Last day in the Cook Islands

Today is our last day in the South Pacific Islands. What a different experience we have had in the two different island groups of Fiji and the Cooks Islands. Fiji was Ali and Maisie’s favourite destination of our whole trip so far. They just loved it and who could fail to fall in love with such a gorgeous place, the warmest friendliest people and for us at this time fantastic value for money. For anyone reading this who wants an amazing holiday on the cheap it has to be one of the best places to visit on the planet and we would recommend it to anyone. Regardless of whether you are looking for a party place or a quiet and peaceful retreat, Fiji really does seem to have it all.

On the other hand for us the Cook Islands have been a huge disappointment. The weather hasn’t been very good and it has rained on and off for the last two days, this has made it difficult and we seem to be one of a lot of families dragging bored looking children around. We had heard some very good reports prior to coming here and I wouldn’t want to put anyone else off as I’m sure if it had been sunny and dry we would have been happier here. Despite these thoughts though I wouldn’t come back, although the coastline is lovely its only as pretty as Fiji ( maybe not quite as good) and the islanders seem more jaded towards travellers. It is also quite expensive for what you get, the meal we had last night although ok cost 120 NZD and just wasn’t worth that.

We spend the day sorting out our rucksacks for what will probably be the last time. I get really nostalgic and I cry a bit when we leave half of our first aid kit stuff behind. We don’t want to carry needles and syringes to the US to avoid any awkwardness at immigration and thankfully haven’t needed any more than paracetamol, strepsils and one lot of antibiotics. I figure that if we need it now we are going to the country with the world’s best healthcare so no worries.

It’s so sad though, unavoidably today we have had to face the fact that we’ll be home in two weeks and the thought makes me feel sadder than I could have imagined. Although we always knew there was a time limit for us and we’re looking forward to seeing all our family and friends I can’t help wondering if we’ll ever experience again that total thrill of anticipation, excitement, nervousness and freedom that we felt when we left 9 and a half months ago.

On a much lighter note we have had an email from Dad and Pauline today and they have sent us a fantastic itinerary for America based on what we told them we wanted to do. So exciting! They have suggested some other places to see and visit that we hadn’t thought of and we can’t wait to get there and see it all for ourselves.

Our flight is at 11.50 tonight – just sat watching Dreamgirls and then off out for dinner before getting a taxi at 9pm. Next blog will be from LA – yeh !!

Midnight- oh my god what a nightmare experience we have just had and now I really have turned against the Cook Islands. Sod it – I wouldn’t recommend the place to anyone. At 9.30pm (half an hour late) our taxi arrived to take us to the airport. When Simon booked it at 6pm he waited by reception and asked the receptionist to ask the taxi company how much it would cost as a previous taxi to the airport (when we went to change our flight) ended up costing 30 dollars instead of the 15-20 we had been told and we need to ensure we have enough cash to pay.

The company relayed the information that the taxi would cost 20 dollars but when we get out and Simon hands over the money the woman says the cost will be 60 dollars. Oh my god- what a rip off that’s nearly 25 quid for a 4 minute taxi ride and I’m not surprised when Simon refuses to pay up.
The woman goes mad and stalks us around the airport, after telling the check in guy all about it she eventually reports us to the police who to our amazement and horror completely take her side and tells us we have to pay. A huge row ensues and once it starts to get really heated I back off with the kids leaving Simon to deal with it. I have to laugh when he virtually accuses the policeman of extortion but it gets a bit more worrying when the guy then appears to put his hand on his gun. In the end Simon pays an extra 10 dollars and just walks off – a scary experience that I wouldn’t want to repeat.

Tennis

Well I’m feeling really pissed off today and can’t seem to raise myself out of an evil mood. The weather is crap, really hot and humid but completely overcast and when we ring the Cultural village at 7.30 am apparently they won’t run the tour with less than 15 people so it’s not on. Oh my god – what are we going to find to do with our selves today.

Simon and Ali decide to get the bus to the town and go and get some money and in an effort to improve my miserable self I head to the gym with Maisie in tow. She’s completely contented sat reading her book and when I ask if she’s bored she tells me not at all. I cycle madly for 50 minutes and then we have a game of tennis. Simon and Ali have been playing every afternoon for a few hours but it’s as much as we can do the get the ball back over the net in this particular court!

When the fella’s come back we go and lie by the pool and Ali has some drumming and ukulele lessons from the entertainment chap. I satisfy my unhappy feeling self by writing a long and nasty email of complaint about the resort staff. (Didn’t send it) – but I might tomorrow with a few alterations.( In retrospect it did sound a bit harsh although true) Some of the staff here are really bad and the entertainment guys- Mr Hopeless and Mr Useless ( Their names they said) could also be known as Mr Arsehole and Mr Fuckwit amongst other things.

The day improves massively in the evening. Whilst out today Simon met a fella from Plymouth he knows who used to play rugby for OPO’s and arranged for us to meet him and his wife and children for dinner. Ian, Donna, Emily and Garen have been on holiday fro 6 weeks in Singapore, OZ and New Zealand and Ian tells us he is in the Navy. Coincidentally they also know the McCabe family we met in Fiji and Nick who we stayed with in Auckland. (A small world indeed!!).We have a lovely evening with them and for the first time since we left home I think it’s great to hear some English voices. I reckon I must be feeling a little nostalgic for home now as we’re so close to it.

Off to bed now and really looking forward to leaving for America.

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.

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!