Muri Lagoon Snorkelling

Yesterday was spent doing much the same as the day before but when I woke up this morning early we decide we will go out and see a bit more of the island. We have our breakfast and then the kids have an hour’s scuba diving lesson in the hotel pool. Despite the fact that the instructor was a little scary it was very good, free and they were the only people doing it. Maisie certainly needed a bit of persuading but really enjoyed it and I was proud and pleased to see them both swimming like fish along the bottom of the pool with all their gear on.

Most of the other hotel guests (make that all of them) are from New Zealand and although there are a few families here the majority of people are a lot older than us. This is reflected in the activities board which offers nothing more exciting than a lecture about Cook Islands black pearls and fish feeding.

We catch the anti clockwise bus to Muri lagoon which takes about half an hour. It gives us another opportunity to look around the island and the coastline is stunning. Miles of white (ish!) sands and shallow turquoise waters, it’s definitely a “honeymoon” kind of destination with hardy any traffic to disturb the peace. We get out at Fruits of Rarotonga and realise we’ve made a bit of a balls up here, as we haven’t been to the ATM for a few days and have just spent our last cash on 4 return bus tickets, we have no way of buying any lunch at this tiny cafe. We walk about 3 km along the road and eventually like an oasis in the desert spy a delicatessen that takes cards! After a long walk in the boiling heat we’re fairly knackered and guzzle down our ice cold cokes before having a scrummy lunch.

We head for Vara’s the backpackers hostel and laze on the beach for about an hour before meeting up with Katrina and Roshen the two Irish girls we’d met in Fiji. Although it’s so hot it has become very overcast and when we get in the sea there’s nothing but sea cucumbers and a few patches of grass, so much for great snorkelling!! We walk back along the road to a good snorkelling site and me and the kids decide we will catch the bus back. We leave Simon and when we get back to Edgewater I’m pleased to see its bright sunshine again. We head for the pool, stuff the gym today and get in an hours sunbathing.

When Simon gets back he said the snorkelling was really good, loads and loads of fish it was like swimming in an over crowed aquarium. Secretly (Not now!) I wasn’t too bothered about missing out and console myself with thought of snorkelling off the Great Barrier Reef and the Red Sea Coast in Eygpt. ( I can live without snorkelling!)

We have our dinner and watch a film before getting the kids off to bed. Hoping to go to the Cultural Village in the morning.

Humpback Whale and Exercise

Today has been a really good day. After a lateish start we get some breakfast and make some plans for the day. Simon and Ali are going to catch the bus into town and Maisie and I are going to do nothing. There are two buses to catch, one goes clockwise around the island and the other anti clockwise, and they both in theory arrive at Edgewater at 20 minutes to the hour so planning should be simple enough. We want to check up on the balance on our credit card and more to the point make sure we will have enough money to last us for our time in America.

They go off and Maisie and I bag some sunbeds by the pool. It’s a lovely setting overlooking the beach and sea and as the weather is perfect today the sun worshipper in me is happy to laze around. The temperature has been around 28 degrees with a warm breeze making sunbathing a relaxing experience with not much risk of burning or getting overheated. We have a swim and then read our books and listen to music.

At midday one of the entertainment girls -Miss Sweetheart?! Demonstrates how to make a floral hair wreath that the women of the South Pacific Islands are often seen wearing. A lady helps Maisie make one and when it’s done she looks beautiful in it. Like a little princess! We have some lunch and wait for Ali and Simon to get back; when they do I’m pleased to hear that we are financially afloat and will be able to do most things we want (At least) in America.

The kids wander off and we sit staring out to sea. Suddenly Simon notices the telltale spurt of a Humpback Whale, its amazing, it then seems to be lying on its back with its tail in the air for about 10 minutes. Cool! Such a shame the kids missed it.

We have some pasta for dinner and Simon has a beer from Tahiti which he said was vile (Eventually he noticed it was 4 years out of date). I am abstaining at the moment after all those creamy cocktails in Fiji and don’t want to undo my hard work in the hotel gym. I think I biked for 10 miles this afternoon- pretty impressed with myself as it’s so hot. Wasn’t too sure about the monitor on the bike though- although I cycled for 40 minutes I apparently only burnt 7 cals and my heart rate went up to 373.

The South Pacific

After a quick breakfast we head back to our apartment and get stuck into some schoolwork. Maisie has been spending the past few days reciting her 7, 8 and 9 times tables and they have both written stories about their favourite place on the trip. (Fiji) But I decide it’s about time we tried to learn a bit about the history and culture of the South Pacific Islanders.

The islands of the South Pacific have had the reputation as being untouched paradise since the 18th century. The huge Pacific Ocean is as large as all the worlds other oceans put together but its landmasses are tiny and separated by miles of sea. We learn that the ancient Pacific Islanders travels in dugout canoes were motivated by the need for trade, wars, colonisation of other islands and curiosity to see what else was out there. Captain James Cook (1928-79) was born in England and went on to become the most well known explorer, navigator and mapper of the Pacific and sadly met an untimely end when he was killed in Hawaii trying to explain to the locals about European property laws.

Enough history for today. The weather is beautiful, hot and sunny and we have to go into town this morning. We have decided to try and change our flights to LA again, although we like it here we have all agreed its not as gorgeous as Fiji and as we only have about 3 weeks of our trip left we want to make the most of our remaining time somewhere we really like. If we can have 2 weeks in the US we will have more opportunity to get out of LA and explore more of California. (Our original plan for the West Coast) We try and phone the airline but no go. They’re being awkward and it looks as though they will try and charge us 200 dollars for the change.

Simon goes off to the airport to see Air New Zealand. He refuses to take me with him as he said I will just lose my rag and demand they change our flights on the basis that they cancelled our flight to Tahiti and we had to pick a date to fly to America in a rush. This is actually all true but it suited us not to go to Tahiti anyway and I agree he should go alone as he’s much better at getting what he wants than I am. I take the kids shopping and we get a few bits and pieces, some food, a pair of flip-flops for Ali who has been wandering around barefooted for a few days and a guidebook for LA and Southern California.
When we meet up again in an hour it’s all sorted, as I knew it would be. There is no one better in the world than Simon for sorting this kind of thing out and at no cost- hurray. We’re now going to America on Saturday!

We have some lunch at a restaurant called Trader Jacks and Ali is brave and tries the local delicacy Ika Mata, raw fish marinated in lime juice and coconut milk. I knew the sushi and sashimi loving kid would like it and he wolfs it down. When we get back to Edgewater I spend 40 minutes on the exercise bike. In an effort to perfect my LA body before Saturday.( At least I already have the tan)

Its 11pm now and I’ve been lying writing this for the past hour, Simon and the kids are watching the film Doom. (So bad). I have been researching accommodation and restaurants in LA this evening but unfortunately as Simon pointed out got no further than the cost of dinner at The Ivy and Spago and a few nights at The Beverley Hills Hotel.

Edgewater Resort

When I wake up this morning Simon has been up for a while and brings me a coffee before heading off back to town to return the car (Actually he said driving it was more like driving a boat with totally unresponsive steering and I’ll be glad to see the back of it)

I rouse the kids and we head down for breakfast-yum! One of the best things about staying in a big posh resort like Edgewater is the breakfast menu. Described as a tropical breakfast there are loads of different types of cereals and fresh fruit to choose from as well as toast and cake things and we stuff our faces, whilst sat by the swimming pool and admiring the view of the ocean.

The resort is built on the coast and as we look out to sea huge waves crash into the reef creating an interior lagoon. It’s very picturesque and although not the most beautiful area of Rarotonga I feel lucky to be here. If we hadn’t got this stopover included in our RTW ticket I doubt we would have ever visited as it’s so far away.

At 11am we make our way to the activities hut to attend the welcome meeting. Most of the other guest here are older than us and from New Zealand. I guess most backpackers don’t choose this place but for us it has actually worked out comparably cheap. (We’re honestly not trying to avoid the hostels!) The fella introduces himself as Mr Hopeless?! And gives a talk about Rarotonga and the resort before showing us around. There is a spa and beauty salon here as well as lots of free activities including a games room, tennis courts and snorkelling and I think the kids should be entertained for the next few days at least.

We spend the afternoon lying by the pool and in the evening cook dinner before watching a documentary about Elvis (Live from Graceland) and a film about joining the US Navy. God bless America.

Rarotonga

I wake up really early and look out of the window to see the coconut palms swaying madly in the wind. I lie there hoping that the weather picks up a bit later, it going to be a very long 2 weeks here if it rains a lot. By 9am though its bright sunshine and lovely and warm, not as hot as Fiji but warm enough for a skirt and t-shirt which is perfectly acceptable.

Simon goes off to see if he can get us a car for the day. I have read that we need to buy a Cook Islands driving licence so I’m surprised when he returns after 20 minutes with a car. Well rust bucket, more to the point- for 55 NZD (around 22 quid) we have the pleasure of driving the biggest pile of crap car for the day. We pack up our stuff and pile it all in. To get the driver licence we need we have to go somewhere up the road and in the end after a short discussion decide not to bother. Possibly a slightly irresponsible decision but it will cost us and as the island is so small and quiet we figure we’ll take our chances.

The Island of Rarotonga is the largest and best known of the Cooks and we head off clockwise to circumnavigate it and find somewhere to stay on the way. We want to stay in the South East area of Muri near the lagoon but stop off at most places we pass to check prices and availability. After half an hour it’s not looking good, the beachfront locations seem expensive and many places we try are full. Hmm! Seems like we may struggle to fulfil our requirements of somewhere luxurious and dirt cheap! We eventually find a place that can offer us 2 beach bungalows for 200 dollars.

The problem is that the pool is horrible and there isn’t any restaurant or bar attached. I can see us going steadily mad through total inactivity and we decide to get back in the car and keep going. We pass several lovely places, although very expensive I’m beginning to think we should just go for it anyway but when we ask children aren’t allowed. Back to square one.

By now we have travelled almost right around the island. It’s very pretty and so peaceful with a spectacular coastline. All we have passed are a few shops and churches and we decide to try the islands largest resort as a kind of last hope. Thank god for concrete and over development, although Edgewater Resort wouldn’t usually be our ideal holiday destination we manage to secure a large modern apartment block with two bedrooms, a fully equipped kitchen and lounge area and breakfast included for 225 NZD (About 86 quid a night) As we are paying so much it is really important that we have cooking facilities in order to save us some cash and we’re really pleased we’ve managed to get something sorted out albeit only for 5 days. (The only availability they had)

We drive round to the apartment block. It’s in the middle of the resort and not particularly pretty but good value and fairly plush inside. We’ve certainly been staying in far better quality accommodation more recently; I can’t remember the last time I made my own bed. How lazy. We leave the kids playing on the laptop and head off in the rust bucket to the shop. We end up spending about 100 NZD and get 3 days worth of lunches, dinners and snacks for that. (Definitely a lot cheaper than eating out)

Back at the apartment we get dinner fixed, a very humble beans and cheese on toast with fruit and icecream for pudding. The kids love it and we sit watching some crappy horror cuddled up on the sofa together -Yeh for slobbing out.

Heading to the Cook Islands

Saturday 18th August 2007-My first thought is that I want to phone someone at home this morning just to say “I’ll speak to you again yesterday” and as I have 5 minutes calling credit left on a phone card I give mum a quick ring before breakfast. Peterina comes and sits with us until we leave at 10.I’m impressed she made it to say goodbye as she tells us she was out partying until 5am with some guests from the hotel.

We wave our goodbyes and get in a taxi for the airport. We sit reading and before long board our flight to The Cook Islands. The flight time is just over 3 hours and the time when we arrive is around 5pm. (Friday 17th August 2007) – Weird!!

We have booked a hostel within walking distance of the airport but I’m a bit upset when we look out of the plane window to see heavy rain. Anyway by the time we have been through immigration it’s stopped but it isn’t that warm and I’m definitely going to need to change into warmer clothes.

The hostel looks ok, right on the beach, we have a big room to share and the view out of the window is great. The fella tells us that the humpback whales are migrating past Rarotonga at the moment and to keep an eye out for them. We shower and change quickly and head to the bar to see if we can get some food. It is going to cost us a lot of money here for the next few weeks and it’s a bit of a shock when they tell us its 25 New Zealand Dollars (NZD) each for dinner, the hostel is 120 NZD and I can feel the cash draining away already.

We have our meal, a BBQ buffet and chocolate cake and ice-cream for pudding and watch the band. There is a wedding party going on and I feel sorry for the bride and groom. I guess when you go all that that way for a tropical wedding you hope the weather will be fantastic. As it is, it’s pissing down with rain and looks like a cyclone has struck outside. Not quite the photos they had hoped for!

We head back to our room, I go to sleep and Simon and the kids watch some film on the laptop. Tomorrow we are thinking of hiring a car for the day so we can drive around the island and try and get some decent accommodation that won’t completely break the bank. Hmmm! Could be difficult!

Nomads Sky Lodge

Our last day has arrived and we have breakfast and start to pack up our gear. We spend the morning by the pool and eventually Ali’s guitar arrives. It doesn’t look too good, it’s been mended with fibreglass, not quite what we expected but it actually seems to play ok and as we had resigned ourselves to the thought that it was knackered anyway we’re happy enough.

After lunch Ali spends some time getting some of the guys here to sign his book. We had originally intended to collect email addresses in this book but forgot about it from Malaysia to here so it’s a bit empty. Nevertheless he adds a few and he’s pleased with that. At 4pm its time to go and we say our goodbyes to everyone before Sunny takes us out to meet the ferry. Goodbye and Thank you everyone at Walu Beach- You have all been great- Sunny, Ziggy, Malley, Sena, Paul, Tico, Appi, Josh, Stanley, Matilda, Cassie- we love you all!! Our Fiji Family!

The ferry ride takes about 2 hours and we arrive at Nomads Skylodge around 7pm. Peterina has invited us to dinner with her family and at 7pm we meet her Dad, Sam and brother and sister Thomas and Carolin. After a quick drink we are shown to a table right by the pool and soon we are joined by Leba, Peterina’s mum. (The manager of the Skylodge)What a lovely family, they extend fantastic hospitality to us and we have a great Indian meal. The food is so good and includes thali’s with about 6 different curries to choose from. We also have some yummy puddings that we never tried whilst in India and Sam explains this is Muslim food that would traditionally be eaten at Eid.

We spend the evening chatting about our trip and about Fiji. Its very interesting conversation and we learn about the political and economic situation here. As with some of the other places we have visited it seems that waste plastic is a big problem, we also listen to some great stories about the local people. Despite the fact that Fiji is in lots of ways very progressive, it seems that in some areas, local traditions such as kava drinking are going strong. Probably accounting for “Fiji Time”. (Basically things will be done-sometime!)

By 1130 its time for bed and we walk down to the house to collect the kids who have gone off with Thomas and Carolin to watch The Simpson’s Movie. I feel really sorry that we haven’t had longer time to spend with Peterina’s family, they are so kind and friendly and I feel really happy to have had the opportunity to share a meal with them.

Tomorrow we are flying to The Cook Islands and crossing the International dateline. This means we will actually gain a day. How amazing I can’t really get my head around this concept no matter how many times Simon explains it. We leave on the 18th Sept at midday and fly for about 3 hours, and then arrive at 5.30 on Friday 17th. Wow!

Arriving in the Cook Islands

Saturday 18th August 2007-My first thought is that I want to phone someone at home this morning just to say “I’ll speak to you again yesterday” and as I have 5 minutes calling credit left on a phone card I give mum a quick ring before breakfast. Peterina comes and sits with us until we leave at 10.I’m impressed she made it to say goodbye as she tells us she was out partying until 5am with some guests from the hotel.

We wave our goodbyes and get in a taxi for the airport. We sit reading and before long board our flight to The Cook Islands. The flight time is just over 3 hours and the time when we arrive is around 5pm. (Friday 17th August 2007) – Weird!!

We have booked a hostel within walking distance of the airport but I’m a bit upset when we look out of the plane window to see heavy rain. Anyway by the time we have been through immigration it’s stopped but it isn’t that warm and I’m definitely going to need to change into warmer clothes.

The hostel looks ok, right on the beach, we have a big room to share and the view out of the window is great. The fella tells us that the humpback whales are migrating past Rarotonga at the moment and to keep an eye out for them. We shower and change quickly and head to the bar to see if we can get some food. It is going to cost us a lot of money here for the next few weeks and it’s a bit of a shock when they tell us its 25 New Zealand Dollars (NZD) each for dinner, the hostel is 120 NZD and I can feel the cash draining away already.

We have our meal, a BBQ buffet and chocolate cake and ice-cream for pudding and watch the band. There is a wedding party going on and I feel sorry for the bride and groom. I guess when you go all that that way for a tropical wedding you hope the weather will be fantastic. As it is, it’s pissing down with rain and looks like a cyclone has struck outside. Not quite the photos they had hoped for!

We head back to our room, I go to sleep and Simon and the kids watch some film on the laptop. Tomorrow we are thinking of hiring a car for the day so we can drive around the island and try and get some decent accommodation that won’t completely break the bank. Hmmm! Could be difficult!

Wake Boarding and Special Dinner

Today is turning out so good! We’re going to America Woo hoo!!

Our original RTW ticket included 2 months in the US but when we decided to go home early our plan was to travel from Tahiti to LA and then onto New York the following day before flying home. After talking to the Irish girls who are also flying to The Cook Islands on Saturday we decided to reconfirm our flights and discovered that our flight at 6pm has been changed to midday. This isn’t a problem although it does mean we will have to leave Walu Beach tomorrow instead of Saturday morning as planned.

We therefore decided to accept Peterina the student leaders offer to stay at her parent’s hotel on Friday night and meet her family. Simon then checks our onward flights to Tahiti and is a little confused to see that although the flight to LA is booked we aren’t booked onto any flight from The Cook Islands to Tahiti. We decide to try and miss out Tahiti altogether and fly straight to LA from The Cook Islands. We have taken some advice from our friend Marie and everyone we have spoken to tells us Tahiti is very commercialised and extremely expensive. The initial phone call seems like its getting a bit complex- we have to fly back to Auckland and it will take us over our airmile allowance. Blah blah blah.

However half an hour later and its all sorted – Hurray!!! If all goes to plan we should be flying to LA on the 1st Sept for a week, then to New York on the 8th and then London on the 9th. Perfect- just awaiting a confirmation email now. I’m feeling so excited about this. Although Tahiti is supposed to be good, we have had the most fantastic time in Fiji and couldn’t wish for a more perfect beach holiday. With 2 weeks to go in The Cook Islands- another idyllic beach place, I won’t feel cheated at all at missing out there and would definitely rather go to the States.

So it seems tonight is our last night here and the staff here have been lovely. At 2 o’clock the Americans leave and we wave them off happily. Its back to being a quiet and peaceful place and we’re touched when we’re informed that they will be having a special dinner for us here tonight. They clear all the tables except one from the beachfront and spend ages making it all look good for us. Sena put balloons and flowers out and tells me she has done it in red and white especially. (England colours)

Ali goes wake boarding in the afternoon and I sit worrying about him. It looks a bit scary to me but when he returns he tells me I needn’t have worried, the fella who took him out didn’t seem to have much of a clue either and I don’t think he managed to stand up on the board even once. In the end he tried knee boarding and at least kept his head above water for a few minutes! Simon, Maisie and I then take the sea kayaks out for half an hour and whilst looking through the water at the coral see a big bright blue starfish.

Many of the staff here have been sick since we arrived with a viral infection and when we get up to the bar, Paul the barman looks really ill. They are all complaining of feeling cold and have headaches and sore throats. I have been giving them paracetamol as they have been going to the hospital on the mainland and coming back with vitamin c tablets which they seem convinced will cure them, and telling them to go to bed.

Our evening ends when some Italian guests ask Malley to get some Kava roots. We have a few bowlfuls but it tastes horrible and I’m paranoid about getting sick as everyone including half the staff here are drinking out of the same coconut shell. Ali is already complaining of feeling weak and I give him a paracetamol at 9.30 when he asks to go to bed. We sort Maisie out and then go and lie in a hammock on the beach with a few beers, staring up at the stars and listening to the waves in the warm balmy air it’s a blissful and romantic last evening in Fiji

Hammock

I’m running out of titles for our diary now as we are doing so little! The main notable points of the day are that our fellow Malolo Sliders are all leaving today. At 11pm Mairi and Kevin say their goodbyes and we wave them off from the end of pier with reminders to go and catch up with them if we ever get to Ireland. To be honest comparing the prices for a holiday there and one here it would probably cost us almost as much to go there so I doubt we will go but we’ll definitely stay in touch by email .As Mairi’s camera broke Simon burnt some holiday photos onto a disc for them and they now have the proof of their fantastic time here.

I crash out on the beach in a hammock strung between two coconut palms and lie there listening to my MP3 player and making plans for our return home in a few weeks. First thing to do is buy a dog. (We have promised Maisie) We want to get an Alsatian like our friends Alli and Adrian’s lovely dog Reefer and I have promised Simon faithfully I will walk it every morning before I go to work. (“We’ll see on that one!” – Simon)

Caroline and Lydiane move their gear into our bure at midday and we have our lunch together. After travelling for a year and working in OZ for 6 months they are flying to LA tonight and then home to France in a few days. They have been lovely, we’ve really enjoyed spending time with them and we make some plans to holiday in one of the French ski resorts after Christmas and go and see them for a few days then.

They have their showers at our place and at 4 o’clock we walk down to the pier to say Au Revoir. We’ll miss them but I really hope we will see them again in France so I don’t feel too sad. The benefit of being the last of a group to leave is that we have scored 2 lots of sunscreen and some insect repellent!

I’m off to the bar now its beer time- quarter to 6 and I’m definitely ready for a Fiji Gold. We had a quiet dinner and sit chatting to the latest arrivals at the resort- two Irish girls Katrina and Rosheen. As it’s the Americans last night the staff perform the show we saw here last week. It’s very good and we enjoy it despite having seen it before.

Peterina the student coordinator sits talking to us over a beer. She tells us about the previous December’s coup and how when they reached the check points they would all open the windows and shout “bula” to the soldiers. She described how the soldiers would then sling their AK47′s behind their backs and shout and wave back. By all accounts it seems that even the day of the coup it remained extremely safe here and we have had the best time. We tell her that we had heard the Fijians are the friendliest people in the world and that we will be spreading that bit of information around when we get home.

Off to bed now it’s late and I really want to make an effort to do something tomorrow.