I wish I had a crystal ball to know when we can travel again, but even the medical mavens can’t predict the end of COVID-19. Lock-down hasn’t been easy but dreaming of our next destination gives us hope, so it’s time to start planning your dream destination and why not make it as exotic as possible. Since this series of newsletters is/are about islands, I’ve decided to write about one of my most memorable destinations.
Cook Islands Kia Orana Candpuck. ( Welcome)
The first thing you want to know is the location of these 15 small islands. The Cook Islands are probably the best-kept secret retreat, and they are smack in the middle of the South Pacific Ocean. Ask a local, and they’ll tell you “we’re the small dot on the map where the fly made a mess”.
If you’ve ever wanted to escape the world for a time, run away or be alone, this would be a perfect place. The largest island, Rarotonga, has a population of about 15,000 while the other 14 islands have a total of about 5,000 people.
These are volcanic islands, and the earliest known human habitation probably began about AD1000.
THE BEGINNING OF THIS ADVENTURE
But to start at the beginning, I landed at the ungodly hour of 4.30 AM from Papeete, Tahiti.
It was still pitch black when Betty, the owner of the private villas where I’d be staying for the next few days, met me, flashlight in hand and we wandered through grass then onto a stone walkway. I was surprised when I saw a large cabin (and there were a few others) with its private swimming pool on the deck, all mine during my stay. Then I fell asleep.
I awoke, and after a dip in the deck’s pool, I found there was only coffee and a coffee maker, and there was certainly no food and no room service. And then I learned that on Saturday at noon, the shops close as tightly as the famous black pearl-producing Pinctada Marartifera oysters, and the shops don’t open until Monday.
My stomach was as empty as Ole Mother Hubbard’s kitchen. Betty rushed me off to the centre of the capital city of Rarotonga, Avarua. It seemed the entire population had the same idea and was at Foodland Store, the main grocery outlet. I hate waiting in line when I could be seeing the sights and decided we would return.
I smelled the most delicious home baking wafting from across the wide boulevard. Ah, an open Saturday market, and to my surprise, I met Lorna of Yummy Cakes, a Canadian who had lived here for years and certainly before tourists knew much about this island. I got lucky and bought the last few buns. Then I thought what about Sunday? Like Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With The Wind, I decided to think about that tomorrow.
Betty acted as my guide and showed me the back roads as well as the sacred grounds of the Marae, Arai-Te-Tongo and warned me not to walk on any holy land. There was the inevitable shopping spree where a few shops sold the valuable South Sea pearls. Having just arrived from the Mecca of pearls, Tahiti, the prices here were much higher as were Lorna’s buns and everything else on the island. The Cook Islands are expensive.
BUT WHAT ABOUT FOOD?
Although I’m not religious, I walked about 20 minutes to Sunday services at St Christian Church. I had my reasons, especially when I learned there was always a buffet table ladened with food after the sermon. There was no place for me or anyone else to buy food.
I was immersed in the sermon and enjoyed the spontaneous singing by the church-goers. I also adored the women with their white, finely-woven ‘Rito’ hats made from bleached pandanus leaves.
The biggest surprise for me was when the minister welcomed me, “Please stand,” he asked politely then asked where I was from, what brought me to this island and then thanked me for attending. He invited me to join the congregation afterwards for lunch. There was more singing and delicious home-made food. I was taken aback when many of the people asked me to join their circle. They, of course, didn’t know this was the reason I had come. However, as it turned out, it wasn’t only the food. This day was the highlight of my trip, and the people were generous and kind. And the goodies were as delicious and local as I had hope for.
THINGS TO SEE AND DO
Swaying palms and white sandy beaches do it for me every time. Aituaki, another island, is one of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen and has endless trees and white sandy beaches. I stayed just for the day, but I would suggest a more extended sojourn.
Hiking and trekking are popular, but for those less athletically-inclined and also for Seniors and Boomers, traveling in these islands, don’t miss Aituaki, and enjoy the slow local pace in the place where a fly made a mess on the map.
TIME TO GO
To miss the heavy rains, travel between May to November. It does get hot so go during that time to enjoy the milder than backing -oven weather.
And although English is not their first language, everyone speaks English.