When I arrived in Rarotonga, in the Cook Islands, I had the pleasure of eating some locally grown bananas. In itself this is nothing spectacular. The bananas were rather small (maybe not even half the size of those you normally see in a supermarket) but they were BY FAR the most flavoursome and fantastic bananas I have ever eaten. It really makes you realise what average standards we put up with on a day-to-day basis. The paw-paw, coconut and pineapple were popular and used in a number of dishes (and cocktails – below is a “spiked nu”) and were also fantastic.
Also, I heard of the locally grown Noni fruit which I was unaware of before this visit. This fruit is apparently the best thing going for dealing with stomach and digestive upsets (in other words, it clears you out) and has high doses of the electrolytes that the body needs. Better than any over the counter remedy apparently.
I had the dubious pleasure of smelling and tasting one of these fruits. I thought it looked a little like a potato and it was probably over-ripe but I can best compare the smell to that of blue cheese and the taste was not much better (slightly sweet and slightly off) with the added effect of acting as a local anaesthetic in that it numbed the tongue. Amazing! You have to love nature!
I have seen many currencies in my travels over the years, but going to the Cook Islands from New Zealand, where they use the New Zealand Dollar, I simply expected more of the same.
I was rather surprised to discover that even though it is the same currency in name that they have some rather unusual coins. What makes them unusual is that their $2 coin is triangular (has anyone ever seen a triangular coin anywhere else?) and their $1 coin has both an unusual edge and a picture of a traditional carving with what can only be described as a large phallus…I kid you not…see for yourself…
I was interested to learn that the islands still utilise a barter economy in part. Those with land will farm and may either sell (to supplement earnings from jobs) or swap any surplus crops with other local people.
While holidaying in Rarotonga, I had the pleasure of utilising what I think must be the best bus service I have ever encountered by some distance (even better than that of Malta, which was pretty good).
In Rarotonga, there are two bus routes…clockwise and anti-clockwise. The bus will stop anywhere for you to get on or off – just flag the driver down. The driver will greet you with a “Kia Orana” welcome and if you tell them where you are going will also remember to stop there for you. The drivers wear colourful “Hawaiian” shirts and jandals too!
You can even buy a “10 pass” for 10 rides which can be used by multiple people for just $30 NZD which takes away the hassle and some of the expense of the touring around. Why anyone would want to hire a car or scooter for an island which is only 32km in circumference is beyond me. What a fabulous service.
I must confess that I had never heard of Rarotonga until I came to New Zealand. When a colleague told me that they were going there I said “where is that?”. I assumed perhaps it must be part of Tonga. Sometimes referred to as just “Raro” by the Kiwis, it is the largest of the Cook Islands in the South Pacific. Time to get ready for Island Time (you are never late in the Cook Islands!) and ultimate relaxation…
First though…some things you may not know about Rarotonga and the Cook Islands…
- Seagulls have not yet discovered Rarotonga. There are none about (and no pigeons either). What there are are plenty of chickens roaming freely and it is quite peculiar to be snorkelling with the sound of cockerels ringing in your ears.
- Rarotonga is a volcanic island (not active) and is quite mountainous in its interior although still only small (circumference of around 32km). It is surrounded by a lagoon which acts as a nursery for fish before the sea suddenly descends several kilometres down to the depths. According to Wikipedia, the foot of the volcanic mountain is 50km in diameter on the ocean floor. Massive.
- The Cook Islands have free association with NZ which means that they govern themselves but their residents have NZ passports and they use the NZ Dollar.
- The moped is the preferred mode of transport and there are plenty about.
- You can currently fly to the island direct from Los Angeles, Sydney and Auckland only.
- You cannot get lost here. If you are walking in the bush and feel lost…just head downhill. If you are not sure where your hotel is, just walk around the island.
- The prison on the island MAKES MONEY! The inmates are put to work on a farm or in making crafts (or labour for the council) and what is sold either enables the inmates to feed their families or goes back to the prison. It is an open prison and, given it is a small island, if a prisoner attempts to leave they get an immediate four year increase on their sentence. Makes you realise how backward other countries penal systems are in some respects.
What you really want to see though are some photos, so here you go…idyllic…