The Cook Islands
The Cook Islands are located in the middle of the South Pacific, possibly the remotest places I've been to. I've arrive around 1 a.m. on the small airport on the main Island Rarotonga. Funnily enough it is the 1st of May again as we just crossed the International date line. One doesn't need a Visa to visit but need a return ticket and accommodation booked. I didn't book anything and had planned to stay the first night at the airport and then find a place to stay in the morning. I manage to get through immigration alright and in the arrival area there are a dozen drivers to take the visitors to their hotels. They actually have little booth with a signs of their hotels where they would welcome the new arrivals. I had checked out the budget accommodation and recognized two names and speak to the guys and decide to go with the guy of the Backpackers International. We drive for about 15 minutes in the dark, he shows me my room and I went go straight to sleep.
The hostel is on the South West coast of the Island, a 2 minute walk to the beach. I am in a simple twin room but most of the nights I am there by myself. It is a nice enough place for $18 (later $15) dollars, these are Cook Island dollars but they are linked one to one to the New Zealand dollar. Speaking of money, they have a great 3 dollar note and a 2 dollar coin which is not round but triangle shaped, they don't have vendor machines on the island, so the coins don't have to roll down anywhere. Tisa, the lady who runs and own the hostel is nice and lives in the front part of the complex with her young daughter and her dad who is the one who picked me up from the airport.
I'm staying on Rarotonga for seven days and spend quite some time on the beach or reading in the hostel especially towards the end of the week when it rained quite often.
There are about 10000 people on the Island, all living in a small stretch of flat land along the coast, the centre of the Island is all uninhabited hilly jungle. There is basically only one road on the island, which goes around it along the coast for 35 KM. There are some small side roads and a few more in Avarua, the main town and the capital of the country. Along the ring road are also all the buildings with very few wide open spaces. The first day I walk into the town along the beach which is just about a 15k walk. There are two supermarkets that mostly carry local things or food imported from New Zealand. After some shopping I take the bus back to the hostel. There are two bus routes in the country, one goes clockwise on the main road, the other goes anti-clockwise, they run every 30 minutes and allow you to get anywhere in the outer ring pretty quickly.
I do one more long beach walk to the other side of the Island another 15 KM, it is interesting to see the expensive resorts hotels next to the old houses of the poor locals. Another day I cycle all around the island with many stops in the part where I haven't been on foot yet. Only three fourths of the coast has sandy beaches, in the north there are just lots of rocks on the short. At least every kilometre or so is a church and Sunday mornings the streets are deserted, everybody is at the service. Many searches have roofs but no walls so I listen in a few times.
One day I head into the centre of the Island into the jungle not too far away from the hostel. When Tisa heard about my plan, she said that I shouldn't go because the path is un-maintained and not passable anymore. That makes it even more interesting for me, but when I get there I find out what she meant. After an hour walking on a normal path into the hills, the jungle takes over. You can still tell that there may used to be a trek here but the plants and trees took over. Several times I have to crawl for up to five minutes under the trees and have to cut my way through them, it's hard work but further up it is more open again and I get nice views over the west coast. I guess nobody has been here for months if not longer.
A more popular trek is the cross island walk from the capital on one side right through the middle of the island and over the mountains all the way to the opposite coast. There is an African guy at the hostel who lives there now and he does this as a guided walk. Some people in the hostel had done it the day before and totally recommended it. There is an English guy at the hostel who wants to do the walk as well, but the guide needs at least four people. We decide to do this by ourselves. Being used so much to hitchhiking from New Zealand I had started doing this on the Island as well, after all there is only one road and there is always some traffic. So I introduce the English guy to Autostop when we head to the start of the trek. It is a great walk, we have to cross some streams down in the jungle and there are a steep climbs up to the centre of the island. When getting to the top there are great views in all directions. We meet two other groups of people and you can tell that someone is coming up here everyday, otherwise it would be hard to find the right way. It would be bad to get lost up here.
Hostel life is fine, there are mostly English couples there, one of them are getting married on the beach but then move into a more expensive hotel for their honeymoon. The hostel offers some activities like a common barbecue or a trip into town to go to a bar. Otherwise there is not much to do after the sun goes down, so we just sit in the garden and watch videos most of the evenings. There is a small restaurant 5 minutes away and we sometimes go there.
The sunsets on our coast are great and if you walk 15 minutes south there is a good spot for snorkelling which I do a few times.
The last two days are pretty wet and I don't get out too much, but play with the crazy three year old daughter of the house, who is trying to break everything she can.
To summarize the Cook Islands are a really nice and relaxing place, maybe a little bit too much of New Zealand crept in here, most tourists are Kiwis after all and the two countries are closely associated. There are actually about 50000 Cook Islanders in New Zealand (compared to the 10000 in the home land). Regardless, you still get a lot of south sea feeling here.