Rarotonga

by Tuesday, October 13, 2015

It was love at first sight when I first visited the Cook Islands. Made up of 15 islands scattered over two million square kilometres of Pacific Ocean they are in the centre of the Polynesian triangle, flanked by Tonga and Samoa to the west and Tahiti and the islands of French Polynesia to the east.

Rarotonga is the heartbeat of the islands. It has a 32 kilometre circumference and is dominated by high mountains with lush rainforests cascading to a palm-fringed shore.

 

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Sunset on the beach

 

Locals see themselves as true Polynesians with a heritage connecting them directly with the finest Pacific seafarers. Their forebears voyaged across vast tracts of ocean in handmade canoes, possibly as early as 800AD.

When visiting a place for the first time, I always look for a marketplace. Te Punangai Nui is the place to get the feel of how the locals live. It runs every Saturday morning selling a wide range of fruit, vegetables, flowers and crafts. For locals it’s a social event as well as stocking up on necessities. Tourists can try traditional local food such as ika mata – raw fish marinated in coconut and lime.

The Bergman family arrived in Rarotonga in 1976 with a dream of opening a jewellery store. It took many years and much hard work to realise the dream. They discovered the natural pearls of Penrhyn Island in the remote northern islands and became the first local company to specialise in the exotic gem. They are leaders in jewellery design, creating irresistible pieces, using multi-coloured pearls, the most popular being the lustrous black beauties. They find their way to jewellery houses around the world and examples of their work can be admired – and purchased – in one of three stores on Rarotonga and one on neighbouring Aitutaki.

I stayed at Little Polynesian Resort on the white sand Titikaveka Beach. It’s in the Green Corner of the island, surrounded by palms and gorgeous tropical gardens.

 

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Check out that crystal clear water.

 

The ten over-beach bungalows and four garden units are a palette of ivory and woods with traditional accents of coconut weaving on beams and thatched natural pandanus roofs. Fruit, yoghurt, honey, cereal, tea and coffee are delivered to your room to give a delicious start to the day. Lunch is a variety of salad and bistro-style options. Guests mingle over exotic cocktails as they watch the sun set. Dinner is a mix of Island and Mediterranean cuisine of seafood, meat and vegetarian dishes.

The salt-water infinity pool has comfortable lounge chairs and umbrellas. Snorkelling and kayaking are a beautiful way to explore the turquoise lagoon. Not far from the resort are plenty of other diversions – cultural events, bars, restaurants, shops, markets, museums and galleries. Hills are perfect for hiking, bicycles and scooters are for hire and you can hop on and off local buses to explore places of interest.

Plantation Dinner is an absolute must for foodies! It’s run by local couple Louis and Minar Henderson-Enoka who open their 1853 colonial home and kitchen garden for an unforgettable experience.

It begins with a walk through their organic gardens. Bananas, pumpkins, pineapples, papayas, lemons, pigs, chickens and eggs are all used to delight the palate. The three course Plantation to Plate dinners have a touch of Asian flavour with Polynesian flair.

Dining takes place on a verandah canopied by an apuka tree and surrounded by passionfruit vines. The feast may include tuna sashimi with red chilli and passionfruit dressing, parrotfish with coconut cream, pork curry with coconut, green paw paw salad, coconut meringue cake with kaffir lime curd and caramelised syrup.

 

Friendly locals

Friendly locals

 

The busy and friendly couple also have a gorgeous little white shop built from timber salvaged from the old St Josephs School building. They sell only locally-made products. Minar and the women in her family sew and weave everything from dresses to pearl-studded rito hats. What they don’t make themselves, they source from local artisans. Noni juice, local soaps, carved ukuleles and pareu dresses stock the shelves. The spell will be cast for you too!


LOCATION

Rarotonga, the capital of the Cook Islands.


WHAT TO WEAR

 

 

 

CATRIONA’S TIPS

  • Try to go to church if you’re there on a Sunday. Wear white, a hat too if you like, the singing is so uplifting and the locals may even ask you back for a Sunday island feast! It’s important to remember that most Cook Islanders are quite religious, please be respectful of that. In church, cover  your shoulders and in general don’t wear anything too provacative.
  • Rugby is huge there, even the girls play, everyone is welcome at the games.
  • Stock up on Monoi Oil at the local supermarket, this local oil has inspired everyone from Francois Nars to Tom Ford.

For more information, head to http://www.cookislands.travel/rarotonga or call +61 7 5504 5488