A Little Slice of Paradise – Cook Islands

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Travel with Scott McRae

As my Air New Zealand flight from Sydney circled what appeared to be a small daub of land surrounded by liquid turquoise, my mind began to relax immediately. As we closed in towards the runway with its neighbouring lush, covered mountain peaks, my breathing slowed. When the plane doors opened and I stood on the top step and took my first breath of South Pacific air, I knew my adventure had begun.

It’s not very often that a destination can have an immediate effect on you. I often find that it’ll take me a day or two to shrug off the binds that city life ties you in. To let the stress of work and the daily grind remove itself from your system. But I have to say, gazing across the rustic terminal at the beautiful blue ocean, with the emerald green mountains over my right shoulder, I was practically forced into submission in that immediate moment. Rarotonga had me in her hands, and what a gentle touch she had.

I was travelling light so I hooked myself up with a scooter and headed straight for my hotel. I had done a little research before choosing my accommodation, and there was plenty of choice. Self-contained beach bungalows. Boutique hotels and backpacker delights. Luxury villas and budget pub rooms. But none of the big chains. No sign of multi storey hotel blocks. Nothing that needed elevators to get you to your room.

Rarotonga has kept all of its buildings under three storeys tall, which only complements the surrounding landscapes further.

My digs for the next week picked themselves really! Why, you ask?

Well here’s the blurb straight from the horse’s mouth, so to speak:

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RETREAT, RELAX & REVIVE ON STUNNING MURI BEACH …

Muri Beach Club Hotel’s unequalled adult-only resort location puts guests right at the heart of one of Rarotonga’s most outstanding natural features – Muri Lagoon. The lagoon is the island’s aquatic playground for superb and safe snorkeling and swimming. With other water sports like kayaking, wind surfing, kite surfing, sailing and glass-bottomed boat rides, there’s always an opportunity to get out on the water and away from it all. With Motus (offshore islands) just a stone’s throw away, beckoning you to enjoy its uninhabited oasis …

I think I was sold when I hit the words “adult-only”. Yes, I have kids and I love them dearly, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t indulge ourselves occasionally and let Grandma and Grandpa have some quality time with their precious progeny.

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On arrival at Muri Beach Club Hotel I was greeted warmly and shown straight to my beachfront room which was clean, spacious, comfortable and contained all that I would require. But it was when I pulled back the curtains and opened my sliding doors that I really understood that the ‘blurb’ was 100% spot on and I was introduced to my own little slice of paradise.

Originally envisaged as a Beach Club, and the vision of one man, John Scott, it wasn’t long before he realised that having a great beach, a bar and a restaurant wasn’t enough to bring home the bacon. Which was a little ironic as the funds to develop the project came from the family’s poultry farms. So yes, he had the eggs, he just needed to ensure they were not sitting in the one basket. The decision was made to add accommodation to the mix and with that an exceptional hotel that catered to a niche market, that would provide a luxurious holiday in a serene environment, took its position on the shores of Muri Lagoon.

With its ultimate position I was keen to get straight into the relaxing waters that beckoned me, and where I was immediately joined by some of the locals. Not your regular Cook Islanders, but a few rambunctious dogs that have made a name for themselves here as well.

They love the water and they love to mix with the guests too. In fact they love nothing more than joining you for a kayak ride or some stand up paddleboard time. I couldn’t resist their friendliness and had made my first island comrade.

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Even though the urge to stay in the water was inviting, this little island paradise had much more in store for me.

Obviously local knowledge in any situation is always a winner, so I had no hesitation in hooking up with David Furnell and his small but dedicated crew at Storytellers.

Storytellers provide Eco Cycle Tours to suit all levels of riding ability and fitness. It really is a wonderful way to engage you with the local customs, culture, history and environment. David is passionate about his island home and it shows in the delivery of his knowledge. It’s a relaxing and fun experience with a few little surprises thrown in along the way. Quality, comfortable bikes are your means of getting around and its good to know that they are well maintained. Tasting fruits straight from the gardens and forests, watching a local craft a ukulele and having a dip in a secret location hidden in the hinterland are just some of the moments that had me immersing myself in this Rarotongan adventure.

There are many other ways to get a feel for the local customs and traditions and one of those is a night out at Te Vara Nui Cultural Show. I make no bones about it; this is an event for tourists, but it’s certainly not one of those cringeworthy ones that exist in some places around the globe.

Set among luscious gardens and surrounded by water, Te Vara Nui showcases not only one of the best cultural village experiences in the Cook Islands, but also houses a most impressive outdoor entertainment venue. The food is a fusion of Island and Western delicacies and there’s more available than you’ll be able digest, that’s for sure. The entertainment is a mix of traditional tales and magical music driven by frenzied drumming and expressive hip shaking dance.

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I thoroughly enjoyed the evening, and even got to hang out with the Prime Minister! One pretty laid back, approachable man he was too.

If you have no desire for that style of tourist activity, don’t you worry about it, because you can enjoy a condensed version right at the Muri Beach Club Hotel. They have a variety of theme nights that take place there and the Island Night was without a doubt one of the best. Not only do you get to experience the tastes of the Islands but also here you will engage with the dancers in a way you can do nowhere else. In fact you will be up and shaking your best Raro moves with them before the night is over!

When morning comes, and you may have shaken the booty more than you remember … maybe you’d like to indulge in a little personal therapy at the hotel spa? They can massage, wrap, rejuvenate, hydrate and exfoliate you into a blissful state. They also have daily specials that might have you visiting them more than once during Scott-McRae-Cook-Islandsyour stay.

As Rarotonga has one main road that circles the island it’s so easy to get around. Like me, you can grab a motor scooter, or a bicycle. Or you can jump on the public bus that circles constantly. You could even walk it. If you’re really keen, that is.

I was loving the scooter and jumped on to go and visit the gang at The Big Fish Dive Centre. I was really keen to get a look at life underwater here in the Cook Islands.

Sabine and the gang there are so friendly and accommodating, and with them you can dive Rarotonga in clear, warm waters with fantastic visibility and variety of aquatic life.

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Whether you are an experienced open water diver or a first timer, they certainly can provide you with an experience to remember. I jumped in with a couple of first timers and we just had to walk across the road, all kitted up, and drop straight into the lagoon. That’s as easy access as you can get anywhere! We saw plenty of sea life and it was such a relaxed occasion that I would say it would be one of the best places for someone to commence a love of scuba.

If you like a bit of a laugh during holiday time (and who doesn’t?) you might want to hook up with the gang at Captain Tama’s Muri Lagoon Cruise. I must admit I was a little apprehensive when they advertise themselves as having a hilarious crew! But if you’re lucky enough to have “Chocolate” as your guide you wont be disappointed. He is one funny man! The cruise itself is a fantastic way to explore inner reef area where the marine life is abundant. You will snorkel the turquoise waters in a safe and relaxed environment and there is plenty to keep you enthralled.

One of the highlights of the Muri Lagoon Cruise is the fresh fish barbecue lunch on Koromiri Island, complete with a song or two and a bash on the traditional Cook Islander drums. It really is a great day out.

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Before I sign off, I just have to take you back to the Muri Beach Club Hotel to give you a quick rundown on the cuisine there. To be honest there was no need for us to eat outside of the hotel. The menu was so brilliant and inexpensive. Not only do they have something special to entice you every night, they also have a little option called ‘Less is more’, giving you the opportunity to try a little more from the extensive menu without exploding! To achieve this, all dishes under the ‘Less is more’ section are served in entrée size, with an opportunity to order a full main size meal at double the published price. This not only gives you the chance to expand your culinary adventure, but also leave you with room for those delicious desert …

Rarotonga and The Cook Islands are definitely a treat to be relished.

Travel Tips and Information

You can fly direct from Sydney with Air New Zealand every Saturday, or via Auckland every day of the week.

New Zealand dollar is the currency and the electricity voltage is the same as Australia.

Best Fares to Cook Islands via Air NZ
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