We went to the Cook Islands recently for a week to mark our 15th wedding anniversary and my 60th. Guess which anniversary I feel better about.
What follows as an advisory for a holiday on the Cooks is just what we liked, which is not necessarily what anyone else would like, but we are probably more reliable than Trip Advisor (which a distinguished Australian publisher calls a “pile of shit”).
We stayed here, the Beach Place at Tikioki, which was fantastic. A house right on the beach – self-catering, old and stylish – and in the morning the children could play on the sand and kayak in the lagoon. Tikioki is not even a village, not even a hamlet, but is a good walk to Muri, a popular touristy village where there is a very good café, LBV (Le Bon Vivant).
In Avarua itself there is another branch of LBV, more of a restaurant, where we had a spectacular dinner. The entrée was carpaccio of wahoo, which the waiter said he had caught at 2:20 that afternoon – all 35kg of it. Fish doesn’t get much fresher than that.
We did some touristy stuff – Koka Lagoon Cruises sets out from Muri and when the crew have finished serenading the passengers with Raro songs and ukuleles you can swim with the fishes before lunch. One of the crew, Papatu Jack (Papa Jack for short: that’s him in front in the photo above), who had been the children’s snorkelling guide in the lagoon, is the world champion coconut-palm climber and he is amazing: a total showman, huge upper-arm muscles, young, handsome, witty and charming. Bastard. He gave a masterclass in coconuts – showing what you can do with them at the three main stages of a coconut’s life – which was fascinating for the adults and the children. His machete technique was scary.
The next evening we went out for dinner and a show at Te Vara Nui. It was spectacular – drumming, singing and dancing, all over water. One of the dancers was Papa Jack – he spotted us and interrupted his routine to wave to the children. Awww.
What else? The best coffee I have ever had – yes, I have been to Italy – thanks to NZ expatriate Neil Dearlove in Matavera. And the beer from Matutu, about 50 metres from where we stayed, was great too. It was $10 for 1.5 litres, delivered in a Sprite bottle. Can’t get more low-key than that.
I came back with a lot of CDs of ukulele bands. I didn’t really believe Tairi, the ukelele star on the Koka Lagoon Cruises boat (he was amazing: he also plays trumpet, trombone and guitar by ear as he can’t read music: that’s him behind in the photo above) when he told me that he strings his uke with fishing line. That sounded like teasing tourists, but the guy at Raro Records where I bought the CDs confirmed it. “Most of us use 30lb breaking strain,” he said. “I prefer that but some use 25lb.”
Participant observation: the 8-string ukulele rules. It is louder, obviously, and is what rules in Tahiti. And what rules in Tahiti is what rules in Raro. NZ is not the dominant culture in the Cooks, and a glance at an atlas will show why. I was surprised and pleased by this.
And then there was the curious incident of Winston Peters turning up to my birthday lunch, which a local friend had kindly put on. I don’t know what I expected of my 60th birthday, but it wasn’t that.