‘This is a South Pacific tourists rarely see’
generates a sizeable carbon flip-flop print. And Rarotonga receives 150,000 visitors per year to beach resorts offering “island night” floorshows of tattooed warriors and dancers in coconut-shell bras. My first impression is that paradise feels a little overworked.
Yet it’s easy enough to find the greener side. Islander Luana Scowcroft’s green initiatives in no way compromise comfort and luxury at Ikurangi Eco Retreat, where the four African safari tents have kingsize beds and outdoor showers amid a fragrant frangipani garden.
They also have composting lavatories, and all grey water is reused. Scowcroft’s breakfasts feature passion fruit from the garden and pawpaw muffins.
From Ikurangi, in the spirit of sustainability, I take the round-island bus one morning – actually two services endearingly labelled “clockwise” and “anti-clockwise” – to the start of a three-hour cross-island hiking trail. I sniff wild vanilla in the mountain forests and pause at a rock pinnacle almost propping up the thundery sky for views over the whole of Rarotonga. I’d also highly recommend the Storytellers Eco-Cycle Tour. Jim Mare, built like a rugby prop forward, hauls his frame on to a bicycle and guides our group along rural back roads he calls arametua (“roads of our ancestors”).
“This is the Rarotonga tourists rarely see,” he says, explaining the medicinal uses of fruits and island lore. His grandfather could predict a cyclone by counting the breadfruit flowers on a branch. We also taste the superfood noni fruit. Shaped like a grenade, it is rich in anti-ageing compounds (although I acquire a few more wrinkles grimacing at its sour, blue-cheese taste). “That’s the taste of dollar signs,” says Mare.
There are better flavours, however. I sample the islanders’ home-cooked food at the thrice-weekly Muri market where I fall in love with ika mata – raw fish ceviche infused with coconut cream, served on a “rented” plate to cut down on packaging. For a truly indulgent feast, try the buffet at Louis and Mina Enoka’s 1853 Plantation Turquoise Holidays (020 7147 7087; turquoise holidays.co.uk) is offering a 12-night holiday to the Cook Islands from £4,095 per person. The price includes three nights at Ikurangi Eco Retreat, three at Sea Change Villas, four at Aitutaki Escape, and two at Atiu Villas. Also included are several tours, all transfers, domestic flights and international flights from London via Los Angeles with Air New Zealand. For those travelling independently, Air New Zealand (airnewzealand. co.uk) flies from London to Rarotonga via LA every Saturday from £1,338 return.
Storytellers Eco-Cycle Tours (storytellers.co.ck). Three-hour discovery tour; £39, including lunch.
Tik-ebikes (tik-etours. com). Rechargeable electric bikes for hire from £16 per day.
House. Mina’s Asian-inspired dishes use garden-fresh organic produce and line-caught fish. Louis suggests Rarotonga is becoming organic again after the demise of the island’s intensive fruit production of oranges and pineapples.
My travels reduce to a snail’s pace on the smaller atolls I visit. I’m told Aitutaki, 45 minutes away by air, is Rarotonga 20 years ago. The fishhook-
Te Ara is a sustainably run museum with a range of quality souvenirs supporting local enterprise. The museum’s site can best be accessed via Facebook.
Teking Lagoon Cruise (tekingtours.com). Five-hour snorkelling safari; £65, with lunch.
Birdman George (atiu.info/attractions/ tours). Three hours of birding; £27, with picnic.
Te Ipukurea Society (tiscookislands.org). Local environmental NGO;
shaped island has a bewitching lagoon of unnaturally blue water and sandbars the colour of coconut flesh.
“Blink and you’ll miss town,” quips the receptionist at Tamanu Beach Resort as I check in and receive a complimentary foot massage with a brown sugar scrub. “Town” consists of a fish-and-chip takeaway and a wharf where children somersault into the ocean. A formidable 1820s coral- contact them about visits to see Rarotonga’s rare kakerori bird.
Anatakitaki Cave Tours (atiutours accommodation.com/ AnatakitakiCaveTour. html). Three-hour forest hike to find kopeka swiftlets; £21.
Coffee tours (atiu.info/ attractions/coffee). Two-hour tour with coffee producer; £15, including breakfast.
walled church, founded by the London Missionary Society, is the Cook Islands’ oldest place of worship.
There’s little to do here, bar relax beachside and sip fresh coconut water. But do tear yourself away for Mr Teking’s snorkelling safari around the island, to savour the marine diversity that the Marae Moana seeks to preserve. His tour involves spending a day in bathtub-warm
British explorer James Cook, left, set foot on the islands in 1773; luxury resort Aitutaki Escape, above