I expect most people have had a holiday marred by relentless rain. A wet English seaside or a flooded tent in France can really dampen your holiday spirit. It’s certainly not what we expected from our break in Rarotonga. In their dry season.
The island is the largest of the Cook Islands and usually has a South Pacific climate similar to Tahiti or Fiji. I had been warned by a colleague that Rarotonga has showers almost every day – it must be how the mountainous rainforest covering the centre of the island stays so lush. So when I saw the forecast for rain every day of our stay, I was sure it’d be nothing more than the odd shower to clear the air. In fact, it was daily monsoon-like downpours, in which my waterproofs and more substantial shoes would have been the jewels of my suitcase.
Talking to the locals, they’re quite shocked by the recent spell of bad weather – one restaurant owner told us it’s the worst in 37 years (just the kind of records you want to witness) and another bus driver was sure the effects of climate change have reached the Cooks.
While the rain was an inescapable feature of our 5 day stay; this won’t be a post solely bemoaning the terrible weather, neither a chipper account of how we still made the best of it. Obviously we tried, but without being constantly soaked to the bone or blowing our budget. As well as the lack of sun, Rob also finally succumbed to the winter lurgy and felt pretty rough. We did appreciate that being two adults away, you can be content with long lie ins, reading lots, playing cards and drinking.
In addition to this lounging, we also went on a lagoon cruise on the only sunny morning. Rarotonga is only 32km around and is surrounded by a beautiful, clear, turquoise lagoon, separating the island from the Pacific Ocean. I’d never been anywhere where the waves break so far from the shore. Aboard a glass-bottom boat we sailed out to an area of reef and snorkelled with incredible tropical fish, saw clams being bred and coral cultivated. It was an amazing area to snorkel in and the cruise was worth it just for being taken to that part of the lagoon, a real highlight of our visit. The delicious beachside BBQ lunch that followed was a bonus.
By chance, we were in Rarotonga for the Te Maeva Nui Celebrations – performers and traders from the outer islands gather for a week long commemoration of the Cook Islands’ self-governance, granted in 1965. Hopefully the craft/food market had a couple of dry mornings, but the day we visited we saw a guy sitting alone on the stage in dismay at the sodden surroundings. We felt similarly dispirited when the woman in the info centre responded to our query of rainy day activities with ‘stay indoors’.
Our attempt to experience some Cook Islands culture was through a dinner and performance in the mountains where a prominent tribe had once lived. We were guided around recovered artefacts including a stone marae (v.different to those we’d seen in NZ), a hand-made wooden canoe (vaka) and a house woven from coconut tree leaves. We had a lively Chief as our host, who guided us through the colourful drumming and dancing performances while we feasted on a buffet of local dishes including the very tasty Iki Mata (raw fish in coconut cream).
Despite the rain, we had a fun time on our short visit. It’s a shame that we couldn’t laze on the beach as much as we’d hoped, but we did get a flavour of the culture and wonderful landscapes that this magnificent corner of the world has to offer.