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Rarotonga

Written by Cathy Siegismund
September 2001


We left Bora Bora on Monday, September 10 at about 0930. We followed Wendy and Garth on Velella out of the pass and said farewell to French Polynesia. We hoped to have a nicer passage than Drew and Vernita on Layla and Paul and Suzette on Altair did. They had up to 40 knots of wind and a good bit of beating into steep seas.

Our route of the 540 mile passage from Bora Bora to Rarotonga

We had good passage, although I was queasier than usual due to having some ear problems following my last two dives in Bora Bora.

We had a real shock during our passage, when while listening to one of the morning nets we heard of the four plane hijackings and terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. We were able to tune into Voice of America and BBC radio broadcasts and follow along during the day.

By the end of the fourth day, it looked like we wouldn't arrive in Rarotonga until a few hours after dark on Friday night. By my morning watch on Friday, I had all the sail up and the motor on and had Felicity going over 7 knots.

After pushing the boat very hard for the last 12 hours, we arrived just before sunset at Avatiu Harbour on Friday, September 14.

Approaching Rarotonga, Southern Cook Islands

The Cook Islands are an independent country with a free association with New Zealand. The Cook Islands have their own government responsible for internal affairs, while its international relations and defense matters are handled by NZ. There are 15 Cook Islands with a land area of 241 square kilometers. These islands are spread across 2 million square kilometers of ocean. The islands are broken up into the Northern and Southern group and are located between the Society Islands of French Polynesia and US Samoa. The Cook Islands have a population of 16,800 people, 90% of which are Polynesian. Another 55,000 Cook Islanders live abroad, mostly in New Zealand and Australia as Cook Islanders carry New Zealand passports. The Cook Islanders are most closely related to the New Zealand Maori in heritage and language. English is the second language, spoken with a Kiwi accent, which we found charming and a huge relief after 9 months of Spanish and French. Rarotonga (Raro for short), is the main island, population center, and Avarua is the capital city.

Avatiu is the only usable bay on Rarotonga, the only other one was damaged beyond use in a cyclone that hit the island a few years ago. There is a fringing reef that surrounds part of the island, but not much of a lagoon. We pulled into Avatiu just before sundown. It is a tiny bay that serves both commercial shipping and cruisers. One long dock is for commercial ships.

Small Freighter tied to wharf in Avatiu Harbour

There is a short quay (pronounced as "key") that houses the visiting cruising boats. The quay will hold 12 sailboats. Multi-hulls have to anchor and stern tie in a very shallow corner of the bay and large power boats and mega yachts have to tie up on the commercial pier or raft to commercial vessels. The center of the small bay has to remain clear for freighters to maneuver.

Quay in Avatiu Harbour

Velella arrived about 30 minutes before we did and got the last empty spot on the quay. However, as two boats were planning to leave the next day, and no freighters were due in, we were allowed to anchor in the center of the bay with a very long stern line tied to the quay.

Drew helping us with our stern line

We got a very warm welcome from the other three Seattle boats (Altair with Paul and Suzette, Layla with Drew and Vernita, and Velella with Wendy and Garth) in the tiny harbor. We secured the boat, and then Drew picked us up in his dinghy and we all took off for dinner and beers at the Ronnies the local pub. It was fantastic to order up some fish and chips and a VB (Australian beer) in English. We had a great night enjoying a bit of a pub crawl and talking to the locals and visiting Kiwis. There doesn't appear to be any animosity or segregation between the Kiwis and Cook Islanders, which we noticed between the French and the French Polynesians.

On a more somber note, much of the evenings discussion was around the terrorist attacks on the US. Having been at sea, Wendy, Garth, Ken and I caught up on events with Drew, Vernita, Paul and Suzette who had been in Rarotonga for a week already and had been glued to the TV and reading the NZ papers.

We had a good night's sleep and got up early Saturday morning to check into the country and move the boat. We had a very painless check-in process with Don Silk the harbourmaster. He was very helpful and like everyone we'd met here made us feel welcome. We then stopped by the Saturday market, a short walk from the quay to cash some traveler's checks and have breakfast. We then returned to the harbor to give Med-mooring our first try with Felicity. Med (short for Mediterranean) mooring is a way to fit the maximum number of boats onto a strip of dock space. You drop your bow anchor, then back down, usually between two other boats, into basically a parking space and tie the stern of your boat to a quay. Our boat having a full keel backs like a wet bale of straw, so we were happy to have help from the people aboard Excalibur, a 48' X-boat from the UK, and our neighbors on the quay.

Some of the European boats we've seen have permanently attached gangplanks on their sterns so they can walk right off the back of their boats onto the quay. Being a double-ended boat with a windvane hanging off the back this wouldn't be possible for us. We, as most of the other boats, just put our dinghies in the water and pulled ourselves to shore with the stern lines.

Felicity, Layla, Tigger (a SF boat) and Altair stern tied to the quay in Avatiu Harbour

Being on the quay, you also have access to some facilities we hadn't seen in a while. There were showers with all the hot water you could use, water on the quay which we used to give Felicity a much needed wash down, and a laundry service across the street where you could drop-off your clothes for one-day service for less than you'd pay to do them yourself in a US laundromat. We're in heaven!!!

We really cannot say enough about the wonderful people of Rarotonga. They are unbelievably friendly, and have been very supportive to the American's visiting. We often had locals telling us how sorry they were for the attacks on the US. There were memorials along the main street and a collection for the US Red Cross at the Saturday market - we felt that was quite impressive that a poor island country whose minimum wage is less than $2 USD/hour was giving money to US relief efforts.


Photo by Vernita Lytle

Roadside Memorial for the victims of the US terrorist attack


Photo by Vernita Lytle

Notes expressing sympathy

Red Cross collection for the US at the Saturday Farmer's Market

Sunday we set off for some much needed exercise and to enjoy a 4-hour cross-island trek over the interior of Rarotonga past a high rock outcropping 413m high called Te Rua Manga (The Needle). Drew, Vernita, Ken and I set out from the quay. Another group of cruisers left shortly after we did and joined us about half way through the hike.

Ken on the cross-island trail on Rarotonga

See more pictures in the Rarotonga Cross-Island Hike Photo Gallery

After our hike, we quickly got cleaned up and set off for a candlelight memorial service for the US victims the Rarotongan's were holding in their cultural center. It was not something done for tourists, as we only saw a handful of Americans there. There were probably 500-600 Rarotongan's there, and the local religious leaders on the island and the Deputy Prime Minister gave speeches, as the Prime Minister was out of the country.

US Memorial Service held at the Rarotongan Cultural Center

Candle lit prayers concluded the service

After the service, we all went to a dinner where our spirits couldn't help being lifted by the locals and tourists having a great time.

On Monday, I was ecstatic to drop off my two huge bags of laundry. Ken and I then went into town to rent a scooter. They are sort of a cross between a scooter and a little motorcycle. Ken actually had to show his motorcycle license to get insurance and a Cook Island drivers license. If you didn't have a motorcycle license you had to take a driving test. We rented our scooter for a week. We are really enjoying these Kiwi prices; we rented a scooter for a week for less than we paid for an 8-hour rental in French Polynesia.

We then took off down to the Cultural Village where we met Altair, Layla and Velella and enjoyed a half day of presentations and demonstrations of the Cook Islanders' history, culture and crafts.

Presentation showing the methods used to make the elaborate dance costumes

Glass fishing float 

Presentation on traditional cooking

"Mama's" presentation on weaving, a very well developed and famous Cook Island art form

Demonstration of how to crack a coconut with a small rock!

The day finished with a lunch and dance performance

The Band

Dance performance

No dance performance can be complete without a little audience participation.

Ken doing a great job of a little Polynesian dancing

Ken, Drew, Garth and Paul posing with the girls of the dance troupe

Wendy, Garth, Vernita, Drew, Ken and I on our scooters

We spent the rest of the week enjoying the town, tourist activities and socializing with the other boats in the harbor. We found a cafe that could be on Queen Anne or in downtown San Francisco where you can get great food and lattes! We also have been in heaven with the local English speaking movie theater where we've caught five movies.

Ken and I circumnavigated the island on scooters twice exploring the island, the shops and taking pictures. 

Small farm in the shadow of the peaks of Rarotonga

Most of the houses are well maintained. All must be made of concrete blocks; this was mandated after a cyclone did quite a bit of damage to the island a few years back. There are some quite large and unique homes on the island as well as the more modest ones.

One of the larger homes

One of the more unique homes

Large beautiful waterfront home

Almost all of the homes have a small garden growing something. The volcanic soil is very rich, and produces a wide variety of produce, from green beans, tomatoes, and broccoli to the tropical paw paw (papaya), taro, bananas, and of course coconuts.

Taro field

A typical home with a small garden, and the family plot

One afternoon Garth, Wendy, Ken and I went to the local golf course. It's a nine-hole built around a series of HF radio antennas.


Photo by Wendy Hinman

Ken teeing up

We played some pretty ugly golf, as Ken has only golfed once before, Garth and Wendy have only done pitch-n-put and I haven't golfed in about 3 years. However, this didn't stop us from having a great time. We happened to be there on a night where they were having a local club tournament, the locals were very tolerant of us, and had us introduce ourselves in the club house after our game. We got a kick out of the prizes they were awarding to the tournament winners - frozen chickens and cans of corned beef.

Ken and Garth also rented windsurfers one afternoon and enjoyed the South end of the island which is enclosed by a small lagoon. 


Photo by Wendy Hinman

Ken and Garth windsurfing in a protected lagoon

On Friday September 21, we bought tickets to a local dance performance, which was a fundraiser for the local church. It was not the polished dancing we saw during in Tahiti, but the music and singing was outstanding and the people dancing were having a great time. 

Dance performance

There were performance by groups of children as well, some of them as young as four years old. We were amazed at how well some of these tiny kids could dance.

Children at the dance performance

Saturday morning we again attended the morning farmers' market. Layla, Velella and Altair were provisioning with fresh produce as they had checked out and were planning on heading to Niue on Sunday. We're not planning to leave for a few more days so we just enjoyed the market and its fair-like atmosphere.

Vendors set up along the street selling crafts and fresh produce

Some of the amazing produce for sale that is grown on Rarotonga

Park in which most of the market is held, with food stalls, music and performances

Permanent buildings surrounding the park house craft and clothing vendors

Two large sculptures at the end of the park

Our 4-5 day planned stay has already grown to 12. Although we hate to leave, we still have a lot of miles between us and New Zealand so we have to start preparations to go. We are planning to check out on Monday, September 24 and do all of our town errands - last minute shopping, post this web site update, go to the bank, post office, etc and leave for Niue on Tuesday September 25.

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