{summer series} – A Little Travel – Rarotonga, The Cook Islands

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(above: a pretty nice sandpit to be playing in, don’t you think?  This was literally about 20 steps from our back door…amazing!  Reason #5,465 to take your family to the Cook Islands – and no, this is NOT a sponsored post!)

Happy New Year everyone!  As we head in to week two of 2014, many of you will find yourselves back at work.  If, like me, you are a bit of an armchair traveller you may be finding yourself dreaming of being anywhere but bound to a desk and living vicariously through your Facebook friends and their January adventures.

I think the best way to soften the blow when you are wishing you were holidaying is to plan a trip!  Even if it is months before it is possible, sometimes just having something to look forward to is wonderful.  Pre-kids, I was a big traveller.  In fact, about eight years ago I made a New Year’s Resolution to take one overseas trip each year as a minimum.  So far, even two kids later, I have managed to stick to that goal.  It has been very challenging from both a time and finance perspective, but totally worth it.  I love the memories that I have created and I also love that I am introducing my children to new cultures, new people and new food from an early age.  So, as a celebration of Summer, over the next couple of weeks I wanted to share some travel experiences with you.  I am also keen to share some gorgeous kids’ rooms from around the globe as well…so, I hope that you enjoy (and I hope that you maybe start planning a holiday with your little ones too!).   Please note that these posts are not sponsored, they were simply holidays that I was fortunate enough to have with my family and so I will be completely honest about the experience!

Our first destination: The Cook Islands…or more specifically, Rarotonga.  The Cook Islands was a place that my husband and I had shortlisted as a honeymoon destination, so when I saw a fabulous deal to travel there and stay 10 nights, I  didn’t hesitate.  At the time, Oscar was 13 months old.  He was still breastfeeding – before bed and first thing in the morning, so just two feeds a day – but I figured that meant flying would be easier.  He had taken a few steps and was travelling around furniture confidently but he didn’t walk on his own until this trip – which is actually quite a fabulous milestone to make in such a wonderful location.

Rarotonga is the capital of The Cook Islands and the most populated island of the 15 islands that make up the country.  Located in the South Pacific, Rarotonga is mid way between Samoa and French Polynesia and the flight from Melbourne was an eight hour haul.  I understand that you can fly direct, but we flew with Pacific Blue and that meant four hours to Auckland, a two hour layover and then another four hours to Rarotonga.  We arrived in the middle of the night, so safe to say we were absolutely shattered when we arrived and it is strange to arrive at a tropical island and a resort in pitch black darkness.  You really don’t know what you are in for until the sun rises, which was strange but also a little exciting.  Rarotonga is just 32kms in circumference and you are only allowed to drive at a maximum speed of 50km per hour, so everywhere is close to the airport but it felt like a long journey after 10 hours in transit and driving on a bumpy road, very slowly, in the dark.  Later, we would appreciate how safe this slow main road around the island was, and how it immediately got you into a relaxed, island vibe.

We stayed at The Rarotongan Resort and Spa.  The rooms were a little dated and felt tired, particularly when comparing price to other ‘tropical’ destinations like Thailand, Bali and Malaysia but the location itself would have to be the most amazing that we have ever stayed in.  The resort itself is split in two, with a more modern ‘adults only’ area on one side and the older, yet more spacious family area on the other side with reception, games room and restaurants separating the two.  Each side has its own pool and they are very pretty but a little cold and absolutely NOTHING on the amazing lagoon that sits across the front of the resort.  From the main restaurant you can feed little fish who swim up after breakfast each morning and the area in front of the family beachfront rooms is stunning.  Soft, clean, white sand covers the private beach (meaning no hawkers and no random people) and a lagoon runs a few hundred metres out to rocks and a break and then deeper ocean beyond (with the odd whale popping in to say hi).  The water was the perfect temperature and the it is so blue and so clear that you could see the colours of the fish swimming around your legs.  There is only one poisonous or deadly fish in the waters off Rarotonga and that is the stone fish.  At the resort, it is one person’s job to head out into the lagoon each day and look for them (and remove them) so that guests can swim safely.  Knowing that we weren’t going to be bitten or stung by anything strange made the experience – swimming or snorkelling – even more relaxing!

We could have spent all day, every day in the lagoon and lazing on the sand (in fact, I think that is all we would do if I went back!) but we did try to get out and about and look around the island.  We hired a car (a little RAV 4 for $50NZD a day) and that was perfect to drive to the nearby supermarket and buy snacks, or head to a restaurant for dinner.  There were two restaurants that we loved and would totally recommend – Trader Jacks (which served seafood and pizzas) and Tamarind House (which was on the other side of the island and served mainly Polynesian fare – which is delicious and well worth trying!).  One of the things I loved about all of the places that we ate was how ‘kid friendly’ everywhere was.  You were greeted with a high chair, there were kids menus at most places (not Tamarind House) and the staff made sure that the kids meals arrived first and the temperature was perfect (nothing worse than their meals coming last and then too hot to eat!)  I felt so welcome everywhere we went, in fact at a lot of places (particularly the resort) the staff loved taking the kids for a walk around the restaurant or just stopping for a little chat and cuddle.  It was really lovely.  Prices aren’t cheap, but they aren’t expensive either.  Most places were around $15NZD for lunch, $25NZD for dinner and $3-$6NZD for drinks, so roughly the same prices as here in Oz (only it worked out slightly cheaper with the exchange rate).  Alcohol wasn’t cheap, but if you’re there with kids, you aren’t really going to get crazy-drunk so that didn’t matter.

Shopping is pretty non-existent.  There is a weekend market and a few souvenir shops, and mostly everywhere sold the same sort of thing.  I actually loved this.  It totally took the pressure of having to ‘go shopping’ for a day, or having to buy lots of things for people back home…which meant more time for sitting about in the sun, or snorkelling, or sleeping.  Our days generally consisted of: breakfast, a little drive around the island (there’s a small waterfall, you can visit the other resorts, or check out the stalls set up along the roadside), back to ‘our’ lagoon for a dig in the sand and a swim, lunch, a nap (or time to just laze in the shade and read a book), a little more swimming and playing in the sand, dinner and bed.  Heaven.  At the resort, a lot of the dinner prices included entertainment and we did a few of those (even though it was a little late for our just-one-year-old and he went into meltdown more than once) – they tended to finish around 9.30-10pm.  There was a kid’s club for over 4’s and they were often spotted around the resort looking at fish in the lagoon or trees and plants…the kids seemed to love the activities and the staff so I would definitely recommend that if you have bigger kids.  There was always someone playing music, even if it was just the guys in the water equipment hut with the ukuleles (they would make up a song for Oscar every time they saw him…he loved it!) so the happy vibe was everywhere you went.

Overall, it is a magical place and if you are a sit-by-the-sea-and-chill kind of family then I would totally recommend this amazing island.

Below are a few images of the trip…straight from the camera, no photoshop required! (yes, the water IS that blue and that clear!)  We holidayed in late July-early August and it didn’t rain at all…we had just one overcast day and most days were approx. 30 degrees celsius – beautiful!

At the time of posting, Expedia could put together a package from Melbourne to Rarotonga, staying at The Rarotongan for $1,615 including accommodation for 8 nights, flights, taxes and fees.  There are LOADS of other places to stay on the island too, and many are lovely…although I think the lagoon at The Rarotongan is hard to beat.  I have friends who have been with two or three family groups and they have hired one of the many lovely holiday houses along the beachfront.  These go for a great price and definitely give you flexibility with rooms/prices/eating options.

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(above: the rooms were spacious and clean, but a little tired and in need of refurbishment.  The size was great though…king size bed, small table and chair setting and portacot with loads of room left.  We noticed in some of the other rooms that a bunk bed and single bed could be brought in, meaning rooms could sleep up to five.)

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(above: honestly, who cares about the inside of the room when the outside is THIS?  This little back deck was in full shade by early afternoon and it was the perfect place for us to sit when Oscar was napping.)

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(above: see what I mean?)

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(above: feeding the fish after breakfast each morning was great fun.)

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(above: the main pool…nice enough but FREEZING!  Way too cold for me!)

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(above: the staff brought around fresh coconuts for us one afternoon…Oscar wasn’t sure, but I loved them!)

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(above: this little person was happy to play on the boats whilst they were still on land.  All the non-motorised equipment was free for guests to use.)

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(above: this was one of many whales we had the pleasure to watch over our time there…they came as close as their could to the break and put on quite a show!)

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(above: a great feed at Trader Jack’s, and Oscar learnt to walk while we were there!)

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(above: the gardens at Tamarind House were lovely and the light breeze off the bay was perfect at dinnertime.)

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(above: we were told that the sunset was best at Tamarind House and I think it was – although every night the sunset was amazing, so it’s hard to tell.)

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(above: entertainment after dinner at the resort one evening.)

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(above: the largest gift shop on the island with standard Polynesian fare.)

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(above: an example of road safety from the locals.)

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(above: the truly incredible private lagoon at The Rarotongan.)

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(above: and the view from the other side…)

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(above: this shot was taken with a cheap underwater camera…just to show you how amazing the water is there!)

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(above: one happy little family!  Behind us is the main restaurant.  Most nights there were cocktails and the chance to meet with other guests here.)

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(above: one of the many beautiful sunsets that we got to enjoy at Rarotonga…heaven!)