‘This is a South Pa­cific tourists rarely see’

The Sunday Telegraph - Travel - - Front Page -

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.

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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

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