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travel On Location With Robert Walshe

Raratonga Cook Islands

Many people say to me that the Cook Islands are like what Tahiti & Hawaii were decades ago with the same intense beauty – spoilt and undeveloped and I have to agree! The pace is pretty quiet here -people work mainly on family owned land and if a foreigner wishes to live here and buy residential property, they must invest in a business and hold it for five years prior to being granted approval to purchase a residential property. The high standard of living, aided by free association with New Zealand allows islanders automatic residency rights proving extremely beneficial. Rarotonga is the “capital” of the Cook Islands, the rest of which are a mixture of islands, atolls and coral cays lying in over 2.5 million square miles of ocean. The 15 islands are roughly divided into two groups, Rarotonga being the largest of the Southern group. Avarua, overlooking a beautiful harbour is a people-watcher’s dream where you’ll find all the services you need including excellent shopping. A highlight for visitors is the lovely lagoon, sheltered by the reef that encircles the island. This treasure trove of sea life offers a host of watersports ranging from windsurfing to sailing and diving with the Big Fish Dive Centre – where you’ll be able to check out the huge variety of underwater life. A visit to the Cook Islands Whale and Wildlife Centre founded by Nan Hauser is a must see. She has been satellite tagging humpback whales in these waters for years with very interesting results leading to bigger questions about how whales migrate. Her project encourages people to take ownership for the whales, dolphins, sharks and turtles that live beneath the surface while gaining a greater respect for the environment. Her honesty and passion for the cause is infectious and I hope she makes my dream dinner party guest list in the future. Pa’s Mountain Trek or Nature Walk is a great way to see the interior of the island and learn about the many medicinal uses for the local fauna www. Te Vara Nui Cultural Village is Rarotonga’s most interactive cultural attraction telling the story of a family arriving on the islands and how warmly they were welcomed. Local craftspeople show you how they

carve weave and prepare local dance costumes. After the traditional island night buffet is over the “Ura Po” dancers and musicians perform by torchlight on floating and fixed stages delivering an authentic cultural performance. www. A five-minute stroll out of town towards the charming Avatiu harbor brings you to the Punanga Nui outdoor market. It’s open all week, but Saturday mornings are the busiest and the locals come here to sell all kinds of fresh food, clothing, jewelry & carvings. The islands are also famous for farming exquisite black pearls worth the treat if your credit card allows. One of the best arts and crafts galleries on the island “Beachcomber “has a great selection of craftwork and paintings all locally sourced. You can sometimes visit the workshop behind the main building to see how blackpearl jewellery and shell carvings are made. Rarotonga also has many fragrant

flowers, including tipani (frangipani), tiare maori or tiare taina (gardenia) and pitate ( jasmine), and the locally made perfumes, soaps and oils make an ideal souvenir. Shipwreck Hut, a popular beachside bar on Betela Beach is named one of the top three beach bars in the world. The bar’s famous “Opu Ra “cocktail and spectacular sunsets, has captured the heart of many visitors to the Cook Islands and my short visit there was a highlight. The culinary scene is vibrant with all tastes catered for including Trader Jacks bar & restaurant overlooking the waters of Avarua Harbour. . At weekends “Traders “becomes party central with live music from some of best bands on the island while also enjoying a reputation for freshly-caught seafood. Raratonga offers a wide selection of accommodation options from beachfront villas to boutique hotels & resorts catering for all tastes and budgets. Our choice was the Little Polynesian Resort where we were met by the radiant Billie with multiple kisses and ice-cold fruit punch. The “Little Polly “as it’s affectionately known is the perfect picture postcard positioned against a palm-fringed, aquamarine, white-sandy lagoon. We enjoyed one of the luxurious thatched villas near the beach with outdoor bath & shower which I found quite liberating! www. This tropical paradise offers dreamy possibilities for an alternative wedding and planning the biggest day of your life can be overwhelming especially when taking place so many miles away. However if you do want to say “I do “barefoot, Andrea Rongokea of Wedded Bliss offers a stress free alternative. As all of the arrangements will be taken care of the only requirement for the happy couple is to arrive on time

Kia Orana – May You Live Long - is the welcome greeting from locals when you arrive on the Cook Islands and it’s this warmth and friendliness I will always remember. Air New Zealand offers the fastest and easiest way from Ireland & the UK to the Cook Islands with daily flights from London Heathrow to Los Angeles, and weekly direct Monday connections to Raratonga via LA. Free of charge stopovers in LA are also possible if passengers want to have a multi centre trip or to break the journey. Flights from the UK are operated on the award winning 777-300 aircraft where you can try out the economy skycouch or spacious premium economy spaceseat. From Dublin fares start from €1356.00 Inc taxes and from Belfast £1315.00 inc taxes. Domestic flights are operated by Air Rarotonga with daily flights to Aitutaki and scheduled flights to Atiu, If you would prefer to book with a travel agency Trailfinders offer a 14 night package from €3,899 pp includes international flights with Air New Zealand from Dublin (Cork or Shannon via London Heathrow & Los Angeles) or from £3,469per person ex Belfast for 7 nights at the 4+* Little Polynesian Resort, Raratonga in a Garden Pia Tiare Room with transfers & continental breakfast and 7 nights at 3+* Tamanu Beach, Aitutaki, in a Garden Studio with continental breakfast & flight / road transfers. These prices are based on two people sharing travelling for 1 to 30 Nov 2012 departures, subject to availability. Other dates available. Robert Walshe is a freelance travel contributor / broadcaster www. 63

Buzz Travel Cook Islands  

Travel page in Buzz Magazine , Northern Ireland