If you don't happen to speak Maori, the official language of the Cook
Islands, that means "Hello." Actually, it's supposed to be pronounced
"key-a orana" but most Cook Islanders just say "key-rana."
the heck am I? The Cook Islands are in the South Pacific, about as far
west as Hawaii and as far south of the equator as Hawaii is as north. In
fact, they remind me quite a bit of the Hawaiian Islands, though they're much
smaller, much less crowded, much less touristy, and MUCH less expensive.
Why am I
here? It all started about five years ago when I read an article in the
Sunday travel section of the Oregonian newspaper, written by a guy who had just
returned from Rarotonga, the main island in the Cook Islands. His idyllic
description of Rarotonga, with its beautiful, sandy beaches, friendly locals,
pleasant weather, low costs, and relaxed lifestyle made me decide to visit
it. For the next week, I walked around the dismal, gray streets of
Portland saying to myself, "Someday, I'm going to Rarotonga."
Since Rarotonga is a free stopover on the Air New Zealand route from Los Angeles
to Auckland, I figured this would be a good chance to stop for a few days and
check it out myself.
in Rarotonga for a couple days now and am getting a good feeling for the
place. But before I describe it, let me first get caught up on how I got
Last Frantic Days in Bellingham
may know, I returned to Bellingham, Washington in late October from my four-and-a-half month
trip around America. According to my original schedule, my
U.S. trip was supposed to last only a couple months and I was supposed to be in
New Zealand by September, but that schedule got throw out the window somewhere
between Austin and the Louisiana bayous. Then, after I returned in late
October, I figured it would only take a week or two to get ready for
overseas. Wrong! More like five weeks, and even at that, it was pretty frantic towards the end.
overseas trip had been for a week or even a month, it wouldn't have been that big of a
deal to get ready for it. An eight-month trip, though, requires
a lot of preparation -- a lot more than I ever realized. Never having
traveled overseas before also added a layer of complexity, and based on
everything I've learned so far, things will go a lot smoother next time I go on
a big trip like this.
planning to buy a series of one-way plane tickets that would take me completely around the
world. However, as the folks at
the agency that sold me my around-the-world tickets, told me, the fares for next
summer hadn't been set yet. Therefore, they could only sell me tickets for as far as
Hong Kong, where I'll visit for a few days after going to New Zealand and Australia. Therefore, I had to leave America with my schedule after
Hong Kong up in the air -- though having that flexibility isn't a bad thing.
Depending on how I feel in a few months, I may come back to the U.S. after
visiting Hong Kong instead of going all the way around the world, but I won't
need to make that decision for a while.
left: Packing up and getting ready in
center: Our first snowfall of the
year. So much for trying to avoid a winter this year, eh?
right: My Dad with Doti's cat,
Lila. Lila is definitely a lap cat. For some reason, she likes my
Dad's lap a lot more than mine.
The Road Again...
spending several weeks frantically packing and getting ready, I left Bellingham
on the morning of Friday, December 7. That's Pearl Harbor Day, of course,
though hopefully my trip around the world won't be a bomb. After riding a
shuttle bus to SeaTac airport for three hours, I left Seattle and flew that day
to Orange County, which was renamed several years ago to honor one of America's
most celebrated heroes, John Wayne -- a guy who fought in every war except any
real ones. A John Wayne fan I'm not, so I still call it Orange County
for Rarotonga didn't leave Los Angeles International until the next night, but I
flew down here a day early so I could spend an evening visiting my brother Dave and his wife Mary in Orange
County and see my Aunt Betty, who lives nearby. Aunt Betty is my mother's
only living sibling, so we spent a few hours together talking about some of my
recent discoveries in North Dakota and she filled in some of the gaps in the
saying goodbye to everyone, I headed up to the L.A. Airport and caught my 9:30 p.m. flight
to the Cook Islands. Being a light sleeper, I didn't get
much sleep on the 10-hour flight. In fact, I didn't get any sleep, not even with the mega doses of melatonin that I had
left: I left Bellingham on December 7
to fly to Los Angeles, where I'd catch my Air New Zealand flight for the Cook
Islands the next evening. This is the San Francisco Bay and the Golden
Gate Bridge, which my great-uncle Henry Swang helped to design back in the 1930s (see
black-and-white photo below).
center: I got to warm and sunny
Southern California that evening.
right: Dana Point Marina at sunset.
left: My brother Dave and his wife
Mary, at their house overlooking the Pacific Ocean. That's their
irrepressible cat, Precious.
center: Precious getting her last
licks in before the dishes get washed.
right: Before leaving Southern
California, I spent a few hours visiting my Aunt Betty, my Mom's only living
sibling. This is a 1908 photo that she showed me of her mother (my
grandmother) Helga. That's Helga (rear right) and her four siblings. Henry Swang, the bridge
builder (see News:
June 14, 2001), is front left, and Albert, who was injured in
World War I, is front right. For more on the Swangs, see News:
October 18, 2001.
left: Driving to the L.A. airport to
catch my 9:30 p.m. flight to the Cook Islands.
center: Checking in at Air New
right: ... and going through
security. It took only 20 minutes -- not too bad.
Left: 38,000 feet above the Pacific
and about half-way through a sleepless, 10-hour flight on Air New Zealand.
The cabin stewards were great though, and plied everyone with copious amounts of
wine and champagne.
A Near Disaster in Rarotonga
At 5 a.m.
the next morning, our jet landed in balmy Rarotonga, the principal island in the
Cook Islands. I was hoping to watch the landing but even if I had a window
seat, it was too dark outside to see much of anything. After debarking, I
took a picture of the jet and then... left my laptop computer sitting on the
I didn't discover this fact until an hour later when I was riding
to Vara's Place, my lodging on Rarotonga. Vara, the pleasant owner
of the lodge, was quite concerned (as was I, of course) and she called several people at the airport,
even though it was early on a Sunday morning.
Losing my laptop computer would have been a real disaster, much
worse than losing my camera, passport, or plane tickets, because of the
information I have stored on it and because of the many ways in which I use
it, such as my website, e-mail, managing my finances, processing my photos from
my digital camera,
and, not least of all, playing my MP3 tunes at night. I found it ironic that
after months of planning, the very first thing I do when I land overseas is lose
my laptop computer! Am I stupid or what?!
though, the airport security staff called back a few hours later and said that they'd
laptop. It was a big relief to me, and a testament to the honesty of the Cook
left: This is a postcard,
but it's the only aerial shot I have of Rarotonga. It's a mountainous
island in the South Pacific and is the primary island
in the Cook Islands. Muri beach, the best beach on the island, is in the
foreground. I'd recommend staying on Muri if you're going to "Raro."
right: A bunch of groggy tourists
stumbling off the plane at the Rarotonga airport at 5:00 a.m., Sunday
morning. After taking this picture, I left my laptop sitting on the tarmac
(hey, it was a long flight). Fortunately, I got it back the next day.
Back in Raro
the next two days traveling around Rarotonga. Rarotonga is almost
perfectly circular and, unlike many islands in the South Pacific which are flat,
coral atolls, Rarotonga is pretty darn mountainous. In fact, Rarotonga reminded me of
Kauai, though it's much smaller -- only 20 miles around. About 11,000
people live here, almost all of whom are on the flat periphery of the
island. Almost the entire perimeter of the island is settled and there
are a lot of small "mom-and-pop" motels and convenience stores scattered around the island.
I figured this would be a good place to practice driving on the wrong
(oops, left) side of the road, so during my
second day here, I rented a car in Avarua, the main town on Rarotonga. It was pretty strange to drive on the left side of the road,
and I kept
telling myself, "Left, left, left," hoping that I wouldn't smash
straight into an oncoming car or, more likely, a scooter. After a few hours, though, I
was getting used to it.
discovered, Rarotonga was a pretty nice place. It wasn't the absolute
tropical paradise that I had envisioned because it was much more settled than I
had thought. In fact, other than the rugged interior of the island, there
aren't many places you can go on the island for seclusion. Still, I liked
the laid back attitude on the island, the tropical weather, the beautiful beach at
Muri where I was staying ... and the
left: Here's my studio (top floor,
left) at Vara's on Rarotonga. It's 50 feet from the beach and costs only US$35 a night.
center: Inside of my studio at
Vara's. Like most motels in the Cook Islands and New Zealand, it's equipped with a full
right: While still worrying about my
laptop, I took a Sunday morning stroll on Muri Beach, the nicest beach on
left: Muri is lined with small
hotels, motels and private houses. I think it's the best place to stay on
center: Tai's Weather Rock is used to
forecast the weather on Rarotonga. As the sign says, if the rock's wet
then it's raining. Gee, thanks Tai.
right: Here's the main road that goes
completely around the island, along with a typical store and
"takeaway" (or takeout), where I got a huge seafood
dinner for $6.
left: Avarua is the capital and
largest city in the Cook Islands. Motorbikes are everywhere.
rented a car on Avarua for a day and got used to
driving on the wrong (oops, I mean left) side of the road. I spent most of
the day driving around (and around and around) the island and didn't manage to
run into anything.
right: What child?
right: Even the license plates here
14, 2001 (Aitutaki, Cook Islands)
3, 2001 -- Part 2 (Bellingham, Washington)
3, 2001 -- Part 1 (Bellingham, Washington)
18, 2001 -- Part 3 (Bismarck, North Dakota)
18, 2001 -- Part 2 (Bismarck, North Dakota)
18, 2001 -- Part 1 (Bismarck, North Dakota)
6, 2001 (Fort Lincoln State Park, North Dakota)
30, 2001 -- Part 2 (Bismarck, North Dakota)
30, 2001 -- Part 1 (Bismarck, North Dakota)
September 15, 2001 (Bismarck, North Dakota)
30, 2001 (Webster, South Dakota)
18, 2001 (Watertown South Dakota)
17, 2001 (Walnut Grove, Minnesota)
14, 2001 (Minneapolis, Minnesota)
10, 2001 (Battle Creek, Michigan)
8, 2001 (12 Days in Syracuse: Part 2)
8, 2001 (12 Days in Syracuse: Part 1)
6, 2001 (Manlius, New York)
23, 2001 (Middleton, Massachusetts)
22, 2001 (Boston, Massachusetts)
20, 2001 (Pomfret, Connecticut)
18, 2001 (Denton, Maryland)
16, 2001 (Cumberland, Virginia)
14, 2001 (Roanoke, Virginia)
9, 2001 (Sevierville, Tennessee)
8, 2001 (Fontana Lake, North Carolina)
5, 2001 (Manchester, Tennessee)
30, 2001 (Hohenwald, Tennessee)
29, 2001 (Corinth, Mississippi)
27, 2001 (Natchez, Mississippi)
24, 2001 (Austin, Texas)
20, 2001 (Canyon de Chelly, Arizona)
18, 2001 (Clay Canyon, Utah)
15, 2001 -- Part 2 (Zion Nat'l Park, Utah)
15, 2001 -- Part 1 (Zion Nat'l Park, Utah)
14, 2001 (San Diego, California)
11, 2001 (San Jose, California)
2, 2001 (Bellingham, Washington)
19, 2001 (Hillsboro, Oregon)
30, 2001 (Hillsboro, Oregon)
19, 2001 (Bellingham, Washington)
5, 2001 (Bellingham, Washington)
* * * * * * *
Travels (2001-02) >
New Zealand Trip
> December 10, 2001