Just the tonic

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Front Page -

From Page 1 the more per­ma­nent stands, es­pe­cially those of the black-pearl ven­dors, are also open Mon­days to Fri­days from about 8am to 5pm. But Satur­days are most fun as that’s the time for catch­ing up with neigh­bours and rel­a­tives; even vis­i­tors who are not fans of mar­kets couldn’t fail to en­joy such a gen­uine spirit of com­mu­nity.

Lunch each day dur­ing my visit is a fis­hand-chips feast ($NZ9) from the Fly­ing Boat take­away, a blue-and-white dec­o­rated fish­ing boat pulled up be­hind the shed-like Game Fish­ing Club.

I sit on a bench un­der a rat­tan sling roof as speck­led chooks with hard eyes roam the shell-strewn lawn around my feet; I feed them the crispy ends of Melina Smith’s per­fectly cooked chips and a fat, pear-shaped hen pecks one of my toe­nails in the hope of a fur­ther treat.

One night, din­ner at Te Manava is a pic­nic spread of cheese, bread and olives from Deli-li­cious, next to a good wine shop, a few min­utes from my tem­po­rary home. Din­ners out are at the pretty colo­nial-style Tamarind House, set amid sweep­ing lawns, and Lit­tle Poly­ne­sian (tuna carpac­cio; green­lip mus­sels in a broth of co­conut cream, chillis and herbs), which also has 14 charm­ing bun­ga­lows be­side a gor­geous beach on Raro­tonga’s south­ern tip.

The best cof­fee I dis­cover is at the ha­cienda-style Beach­comber: walk past the duty-free black pearls shop at its en­trance and into the lat­tice-shaded atrium. A cute home­wares store sells resin jew­ellery, can­dles, ce­ram­ics and beachy bric-a-brac, and the cafe does smooth­ies, cof­fee, sal­ads and sweet snacks such as co­conut muffins and carrot cake.

There are 15 isles in the Cooks group, flung like a bro­ken neck­lace across two mil­lion square kilo­me­tres north­east of New Zealand. Last visit, I flew to Ai­tu­taki to see its fa­bled la­goon, rou­tinely (and favourably) com­pared with Tahiti’s Bora Bora. In fact, the Cooks are of­ten re­ferred to as Tahiti Lite or, as some wags would have it, what the French Poly­ne­sian is­lands would be like without the French.

I must go back soon. My Cook Is­lands li­cence to drive a mo­tor ve­hi­cle, class B (car/light trade) — com­plete with a care­free shot of me that sug­gests the prospect of in­fi­nite leisure — is valid un­til the end of March 2011. Su­san Kuro­sawa was a guest of Air New Zealand and the Pa­cific Re­sort Raro­tonga.

Check­list

Te Manava Lux­ury Vil­las and Spa of­fers weekly or daily rates (min­i­mum three nights) from $NZ850 a day (taxes in­cluded) for a three-bed­room gar­den re­treat villa (max­i­mum six guests). Op­tional daily house­keep­ing and pro­vi­sion­ing, spa treat­ments and air­port trans­fers at ad­di­tional cost. More: +682 20 427; www.te­m­anava.com; www.paci­fi­cre­sort.com. Air New Zealand flies to Auck­land daily from Syd­ney, Mel­bourne and Bris­bane with reg­u­lar con­nect­ing ser­vices to Raro­tonga. Weekly ser­vices also op­er­ate from the Gold Coast, Ade­laide, Perth and Cairns via Auck­land to Raro­tonga. The air­line has re­fur­bished its trans-Tas­man and Pa­cific fleet of 767 and A320 air­craft to in­clude fea­tures such as on-de­mand touch-screen en­ter­tain­ment in the back of ev­ery seat. Year-round econ­omy class air fares ex Syd­ney to Raro­tonga start from $488 one way, in­clud­ing taxes. For sea­sonal deals and book­ings, 132 476; www.airnewzealand.com.au. For the best tivaivai bed­cov­ers, visit Kathrine and Anne’s Ti­vae­vae Col­lecta­bles, near the air­port. More: www.tivae­vaecol­lecta­bles.com. For travel de­tails on the Cook Is­lands, (02) 9211 6590; www.cook­islands.travel.

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