Sometimes while travelling you serendipitously find yourself at an unplanned destination that is part of the bigger picture. This happened to me while travelling overseas to Australia. I managed to find a great deal on Air New Zealand from LA to Sydney, with a stopover in Rarotonga.
Raro-huh? I said to myself. I had no idea that the place existed. In fact, I had very little knowledge of the island chain it belongs to – the Cook Islands of the South Pacific. After a few searches on google it seemed like a great place to stop and unwind before heading down under.
Rarotonga is the most populated island of the chain, with over 70% of the small nation’s 18,000 inhabitants situated there. It is a very small island, whereby you can casually coast around the island in about 30 minutes on a moped.
I arrived to the open-air airport at midday. Upon disembarking, I noticed a small group of young backpackers congregating around the hostel shuttle area. I had pre-booked a spot at Vera’s on the south side, and found a lovely local greeting myself and about 7 other young people from the plane. She took us around to the opposite side of the island where the hostel sat.
Labelling this place a hostel seems a bit silly – the beachfront lagoon setting could have been marketed as a luxury resort… if the rooms weren’t filled with bunkbeds and a shared kitchen. The only time spent inside the facility was to crash out after a long day in the sun. The rest of the time at the place was usually spent in a hammock or on the beach with fellow travelers, regaling in the amenities of a tropical isle. Fresh coconuts and mangoes were wild, abundant, and available for anyone who wanted the treat.
The people of Rarotonga are genuinely hospitable. They understand the significance of tourism to their small nation, and thus welcome all visitors with open arms. The islanders are descendants of the Maori, New Zealand’s aboriginal people. The language and culture is revered, especially with the huge tourist influx over the past 30 or so years. They lead a simple life where “island time” takes precedence over any scheduling. The communities have become quite religious since Christian missionaries arrived during the 20th century. Some of the finest singing I have ever heard came from one of the community churches on a Sunday morning. If you do make it to Rarotonga, please do yourself a favor and attend the service – even if you are not a religious person, the music alone will send you into peaceful island bliss.
Lazing on the beach is fun and all, but if you would like to get active on the island without spending money, a good option is the cross-island trek. This 4-hour walk takes you directly through the middle of the island through the extinct volcanic peak. You can find hidden waterfalls that aren’t on the travel guides, it just takes an open ear to listen.
If you are crossing the Pacific Ocean, it’s a worthwhile stopover to go to the Cook Islands. You will see a slow pace of life, beautiful beaches, and genuinely happy locals.