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December 10, 2001  (Rarotonga, Cook Islands)

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Kia Orana!  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."


So where 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.


I've been 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 here.


The Last Frantic Days in Bellingham

As you 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. 


If my 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.


I was planning to buy a series of one-way plane tickets that would take me completely around the world.  However, as the folks at AirTreks.com, 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.



Above left:  Packing up and getting ready in Bellingham.

Above center:  Our first snowfall of the year.  So much for trying to avoid a winter this year, eh?

Above 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.


On The Road Again...

After 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 Airport. 


My flight 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 family story.


After 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 taken.



Above 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).

Above center:  I got to warm and sunny Southern California that evening.

Above right:  Dana Point Marina at sunset.



Above left:  My brother Dave and his wife Mary, at their house overlooking the Pacific Ocean.  That's their irrepressible cat, Precious.

Above center:  Precious getting her last licks in before the dishes get washed. 

Above 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.



Above left:  Driving to the L.A. airport to catch my 9:30 p.m. flight to the Cook Islands.

Above center:  Checking in at Air New Zealand...

Above 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 tarmac.  


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?!


Fortunately, though, the airport security staff called back a few hours later and said that they'd found my laptop.  It was a big relief to me, and a testament to the honesty of the Cook Islanders.



Above 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." 

Above 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.


Kicking Back in Raro

I spent 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.


As I 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 cheap prices.



Above 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.

Above center:  Inside of my studio at Vara's.  Like most motels in the Cook Islands and New Zealand, it's equipped with a full kitchen.

Above right:  While still worrying about my laptop, I took a Sunday morning stroll on Muri Beach, the nicest beach on Rarotonga.



Above left:  Muri is lined with small hotels, motels and private houses.  I think it's the best place to stay on Rarotonga.

Above 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.  

Above 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.



Above left:  Avarua is the capital and largest city in the Cook Islands.  Motorbikes are everywhere.

Above center:  I 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.  

Above right:  What child?



Above left:  "Downtown" Avarua. 

Above right:  Even the license plates here are friendly.



Next News

December 14, 2001  (Aitutaki, Cook Islands)



Previous News

December 3, 2001 -- Part 2  (Bellingham, Washington)

December 3, 2001 -- Part 1  (Bellingham, Washington)

October 18, 2001 -- Part 3  (Bismarck, North Dakota)

October 18, 2001 -- Part 2  (Bismarck, North Dakota)

October 18, 2001 -- Part 1  (Bismarck, North Dakota)

October 6, 2001  (Fort Lincoln State Park, North Dakota)

September 30, 2001 -- Part 2  (Bismarck, North Dakota)

September 30, 2001 -- Part 1  (Bismarck, North Dakota)

September 15, 2001  (Bismarck, North Dakota)

August 30, 2001  (Webster, South Dakota)

August 18, 2001  (Watertown South Dakota)

August 17, 2001  (Walnut Grove, Minnesota)

August 14, 2001  (Minneapolis, Minnesota)

August 10, 2001 (Battle Creek, Michigan)

August 8, 2001  (12 Days in Syracuse: Part 2)

August 8, 2001  (12 Days in Syracuse: Part 1)

August 6, 2001  (Manlius, New York)

July 23, 2001  (Middleton, Massachusetts)

July 22, 2001  (Boston, Massachusetts)

July 20, 2001  (Pomfret, Connecticut)

July 18, 2001  (Denton, Maryland)

July 16, 2001  (Cumberland, Virginia)

July 14, 2001  (Roanoke, Virginia)

July 9, 2001  (Sevierville, Tennessee)

July 8, 2001  (Fontana Lake, North Carolina)

July 5, 2001  (Manchester, Tennessee)

June 30, 2001  (Hohenwald, Tennessee)

June 29, 2001  (Corinth, Mississippi)

June 27, 2001  (Natchez, Mississippi)

June 24, 2001  (Austin, Texas)

June 20, 2001  (Canyon de Chelly, Arizona)

June 18, 2001  (Clay Canyon, Utah)

June 15, 2001 -- Part 2  (Zion Nat'l Park, Utah)

June 15, 2001 -- Part 1  (Zion Nat'l Park, Utah)

June 14, 2001  (San Diego, California)

June 11, 2001  (San Jose, California)

June 2, 2001  (Bellingham, Washington)

May 19, 2001  (Hillsboro, Oregon)

April 30, 2001  (Hillsboro, Oregon)

April 19, 2001  (Bellingham, Washington)

April 5, 2001  (Bellingham, Washington)


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Home > Travels (2001-02) > New Zealand Trip > December 10, 2001