36 hours in Rarotonga

BY BONNIE SUMNER
Last updated 10:03 16/11/2009
Rarotonga
TARA ROSS/The Press
CRYSTAL CLEAR: Muri Lagoon, Rarotonga.

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A short break to the Cook Islands is just the ticket ahead of a Kiwi summer.

Thursday, 3PM: Carrying thoughts of animosity towards fellow air travellers is not the best way to start a tropical holiday, but hey, I'm pregnant, and no one seems to be getting out of my way or offering to help with my bags. I'm turning into one of "those" people, who complain about the state of the world. In my mum's day, I'm sure others were a lot more thoughtful. But all ill- feeling is forgotten when, on arrival, I'm given two ei kaki (flower lei's) which smell amazing, and we're greeted by a warm sunny day.

4pm: The Rarotongan Beach Resort & Spa is a huge complex right on the water's edge. We settle into our beachfront room with a nap followed by a fresh seafood dinner at the hotel's Restaurant on the Beach.

Friday, 10am: After a bountiful breakfast buffet including all manner of tropical fruit, I adjust to island time with an hour- long massage thanks to the hotel's expert resident masseuse, who works her way around my belly by getting me to lie sideways while she massages my back.

11am: We take a drive around the island in our rental car. The houses all seem to have been given the same paint provincial New Zealand was using in the 1970s - there is a distinct turquoise theme going on. This, combined with the language being so similar to Maori, makes the island feel like a relaxed, tropical version of home. And there isn't a single "for sale" sign anywhere. Rarotonga doesn't suffer the same fate as many other island holiday destinations - all land is owned by local families, not foreigners or the government, meaning there is a welcome sense of egalitarianism.

Noon: Rarotonga is surrounded by a sharp coral reef. The upside is calm water, the downside is the sharp sea floor around many parts of the island. Muri Beach Lagoon, however, is the perfect spot for a swim, so we dip our toes.

1pm: Lunch is at one of the cafes lining the Muri Beach Village strip, Deli-licious. We suck on fruit smoothies and get some toasted panini to go - not exactly island food, but filling nonetheless. We drive up to one of the island's waterfalls with the idea of eating lunch there, but the mosquitos are insatiable so it's back down to the beach.

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5pm: Trader Jacks is on the waterfront of the city side of the island. It fills four rooms (stuffed with corny sailing memorabilia) and an outdoor area. We choose one of their picnic tables by the sea in the evening light and look for the whales often seen at this time of year. We spot one in the distance, discernible only by its small water spout jetting into the air as it rolls over the top of the ocean. As it gets dark we enjoy parrot fish, sauteed potatoes and pizza. The food isn't cheap (almost $30 a meal), or spectacular, but this place is aimed at tourists and fills the gap.

Saturday, 10am: The shopping strip sells everything from carved wooden and shell trinkets to perfumes to pareu (the Cook Islands' lava lava) in every colour and pattern imaginable. There are more than 360 ways to tie the pareu. I learn three before giving up. We pack our bags with coconut soap and wooden salad servers for the hordes back in New Zealand.

11am: One last swim at the hotel beach lagoon before it's time to head home. Bring on summer - and hopefully another trip to the islands next year, this time with a baby in tow.

Fact file

Where to stay:  The Rarotongan Beach  Resort & Spa, ph 00682 25-800,  www.therarotongan.com  Where to eat:  Trader Jacks,  ph 00682 26-464,  www.traderjacks cookislands.com Deli-licious, www.delilicious.net What to do: Shop in Avarua, the 1.5km city strip on the  north side; swim in Muri  Beach Lagoon; hire a car  or scooter and explore. www.cookislands experience.com

- Sunday Star Times

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