Christmas/New Year Holiday in Rarotonga

2017 was definitely a busy year.  I determined that I travelled 26 times in 2017.  That is travel for leisure within New Zealand and overseas and also travel for work.  Some of this travel may have been just a quick overnight or weekend trip away from Christchurch while others were for a week or 10 days.  It wasn’t until we were on holiday over Christmas and New Years that I realized I was pretty exhausted.  Anthony and I both were.  There were heaps of changes for us this past year and our brains were often on overdrive.  Therefore we spent our time in Rarotonga, Cook Islands, doing something we don’t do too often – relaxing.

Beach time

We spent 2 weeks in Rarotonga and took time to unwind.  We slept for 8-10 hours a night, I read books, Anthony played cards.  Overall, we chilled out and Rarotonga was the perfect place to do this.  There were quite a few people who told us we would get bored being in Raro for 2 weeks.  I can tell you that they were wrong.

Catching the sunrise

Rarotonga is about a 4 hour flight from Auckland.  While we used to consider a 4 hour flight quite long, we now find it short and very manageable.  It’s funny how your perception changes when you live on a small, remote country in the Pacific.

Rarotonga is where many Kiwi’s vacation and where many have holiday homes.  We were surprised to learn that Christmas is a very slow time of year in Raro since it’s summer in New Zealand and Kiwi’s will wait to go during the winter months.  We were probably even more surprised to meet a few Americans vacationing in Raro.  Apparently there is a weekly direct flight from Los Angeles.

The island is about 32 km around.  It is a lagoon, which is a shallow body of water separated by a larger body of water by reef.  This means that the water was very shallow and warm.  The water felt more like a heated pool than the ocean and I wasn’t complaining about that.  On several occasions we heard the locals say that the water was too warm and not refreshing.

Anthony making his way to the beach. If you look closely you will see the waves breaking at the reef.

For the first week of the trip we rented a scooter to travel around the island.  For those who know me well, you know that I am afraid of scooters and motorcycles, really anything with only 2 wheels.  For 8 years I avoided getting on the back of Anthony’s motorbike.  I wanted to give the scooter a go in Raro because it seemed like the perfect place to get over my fear since there wasn’t traffic or congestion (oh, and the scenery wasn’t bad either).  We hope to visit Vietnam at some point so I need to be comfortable on a scooter.  While I had a few butterflies on our first ride, I got over them within a few minutes.  I even ended up really sad when we had to return the bike at the end of the week.

I think I’m ready to live in a place where a scooter is our main form of transportation

The second week we stayed closer to our Airbnb in Muri Beach on most days and the other days we took the local bus around the island.  There are 2 bus routes on island – clockwise and anticlockwise (they don’t say counter clockwise in this part of the world).  It was pretty convenient as long as you checked the schedule, otherwise you would have to wait 30 minutes until the opposite bus came.  Tourists and locals took the buses but we generally saw more tourists on the bus than locals.  Most tropical islands we have visited don’t seem to have public transportation that is used by the travellers.  It’s easy to have public transport on Raro because there are only 2 main roads.  Overall, Rarotonga seemed very safe and the people are some of the nicest we’ve met.

Not our best pic but shows the inside of the bus and how busy it was because of the rain

Rarotonga is a very religious island which means that most stores and most restaurants are closed on Sundays unless they are at a resort.  Sunday is a day where people are supposed to go to church and spend time with family.  We went to a local church on Christmas to get better insight into the culture.  It was a Christian service that involved a lot of singing and was spoken in their native language.  They welcomed all of the guests by having us stand and sing Silent Night in English.  They then joined in and sang verses in Maori.  We noticed that families mostly dressed alike wearing the same tribal pattern.  We saw at least 2 Catholic churches on the island along with a Church of Latter Day Saints.  I noticed that the one Catholic church had 2 services in English and 1 in Maori.

On our way to Christmas dinner. I left the candy cane ears in Raro. They made their way to Fiji and Raro and it was definitely time for them to go.

Normally tropical islands have stray cats.  Raro is a bit unique in that they have stray dogs.  You will also find dogs that have owners will also wander the beaches and streets.  We went for a run one morning and had a dog join us as we ran the street.  Our neighbors also had 2 dogs that quickly became Anthony’s best friends.  We woke up to them on our porch and they spent a lot of time there or in the yard when we were home.  The island does a great job of taking care of the stray dogs.  They receive shots and are healthy.  Some may have fleas but that’s pretty much the worse-case scenario.

Anthony got pretty attached to these dogs. I almost bought into the idea that if we lived on a tropical island we could get a dog. This is until the rain came and I noticed their stench.
Going through pictures, I learned that Anthony and the dogs had a photoshoot at the beach. There are heaps more pics of the dogs on the beach.
Anthony found other friends when we visited another beach.

A highlight of the trip was going to Te Vara Nui, which is a cultural show and dinner.  We received a recommendation from someone to pay a bit extra for the 2 hour informative history lesson where we learned the history and differences between Rarotonga, some of the other Cook Islands, and Hawaii.  We haven’t seen the movie Moana but they indicate that it gives a pretty fair representation of the culture.

The over water stage at Te Vara Nui
The show included fire and dancing

So this was our first 2 week holiday ever.  Most people here find that very odd because two weeks is generally the least amount of time people will spend on a holiday, especially when travelling abroad.  Some of that is because New Zealand is pretty far from most places but it’s really just the outlook on how they travel.  In case you were wondering, we loved being away for 2 weeks.  The weather got rainy towards the end of our trip and I didn’t mind since we had 10 days to enjoy the sun and beach.  If we were on just a 1 week holiday I would have been upset about having 3 days of crappy weather.

Definitely a rainy day at the beach
Kayaking in the lagoon

Overall this trip was also a test to determine if we could live the true island life.  We lived in an AirBnb which was pretty much a large efficiency.  It wasn’t the most modern place we’ve ever lived or stayed at but it was comfortable and could totally make it work for a “permanent” home.  Now don’t jump to conclusions, we aren’t planning to move to Raro.  However, moving to a tropical island will never be out of the cards for us.

We had chickens in the yard. While hearing them in the early hours each morning could be a bit annoying, we learned that if you don’t hear them and if they are in the trees, it means a cyclone is on the way.
Of course we found our way to Rarotonga brewery a few times during our stay. They make a delicious lager that is crisp and perfect to drink in the warm weather. The brewery is partly owned by Hallertau Brewing in Auckland.
The view from the window at Rarotonga Brewing. Shouldn’t all breweries have this view?!?

It seems that 2018 will have less travel, as I won’t be traveling much in my new role.  We said we were going try and “take it easy” this year and maybe not travel as much as we did in 2017.  We’re heading to Brisbane at the end of February, going to Kaikoura in early March, plan to travel for Easter, and already have a bit of travel booked or on the radar for winter 2018.  With less travel for work and being a more settled than last year, we’ll consider that as “taking it easy”.  And who really needs saving accounts?!?  Aren’t they overrated???

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