge seems to be the main reason for the start of cannibalism and it was only the warriors who would participate. It all ended with the introduction of the missionaries and Christianity in the 1800s.
Intrigued, we find ourselves alone, carrying the kids up into the hills of the property in search of the sacrifice rock. In the heart of the mountain we see it surrounded by large moss covered boulders sitting at the highest point on the side of the hill. Taking a closer look we inspect the carved channels in the rock and a wooden bowl at its base placed to catch the sacrificial blood. It is amazing to view such a dark part of the islands history but we are glad it is no longer practiced today! As the wind begins to blow stronger through the surrounding jungle we feel it is time to leave and we head back down the now peaceful hills in search of some lunch (which we decide today, will be the plant based kind!).

Back on the coast we spend our days playing in the sand and enjoying the warm tropical waters of the lagoon at our home away from home – The Rarotongan Beach Resort. (This resort was booked along with our flights via the Jetstar website, making it a one stop shop for flights and accommodation).

Located on Aroa Beach, this lagoon is a marine reserve and a natural breeding ground for several hundred species of friendly tropical reef fish. When travelling we always bring our own snorkelling gear, so without hesitation we dive into the warm tropical waters whenever we get the opportunity, eager to explore the wonders below the surface.

Underwater we are greeted by large trevally, butterfly fish, sea bream, wrasse, clams, and eels just to name a few. In the marine reserve the fish are very friendly as they are protected from fishermen, especially the vibrant trevally who happily circle us often coming in close for a good look. Towards the end of my last snorkel I sense a change in the weather and pop my head above the water to be rewarded by an amazing vibrant rainbow right over the top of me and the lagoon!! What a perfect ending to this amazing snorkel!
Each afternoon after some quiet time for the kids it was back to the beach where we would enjoy finding hermit crabs and beach treasure while watching the beautiful sunset over the water. On a clear day when the sun is at its highest this place is truly showing off! The water with pristine clarity sits blue against the white sand and tall palm trees, we have to pinch ourselves that we are here in person and not inside our computer screen saver!!
One of our favourite elements of overseas travel is trying new foods and embracing the local culture. One night, in the rain we ventured to the night markets for dinner. Even with the rain falling there were many people out enjoying the local cuisine that was on offer. Sharing a mixed plate of local dishes and of course Marli’s favourite – drinking coconuts, we had a great night out. The Cook Islands is a very safe place to eat, most of the food is sourced locally and cooked fresh. During one of our island drives we came across a roadside stall selling freshly caught yellow fin tuna for just $20 or $30 New Zealand dollars each. We were very tempted to make a purchase and take it back to our hotel for fresh sashimi!!
Saturdays are local market day. Wandering through the friendly colourful market we enjoyed seeing all the local produce, baked goods as well as hand made souvenirs and the locally sourced black pearls. The Black Lipped Mother of Pearl Shell is indigenous to the atolls of the Cook Islands, black pearls are farmed here commercially and producing just one pearl takes an investment of up to five years of hard work from man and nature.
Travelling with little ones always brings it’s challenges and being on a tropical island in the middle of the ocean our days were often a mixture of cloudy weather, rain and then bursts of sunshine. To make the most of each day, we planned our activities around what we thought the weather would provide. A great wet weather excursion is a visit to the Whale and Wildlife Centre. This hands on museum is a treat for any nature lover. Covered from floor to ceiling with amazing fish and whale bones, preserved specimens and lots more wonderful ‘things’ collected from the ocean and shipwrecks over the years. There is a touch tank for the little (and big) kids to enjoy as well as many live fish and critters to inspect up close. Including the elusive Coconut crab!

There are many other adventurous activities on offer on the island including a cross island trek, muddy quad biking adventures, night snorkelling and more. The exciting hermit crab races were also a highlight at the resort bar at night, giving you a chance to meet other guests while placing a bet on your hermit crab competitor.  Hat weaving, drumming and ukulele lessons are held daily for families in the resort so this place really has it all. With tourism as their main industry the ‘Cooker- Islands’ as Marli calls them is definitely a place to add to your bucket list, it truly is a slice of heaven.

Thanks for the amazing adventure and ‘Kia Orana’ – May you live long.

The Cook Islands Interesting facts:

  • This adventure began with the longest day for us Blondies consisting of 39 hours as we left Sydney and crossed the international date line so we went back in time! (Rarotonga is one day and 4 hrs behind AEST).
  • There are 15 islands that make up the Cook Islands and each are classified as either “Southern Island”, “Northern Island”, or “Other Island”.
  • Currency is the New Zealand Dollars; however, they also have their own distinctive notes and coins which are in circulation alongside the NZ currency, and of equal value.
  • The Cook Islands were named by the Russians in the early 1800’s in honor of the Captain James Cook. On his third world voyage, Cook landed on several islands in the Southern Cook Island Group, but not Rarotonga.
  • Current population is 20,000.
  • It is summer year-round in the Cook Islands. The drier months are from April to November with average temperatures between 20 to 26 degrees Celsius. The hotter, more humid months are from December to March with an average maximum temperature of 28 degrees Celsius.
  • While soccer and cricket are widely played all over the Cook Islands, rugby is the most popular and widely played sport.
  • Several movies have been filmed on Rarotonga, including The Other Side of Heaven and Johnny Lingo and Another Shore. As well as a series of Survivor filmed on Aitutaki.
  • English is the most widely spoken language here, but many islanders also speak in Cook Islands Maori. About 90% of islanders can read and write in both languages.
All images are owned by The Blonde Nomads. Copyright © 2016
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