Alice & Co decides to escape the February rain in London and go way down south to New Zealand, stopping over at Rarotonga and Atutaki in the Cook Islands. Lost in the South Pacific, you can get to these specks of paradise by flying from Los Angeles with Air New Zealand. Plan ahead, as the plane only goes once a week…
The beach in Rarotonga – just the kind of escape I had in mind!
This is a tricky one, packing-wise. The Cook Islands are hot and steamy and need buckets of sunscreen, togs for swimming and tops for snorkeling without frying. Plus frequent frock changes to stay looking and feeling cool. And kit for a rainforest hike with top-to-toe covering to avoid insect bites (my personal neurosis). Not to mention something smart for church on Sunday…
New Zealand will be city-slicking in Auckland’s buzzy shops and restaurants and touring the North Island countryside by car with overnight stops at posh lodges. Plus a big hike over some hostile, chilly mountains in Hobbit country and bike and horse riding. I don’t just sit around when I’m travelling! And who wouldn’t want to dress the part for Art Deco capital Napier and lunches at Hawke’s Bay’s elegant wineries?
Thanks to my trusty Clarks fit-for-all-sporty-purposes boots and the jettisoning of my riding hat it all weighs in at just 17.5 of my 23 kilo allowance – a packing tour de force leaving room for some important fabric buying for Alice & Co en route.
First stop: Rarotonga in the Cook Islands
First impressions count for a lot and who couldn’t be charmed by an airport with wandering chickens and a resident crooner to welcome tired travelers?
Heathrow please note.
Shaped like a hastily made rock bun, Rarotonga is the busiest and largest of the 15 Cook Islands. Although you could hardly call it bustling. There’s a volcanic lump in the middle covered with rainforest and a frilly skirt of beach, coconut palms and lagoon round the edge. There’s only one road of any note which circles the island like a belt, giving new meaning to the term ring road. Most people get about on scooters but you can also take a bus in either direction. The whole journey takes no more than 45 minutes!
Here I am waiting with a goat at a colourful bus stop for the ‘Anti Clockwise’ service.
Staying cool in an Alice & Co spiral cut viscose jersey dress.
What to do in Rarotonga
First, some rest and relaxation – I suggest starting with some inactivity – you’ll be tired as it’s a long flight.
An Alice & Co all-in-one and some vintage sunglasses for a hard morning’s lounging.
If you check into the Crown Beach hotel you can have a villa right on the beach. You can stay put all day, dining on tropical fruits, fresh tuna and delicious cocktails!
The lagoon is shallow so best for dipping and snorkeling rather than serious swimming – suits me!
When you’re rested, climb a mountain. You can get hot and muddy on a three-hour guided hike up The Needle.
This is Pa our guide and something of an Island legend, demonstrating how to pick your own shampoo.
I made it!
(I just noticed the profile of the rock looks just like a Maori mask!).
That’s enough of that sporty stuff, now it’s time to buy some pearls. The Cook Islands are famous for their black pearls. You can buy single ones for a few dollars or spend thousands on a necklace of marble-sized beauties.
Family firm Bergman and Sons have top quality pearls made up in classic and contemporary designs, or you can try your luck in the Saturday market. Don’t forget to ask for a certificate of authenticity. I opt for a twisted silver ring with two baroque pearls which back in London seems to go with everything.
Be sure to check out the island handicrafts. Mother and daughter team Anne and Catherine have created a range of bed-linen in ‘Tivaevae‘, a traditional two-tone patchwork technique in chic contemporary colours and top quality fabric.
And make a song and dance…
Ukeleles are big in Rarotonga, along with singing and dancing. If you want to join in you can buy all the kit at the Saturday market…
….where service is always with a smile and it’s de rigueur to wear a crown.
Other good buys are Rito beauty products made from cold-pressed coconut oil. These lovely lotions sooth your skin and prolong your sun tan. They’re good enough to eat – there’s also a version to cook with.
Also look out for tamanu oil from the mahogany tree – a natural antiseptic to heal any bites or scratches.
On Sunday morning go to church, travellers are made welcome
The singing is divine and you can wear a hat and a crown at the same time! The ladies all dress up and wear their beautiful hats which are woven in intricate patterns from fine straw, some of the designs also incorporate shells. This traditional craft is still very much alive and you can see more examples in the National Museum in the island capital, Avarua.
The CICC church in Arorangi welcomes visitors for the service and refreshments afterwards. It’s a great way to meet the locals. Don’t forget to wear your Sunday best.
…mine is an Alice & Co silk and linen dress with a local flower in my hat.
Coming soon: a flight to Atutaki to dip into a world-famous lagoon and meet some of the world’s best dressed fish. To find out more about the Cook Islands see cookislands.travel.
All images © 2014 imagepalace.co.uk
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