Just the tonic
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.
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.