I spent last week on the beautiful island of Rarotonga in the cook islands for my Birthday and it was PARADISE. 4 hours from Auckland, it was like stepping into the classic image of a desert island. White sands, aqua water, coconut trees, sunshine and cocktails!
I stayed in Muri Beach and my accommodation was less than a 2 minute walk to the beach, some lovely cafes and a lot of the tourist attractions. The island is on a lagoon/reef so is protected from any nasty sea baddies but still home to some amazing tropical fish, giant clams, coral and moray eels. There are also more dogs than people on the island and I shared my room with a gecko the first night, which is apparently a good omen and it certainly proved to be a good omen for the rest of the week. I spent my first day exploring the local area and wandering on the beach and in the water. Then on my first evening I joined the Te Vara Nui cultural village tour and night show. Rarotonga is home to cook island Maori's and no-one is allowed to purchase land on the island if they do not have cook island Maori blood. It was apparently from the cook islands that the New Zealand Maori's set sail before settling in New Zealand and some of the language and traditions are therefore very similar. During the cultural village tour I was able to learn a lot of about how they make their clothing, fishing tools and medicines from natural resources, much of which comes from the coconuts. We were also shown how to open a coconut and drank some fresh coconut water straight from the "nu" coconuts. The night show was a real spectacular of dancing, drumming and costumes and the accompanying buffet with local delicacies, including raw fish in coconut cream, was absolutely amazing. All the food on the island tasted so fresh and natural, never tasted food like it!
The next day I took a glass bottom boat tour for my birthday, with snorkelling amongst the tropical fish and a beach bbq included. They even made me a birthday crown from the coconut leaves and finished the day off with a bit of crab racing on the beach! That evening I went to the Muri Night market for my tea and drank another Nu coconut alongside an incredible seafood curry from Ray's stall, accompanied by a cute local toddler whose parents were running a stall and a couple of French girls I'd met earlier in the day. One of the funny thing on the island is that people seem to have several jobs so staff from the cultural show were on the boat trip and others from the boat ship at the night market.
On day 3 I decided to hire a scooter having watched others zip around the island on them. The island is only 32km around so I figured how hard could it be.....turns out, for me at least, it was very hard! As soon as I started going over 30km an hour, I instinctively put my foot down which is less than ideal on a scooter! However, I made my way slowly to the main town and did some souvenir shopping before trading the scooter in for a convertible - a much comfier way to explore the rest of the island, including a dry waterfall and ship wreck. I also kept an eye out for whales which can sometimes be seen passing the island, but sadly didn't see any.
I spent my last day on the island snorkelling, eating more amazing food and drinking cocktails. A highlight was Mooring Fish Cafe Cajun tuna sandwich and randomly discovering a stretch of beach covered in crabs that burrowed into the sand as soon as I approached. Sadly then, as the night arrived, I had to head for the airport. A lovely local taxi driver picked me up when the local bus didn't arrive at the expected time and I had just enough time to grab a drink at a nearby bar before checking in. All in all, an incredible experience and fantastic way to spend my 31st birthday. It almost felt unreal and seems already like it may not really have happened.....i may have to go back one day just to remind myself :)