Rarotonga, Cook Islands

Lost Luggage

Not a good start to the holiday when you arrive in a country at 10:20pm and your luggage is not on the carousel. So much for the ‘priority’ tag on them. They weren’t even put on the plane, let alone first off! But we were not alone, nor was this the first time it had happened to passengers on this route – Auckland to Rarotonga. In the days that we awaited the arrival of our bags, hospitality workers in a number of venues asked, “Was it Virgin or Jetstar?” – this happens on an alarmingly regular basis. In fact, it would explain why at 11pm at night, there was a carousel full of bags not being claimed – the catch up game was being played. Those bags were for passengers of the previous day/s. It was three nights before we received our baggage. Now we will have the joy of attempting to claim our expenses for that time from Virgin Australia (the airline is the first place to attempt to retrieve recompense, if that doesn’t succeed, then there is travel insurance). But, seriously – who wants to waste yet another day of holiday trying to find a JP or solicitor to witness the ‘Stat Dec’ demanded by VA to make a claim for delayed baggage???

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It says a lot about a holiday destination if three nights without your luggage does not dampen your enthusiasm for the place! Muri Beach is a popular spot on this small island, especially for first time visitors. The location on the east side of the island may not have views of the sunset, but it is right on the lagoon where you can safely swim, snorkel, kayak, paddleboard and even walk across to the smaller islands at low tide.

There are a few shops, restaurants (cafés, burger joints, seafood, Thai and fine dining options), and places to hire whatever equipment you need for leisure activities. There are a few tour companies that offer cultural or leisure excursions to suit all interests and levels of activity, which come in handy if you are on the island for a while. There is also a range of accommodation choices to suit all budgets, from homestays to top end resorts. We even nabbed a couple of reasonably priced massages while there, which enhanced the feeling of rest and relaxation on holiday!

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The beach is about 800metres long and is a delightful spot for daily walks meeting local friendly stray dogs who own the town. It’s hilarious watching them in the shallow waters fishing for their supper or breakfast, just like bears with salmon! At first, we thought the dogs belonged to people because of their collars, but apparently locals just put collars on the dogs so the counsel don’t impound them! But they do look healthy and well looked after. There is nothing freer than an island dog. These pooches have the life. There is the morning run, chase, wrestle on the beach with dog friends, the smooching with the visitors during the day getting ear scratches and belly rubs, rolling in the grass and sand…

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In terms of transportation on the island, a lot of people chose the option of using the local bus to get around ($4 per ride, or a $30 card with 10 trips on it, making them $3 each). The bus stop is right outside our accommodation and it goes around the island’s ring road, both clockwise and anti-clockwise. The problem with the bus service at the beginning of our stay was there had been a few arson attacks and the bus service was not running to schedule, so we decided to hire a scooter for the week and were so glad of the convenience of going where we wanted, when we wanted, and got to explore most of the island in the process.

Muri Beachcomber

We adored our little resort, Muri Beachcomber, in the middle of Muri. We had a king bed, sea view room which is actually a little villa complete with lounge area, kitchenette and dining area. The rooms were spotless and staff were so helpful and friendly. After three nights without baggage, the women in reception took matters into their own hands and rang the airport. Despite the promise of the bags being delivered to us as soon as they arrived, they were sitting in a room at 10am that morning, clearly having arrived on the flight the night before. They sent one of the guys on staff down to the airport to pick them up for us and they brought them to our room – outstanding service!

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The sea view villas have an expanse of lawn to traverse to get to the beach, which also helps to ‘de-sand’ feet on the way back to the villa. The property sits above the beach with wooden decked viewing platforms, lounge chairs and some hammock chairs, with a set of stairs down to the sand. This is the perfect spot for relaxation time, reading, raising a glass or just watching the people and the water. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to make the most of this spot due to the time of year of our visit – July brings winds which made it quite cool on the deck and not as relaxing. I think we will visit in the shoulder seasons next time, the winds and choppy seas affected our desire to swim and made the water cloudy for snorkelling. Also made temperatures a little cooler, which, if not swimming, can actually be quite pleasant.

Our accommodation is right next door to Muri Night Markets, which ensures you eat well and economically for 4 nights of the week (Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday). We would buy a freshly made local dish and take it back to our villa to have with a glass of wine (purchased at the bottle shop). Lovely to eat outside on the verandah with the sea breeze and the chooks coming for a visit.

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We also enjoyed doing a ‘shop’ at the local supermarkets and cooking in the villa when we didn’t feel like eating out. Having this facility, especially for an extended stay, was just what we needed, and it means you can save the occasional dollar by not having restaurant meals or take away food for each meal.

Day trip to Aitutaki

This day trip Rarotonga to Aitutaki was a fantastic way of spending time on our trip to Cook Islands. We had debated long and hard about whether to book before leaving home because of the cost, but are so glad we did, and Air Rarotonga made it so easy! Collection from our resort and return made it even easier! Aitutaki is certainly an unspolit little archipelago in the Pacific (daily except Sunday, WEBSITE).

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Paul was our guide throughout the day, and he was exceptional in his manner with guests and his stories of culture and custom. This began on our jeep tour around the island and continued on our stops at three different motus.

The cruise itself was delightful in terms of location and activities. The weather conditions on the day we went prevented us from snorkelling, but we did have the opportunity to swim with the giant trevally, smaller fish and giant clams. We even saw a couple of bone fish! While it was winter for our visit, it was still pleasant enough to swim as the waters stay quite warm in this part of the world.

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The included lunch was nice, but served far too late in the day. The women were served first (rather than table by table) and so the men were still being served when we had moored and were being told “off you go, you have 50 minutes for swimming and exploring.” Add to that the fact that it was 2pm when we had lunch and we were all starving by this point, they need to rethink their timing on this (Vaka Cruise). For those doing the day trip from Rarotonga, we had had a quick snack early in the morning (6am) to be ready for our transfer to the airport. While there was a drink of coconut water and some slices of coconut to snack on, it wasn’t enough to last us until 2pm. We had been given the opportunity to buy snacks at the local shop before boarding the cruise, but had no idea that we would actually need them!! So if you are doing the day trip and have an early rise, make sure you take something to tide you over until lunch!

The music and singing was also a lovely touch to the day, as the crew serenaded us all most of the time on board. The smooth transfer from the boat back to the airport was all timed beautifully, even allowing one of the guests to make her dinner reservation back on Rarotonga.

Restaurants on Rarotonga

CHARLIE’S BAR: Great location, delicious pina colada. We ordered a fish sandwich between us because we had seen the size of the servings! The fish was fine, the bread could have been toasted longer and it really could’ve had more salad on it.

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THE NEW PLACE: Interesting to watch the dynamics behind the scenes of a cafe. One server was pacing around as though he had nothing to do and had to be prompted by the manager to clear plates. We had haloumi salad and Mexican frittata, which were both good. Servings were modest, but all we needed for lunch (and made a nice change to the gigantic servings at so many other places).

MURI NIGHT MARKETS: What a fantastic place to buy dinner! We chose to eat here for four nights in one week! The portions are huge and all excellent value. Highly recommended. If vegetarian, you can’t go past the lady in the back far right corner – she has a vegetarian plate to die for. And if you are not extremely hungry, the smaller plate of rukau (local spinach cooked with garlic and ginger, served with taro) was ample! And the chocolate coconut cream pie from the homemade dessert stall was bliss! TIP: Be on time or early – stuff sells out quickly (especially the desserts!!)

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TAMARIND: I expected the outstanding location, service and food, but the value for money was more of a surprise. And this surprise was not due to the prices on their menu, but rather the prices on the menus at OTHER restaurants, especially at Muri Beach! For lunch here, the mains ranged from $19 to $31.50, whereas ‘The Rickshaw’ at Muri (also owned by the Tamarind House people) had mains from $19 to $25.50, and it was NOT fine dining. I know which one I’ll be returning to! We had the seared blackened tuna and the haloumi salad for lunch, and it was perfect, as was the service and the wine. Highly recommend making a reservation and coming here.

LITTLE POLYNESIAN RESTAURANT: We called in here for lunch after friends had recommended it (they had stayed at the resort). While the range of food is not extensive it is pretty good (although they were definitely light on the vegetarian choices!). The location was flawless, the service attentive and friendly, and the food very tasty. While the prawn and fish salad was flawless, the fish of the day dish was a little dry (which was not the case with the fish and prawn salad, and I am pretty sure it was the same type of fish). A good range of wine – one choice by the glass for each grape varietal, but quality choices. It was also surprising value for money, especially when compared with other options nearby.

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THE MOORING: We opted to have the salad version of the Cajun tuna burger (shared between us). SOOOOOO good – the best tuna EVER! Loved the tropical salsa on the salad, too – tops choice. We took a bottle of wine (at their suggestion on messenger) and enjoyed the live music on Sunday. It was like a beer garden in a pub – tables under umbrellas, but with a view of the ocean. So happy with the food and the people that we went back the next day for lunch!

WATERLINE RESTAURANT: I found it interesting to see this restaurant listed on TA under ‘moderately priced’. The seafood here was more expensive than the fine dining restaurant Tamarind (and not as tasty). $31-36 for seafood mains. The location is lovely, the atmosphere laid back, the service very good and there would be a nice sunset when the weather allows, I just felt that I did not get value for money when I consider what else is on offer on this gorgeous island. We ordered the only vegetarian options on the menu (one entrée, one main), the mixed vegetable cutlet fritters (which were fine) and the roast vegetable medley – root vegetables thrown together with a bit of fetta on the top (which were ordinary).

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SAILS: We were so thrilled to get some vegetable options on a menu that were not starchy carbs! The vegetable skewers (small plate option) were perfectly cooked, sprinkled in sesame seeds and smoky from the BBQ. There were three skewers and they had broccoli, green capsicum, celery, mushroom and cauliflower. Just what we needed! We also had the seafood board which was ample to share when combined with the skewers. Each sample was delicious, perfectly cooked and a lovely quantity. Could not fault the food at all. I had the tropical margarita, but honestly needed assistance from John to get through the mountain of delicious ice that arrived in my cocktail glass! The service was friendly and relaxed; we didn’t find it overly slow. We were on holidays, and it was certainly not as tardy as other places we had been to on the island.

SANDALS: We enjoyed our dinner at Sandals the last night we were on Rarotonga. We started in the Barefoot Bar with Anal as our bartender for cocktails, who then continued to look after us beautifully as we went through to dinner in the restaurant (going through the specials etc.). His colleagues Fale and Laarni were also attentive and charming in their service. In charge of Front of House was Bianca, graceful and attentive, carrying herself with poise, like a model or dancer, ensuring everything in her restaurant ran smoothly and that her guests were completely satisfied (also impressed that she checked if any bug spray was required, as the tropical setting by the water does generate unwelcome visitors on occasion). The food and wine were delectable. We shared the chef’s signature dish of a sizzling platter of fish and vegetables (seasoned with flavours such as lime and lemongrass) and complimented that with a side of assorted seasonal vegetables (Brussel sprouts, beans, carrots, bok choi, zucchini and cauliflower). The wine was a Matawhero pinot rose suggested by the restaurant as a wine to accompany the signature dish, and it was a winner.

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Goodbye to Rarotonga

After the disappointing start to the holiday sans bags, we thoroughly enjoyed our time on Rarotonga, mainly due to our location and accommodation at Muri Beachcomber. Another significant contributing factor was the friendliness of the locals: when the eftpos machine wasn’t working at Little Polynesian, they simply took our credit card details and charged us when the machine was up and running; when we had a flat tyre on our scooter, a local let us know while we were driving it and directed us to a mechanic. Everyone has a big smile and cheery manner. I would happily return, but at a different time of year.

Accommodation: Muri Beachcomber

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About bontaks

Nic is the the 'Bon' part of 'Bontaks.' Together we are Nic and John - two travel-addicted teachers who enjoy every opportunity to go places, meet people and experience life.

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