Christmas Eve, 2017
Getting off the plane first is important if you want to get as rapidly as possible to the business of being on holiday in the Cook Islands.
With an entire 777-200 arriving, and only two immigration officers who want to chat with every passenger, the line quickly stalls.
We were fortunate enough to have the bulkhead seats in premium economy, which meant we were the first in line for the visitor queue. We were asked “what brings you to paradise?”, and the customs official only wanted to know if we had alcohol or tobacco with us. A man sitting on top of the baggage carousel was playing acoustic guitar and singing local songs. LAX this was not.
Walking out into the pleasant arrivals area at around 7am we were greeted by a driver from Raro Tours who gave us a Ei of fragrant flowers each and drove us to our accommodation. Along the way he pointed out various important landmarks including the island’s two 24-hour gas stations and the abandoned Sheraton hotel. On arrival 20 minutes later at Sea Change Villas, he procured the key to our villa (reception wasn’t yet open) and let us in.
I think this was safely the first time in my life that the pictures of a place turned out to look exactly like reality. From the front door we looked through our self-contained villa to a deck which overlooked the lagoon with the surf crashing into the coral wall some 0.6 km away. There were exactly 11 steps down to the beach, which at high tide was about 6ft wide.
Forgetting about the lack of sleep the previous night on the plane, and the cold I was getting over, we walked straight into the water. Everywhere we looked from “our” beach was a national geographic image. (The excessive amount of photos below were all taken from just outside our villa in the first few minutes after we arrived)
Our fridge was stocked with eggs, bread, milk, juice, some butter and jam so we made breakfast and sat inside to eat as a rain shower came over and soaked the whole place. Ten minutes later it was sunny again.
Later that morning our rental car arrived from Island Car & Bike – two hours late, filthy and with a “Warrant of Fitness” (roadworthy/MOT) that would expire during our rental. Since it was Christmas Eve there were no other cars to be had, so we were told to just bring the car back after Christmas to get the warrant renewed. We were slightly miffed at this, but eventually decided to live with it since this was the land of “she’ll be right.”
With that settled, the next priority was getting some groceries. Over the next few days many places would be closed for Christmas and Boxing day, so we had to make sure we had some food in the house.
We drove up the road to Wigmores Market, our nearest supermarket. The place was packed (I assume, unless that was normal). We had read before we traveled that there wasn’t much fresh stuff to be had, and things would be expensive. Both of these were true, but we managed to find some cheese, crackers, olives, pasta, pasta sauce, and tinned tuna. Inside the shop there was also an ice cream stall which was extremely popular and people were coming away with towering multicolored cones.
After lunch at the villa, as much as we wanted a nap, we decided instead to avail ourselves of the free reef shoes and go for a walk in the lagoon. A long way out the water was still only knee deep and we found lots of sea cucumbers underfoot.
We quickly decided we needed to get the snorkel gear and have a proper look, and soon we were swimming quite far out looking at an array of colorful fish. Still, the current was pretty strong, and when Jonathon noticed my lips had gone blue we decided we should come in.
After a shower and a nap, we headed over to Crown Beach Resort’s Ocean’s restaurant for dinner. On arrival it was suggested we might have drink overlooking the beach. We agreed, but stuck to mocktails given we were driving.
After drinks and estimating the sunset was more than an hour away (wrong) we went in for the buffet. The most exciting thing for Jonathon was the “Lemon, lime and bitters” on the drinks menu – something we haven’t been able to get in the US. Dinner wasn’t fine dining, but there was plenty of food, including salad (green, potato salad, coleslaw), veg (peas, carrots, mash, pumpkin), meat (ham, lamb and others), and a giant urn of gravy. Dessert was fruit, cake, and ice-cream which the children were taking pains to cram as much of in their bowls as possible. Two men were playing the 60’s greatest hits on guitar and vocals. It was extremely pleasant way to spend the evening.
Back at our villa, even though we missed sunset the sky was still red, so I got the tripod out and tried to get some pictures. Before long the mosquitoes started to tow us away, so we went inside and opened one of the mini champagnes we liberated from our car service in the morning. Jonathon hunted down and removed the cricket which was singing loudly from somewhere in our bathroom.
Later, I risked the mosquitoes for a few minutes to look at the night sky. Even without dark adapted eyes, the stars were still southern-hemisphere spectacular.
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Have you been to the Cook Islands? What did you think? Let me know in the comments!