The islands

14 11 2009

After leaving San Diego we drove up the coast for the day, stopping at Laguna Beach for some more seaside practice. Having topped up our sunburn a little we ventured into Los Angeles, without a map just to make it more exciting. This was surprisingly successful and we found LAX with an hour to spare so we backed out to Inglewood to spent our last dollars on Double Doubles at In ‘N’ Out burger.

We could no longer avoid the inevitable and went to spend the evening at LAX, surely one of the dullest airports on earth. We considered livening things up by reporting Russel Brand, who had been ushered to the front of our security queue, for looking suspicious, just to see if he’d get pinned to the ground and examined but he and his entourage were whisked through the scanners and had vanished in seconds.

We had a good flight to Rarotonga, arriving early into the 1 room airport at 5:45am. Waiting for our bags we listened to the obligatory ‘old man playing the ukulele’ that you get at all pacific airports and were then taken down to our hostel at Muri Beach. Our room wasn’t ready yet so we had to postpone catching up on sleep until the afternoon, spending the morning sampling the local doughnuts (like normal jam doughnuts except they have no sugar on top and no jam inside) and exploring the small town.

On our second day we went over to the North end of the Island to do the cross-island hike, starting off in nice back country little villages, small houses on big grassy plots surrounded by Frangipani trees and goats. Entering the jungle it soon became a lot more challenging, firstly just because it was heavily overgrown and shortly after a near vertical climb up a narrow ridge for 45 minutes which made the Grouse Grind look like a stroll in the park! We soon reached the Needle summit for a rest, some lunch and a go on the frozen vegetables we were carrying to cool down. As usual going down the equally steep south side was even harder followed by several stream crossings but we soon emerged on the South rim of the Island. This is where we came across the abandoned remains of the Hilton resort – a government backed venture that went pear shaped, leaving them $100 million in debt and now remains a massive ghost hotel, never finished and just left to rot for the last 15 years. Seems such a waste, why they don’t sell it on we don’t know. We’d turn half of it into accommodation then build a Cross-country moped race circuit around the grounds that weaved in and out of the rest of the abandoned buildings while also using these as a paintball arena – Anyone out there want to invest in / stump up all the cash for our new business??

Midweek we flew over to Aitutaki for a few days, one of the worlds most beautiful lagoons a couple of hundred km from Rarotonga. The view from the air is unbelievable – the most vivid turquoise lagoon dotted with coral outcrops and island Motu’s. Our photo’s don’t do the place justice so you’ll have to Google Earth it for a view!

However, our accommodation was much less spectacular, probably the most basic we’ve encountered on all of our travels but we soon got used to it and by the end of the week the leaking roof, Mr. kitchen rat and numerous cockroaches were all taken in our stride!

Husking coconuts for Bowling/Throwing at Chickens!There were some significantly more upmarket places on the island running at hundreds or thousands of dollars per night but I’m sure we enjoyed ourselves just as much as their guests, lazing on the same beaches and snorkeling in the lagoon, with coconut bowling and bonfires in the evening!

Everyone in Rarotonga gets about by moped so here on Aitutaki we thought we’d have a go. The rental place over the road only had motorbikes though but we enquired anyway.

“Have you ridden one of these before?” asked the big boss man. “Yes, back on Rarotonga” I lied. I’m not sure he believed me from the outset when I had to have every lever and foot pedal explained to me twice. The nearest I’ve ever been to riding any kind of moped or motorbike is a sit-on lawnmower which was probably quite obvious when I followed big boss man’s encouragement to take it for a spin down the road. “So this one’s the throttle then..?” as I gave it a quick twist, lurching forward into the path of an oncoming mini-van. I could see the look of concern on his face as I scooted around to have another go facing the right direction. Off I went though, successfully making it into 2nd gear 50m down the road so decided to turn around and go back. Here I performed a classic piece of slapstick motor-biking, once again tweaking the throttle far too hard the bike shot straight over the road and into some local’s front garden, with me barely holding on I finally remembered to brake with my foot a couple of metres from the sea! Luckily Zoë had distracted Big boss man and he hadn’t seen me do this so when I sheepishly returned his bike he still seemed half-keen to rent it to us! Even my low level of common sense prevailed and we decided not to, there’s nothing like a nice walk in the searing heat anyway.

We did get some biking in the next day however, only because we’d spotted a fully automatic moped for hire. This was much more our scene so we snapped it up, about £10 for the day plus another £1 for a Cook islands driving licence from the Cop Shop. There was no test involved which was lucky as at the time I couldn’t even work the kickstand properly. We soon got the hang of it, taking it in turns to rag it around the island dirt roads weaving past goats and hundreds of massive crabs. A huge storm hit in the afternoon which made moped-ing quite a lot less fun so we went back to base, Zoë reaching around from the back seat to cover my eyes from the stinging rain with her hands while I squinted through her fingers – we got a few funny looks from the locals!

Aitutaki Lagoon Snorkelling

The rains passed by the morning which was good as we had booked a lagoon cruise with the other folks in our hostel. We did some snorkeling in the crystal clear lagoon, Giant Clams, blue starfish and plenty of other tropical fish were all spotted. I once again got hand cramp from pinching my nose shut so reverted to regular swimming before landing on a few of the islands to explore – Honeymoon Island, ‘Tiger Island’ off of Shipwrecked and One Foot Island for lunch. A good day out but paid the price with some pretty nasty sunburn after being in and out of the water all day!

'Tiger Island', Aitutaki Lagoon

The next few days were a bit miserable weather-wise, so we just pottered about coconut bowling / trying to take out the cockerels that woke us at 4am every morning, playing cards with our hostel chums, reading on the beach or paddling in the lagoon, although once we’d seen two sea-snakes 5ft from the shore we were more reluctant to wade in!

Back on Rarotonga it’s been more of the same, a bit of kayaking, beaching, getting sunburnt, getting bitten by mosquito’s etc… so we’ve actually decided to chop our 2 weeks in Fiji which would have been more of the above and fast forward to New Zealand!

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