Wednesday, August 13, 2008
Sunday, July 27, 2008
WOW WOW WOW! Everyone must experience the island of Aitutaki at least once in their lives. It truly truly truly is a piece of heaven on Earth!
There is not a lot to do in Aitutaki, but take in its views from above and on a lagoon tour, snorkelling and boating, but it is definitely a place to see..
Now some of my plans went to crap because of an injury, but I will lead us there first.
Arriving in Aitutaki was amazing. The flight over the lagoon shows the shallow clear waters in its full beauty. The weather was warmer than Rarotonga, but we had a bit of wind. I stayed at Ranginui's Retreat in my own little bungalow with a bed, kitchen, couch and bathroom (with lovely warm water!). I was about 30 feet from the water and had amazing views from the front porch! LOVELY!!! AND I got to drive around for the week on a very cool yellow scooter! SO fun.. I think I need to get one now!
It was so relaxing there I finished 4 books, if you can believe that! Well I had a lot of time to lay around.
I started my visit with an Island tour with a very cute Cook Islander, named Nakitai. We cruised around the little island in his yellow jeep to the high points (some 220m) and got some amazing views of the lagoon (as well as a chance to watch the clouds rolling in!) It was a great way to get acquainted with the island. There are no dogs on Aitutaki and there are two stories.. one that a dog attacked and killed the chiefs daughter so he had them killed and banned and the other is that there was a leprosy outbreak and the belief was that it was caused by the dogs, so they were banned! Your choice.. hard to get a straight answer out of a 'Cookie', they tell you what you want to hear!
In the afternoon (after an amazing downpour of rain and clearing to a beautiful day) I headed off to be pampered at a fancy spa. My therapist (or whatever they are called these days) was a nice young girl from Zimbabwe. I had an amazing scrub and massage and then got my lashed tinted. While the lashed were dying, she started a bikini wax... and well.... dumped the entire wax jug (or container or whatever it was I could not see) on me!! CAN YOU BELIEVE IT?? I screamed, she was in shock and didn't know what to do, but after what felt like forever finally started putting cold water on the burn... for about an hour before I could stop freaking out and get in the shower to keep it cool...
So needless to say, my lovely relaxing time in Aitutaki was marred (and I am sure to be scarred for a long while, if not forever)...
So therefore I got to read books while keeping ice on the burn. I went to the doctor after a couple of days and of course it was infected so I got some meds for that.
BUT I did go on a lagoon cruise, so so so spectacular. Clear waters, giant clams, lots of fishes and amazing beaches! I also went to three island nights where you get a big buffet meal and a display of traditional dances. One of them I snuck into to watch the fire show (just like the locals do! just the show - no meal) I cruised around on the scooter a bit, but that upset the burn and was uncomfortable, so that was not too often.
I missed out on a dive or two, kayaking in the lagoon and getting out for a snorkel as much as I wanted, so that was disappointing.. but Aitutaki will still be one of my fondest memories for this holiday, that is for sure!
So I don't know what I did to upset the 'gods', but I almost never got out of Tonga, and ATM stole $400 from me (and the bank cannot help me!) and then I got this nasty burn! I hope that is it. Off to French Polynesia next! 3 more weeks til i get back to Canada. I hope you are all doing well. See ya soon!
Saturday, July 19, 2008
All right, so here I am in this beautiful place and the weather is just not cooperating.. cloudy and the occasional showers, what's that... but in the last few days we have had sun and I have gotten of my lazy butt and done some sight seeing and activities..
But to start, our Cook islands history lesson! There are 15 islands in the Cooks and fall into two distinct groups scattered over some two million square kilometers of the Pacific Ocean - an area the size of western Europe. Rarotonga is part of the southern group, which also includes Aitutaki (where i go tomorrow!) There are a number of unpopulated Islands in both the northern and southern groups.
The Cooks is a unique Polynesian country with an independent government (in free association with New Zealand - whatever that means) ahh it means.. that the Cook Islanders carry new Zealand passports and New Zealand takes on many of the responsibilities of Foreign Affairs (including defence).
The resident population is estimated to be around 13,000 but declining. Visitor numbers are close to 80,000 annually, (not including day trippers from cruise ships). Tourism is the most important money earner for the Cooks. the most common language is Rarotongan Maori, but everyone speaks English as well.
The name , Cook islands, was first used in the early 1830's by a Russian cartographer -- over 50 years after Captain James Cook's death. Cook had explored much of the group but only stepped ashore on Palmerston island and didn't see Rarotonga (the largest island and center of government and commerce). The name initially applied only to the Southern group of islands which until then were separate island entities. After annexation by New Zealand in 1901 the name, Cook Islands, was extended to include the islands in the northern group.
Enough of that.. the island is spectacularly beautiful and surrounded by an amazing coral reef which goes out about 100 meters (maybe) and drops off 4000 meters. This creates some amazing drastic color changes.... so beautiful!!! The weather has been off, cloudy with the occasional showers and very strong winds, but has finally cleared up, though still windy.
After taking 2 days to recover the killer flight from Tonga, I ventured out and went to a Cook Island Church service. It was colorful and lots of singing and the best part was the free luncheon afterwards! Good donuts and buns, and fruits!! yummy That afternoon I went with a couple of gals to the Fruits of Rarotonga beach and went for a snorkel. The coral isn't as colorful as other places, but it is there and with coral comes all different kinds of fish, so that was cool to see.
A couple of days were raining so I read and finished another book and started another one. I also moved from the dorm on the beach side to a single room in the hillside which gave me access to a tv (with one channel- the news) and a DVD player. So the rainy days passes with reading and watching movies.
Finally I got off my butt and went on an Island tour on the back roads with a jeep. They took us up the hills and had some amazing views from all around the island. We got a coconut presentation and at the end were served a traditional meal of chicken, rooster (very tasty), spinach, taro, kasava (like a yam/ potato), a cooked banana thing and a raw fish in coconut milk mixture called something I cannot remember...
The next day I went for a two tank dive and saw some new fish and neatly shaped coral and the sand bottom of the reef. I saw the neatest black and white puffer fish and got pretty close to a jelly fish. It was a good day to be under water as the winds were still pretty strong. After the dive I went to have lunch at another resort (VERY nice place, because I had met a gent on one of my plane trips who knew the over. so I went to say hi)..
On my last full day in Raro, i went on a cross island walk with a 68-year old gent up to the "needle" 400 meters up and a tough climb. But it was a great day to climb and be sheltered from the wind. the view from the top was amazing. We had a great lunch and some very good pau pau (papaya). AND my knees held out until the last five minutes, so all was good!
Tomorrow (Saturday) I am off to meet friends at the weekend market (which goes from 6 Am to 1 PM). I won't quite arrive that early though, but will get a good look around until I have to get back and get bags for my flight to Aitutaki. the plan is to get some cheap, yet beautiful black pearls there... no room for much else!
Aitutaki is supposed to be thee nicest place in the South Pacific and closer to the equator so warmer and sunnier! I am soo looking forward to it. I have a self contained beach bungalow on the beach and free kayak and scooter usage. So it should be fun! Internet, I am told, is $20/ hour so likely it will be awhile before you hear from me again!
Ohh yeah, I don't think i mentioned the free roaming chickens and pigs in Tonga, of which there were tons, and here in Raro, there are not so many pigs but roosters EVERYWHERE and they crow all day long. no rhyme nor reason!
Still loving the get-away, and still meeting all kinds of people, but also looking forward to getting away from ants and decent fitting clothes!
Wednesday, July 16, 2008
Thursday, July 10, 2008
While she was around we ate, looked in all the shops, and hung out. After she left I finally went on a pearl farm tour and learned a whole lot about the world of cultivating pearls. Pretty interesting stuff. Black pearls are made from black oysters, but they range in colors from pearl to yellow gold, to chocolate and black and pretty much any color in between! They get manipulated to create the different colors. And of course there are a thousand different shapes and sizes. Fiji is a little slow in getting in to the pearl business, but they say their pearls are better than in the Cooks or Tahiti!
I flew back to Nadi for a night then caught a flight to Tonga... !
Sorry but there will not be any photos right now... not able and too costly for the time it takes.. I will when I can.
Sorry Shortage of photo upload capabilities... so this is what you get for now!
1. the only multi branched coconut palm in the world (according to Toni)
2. of course, a flat tire on the tour!
3. For every two houses there is a church (Mormon's are a huge presence here) and a convenience store. People just open one in their front porches basically!
4. petrified proof of underwater life a million years ago, the ocean floor pushed up and is now the land the Tonga people walk on everyday.
5. blowholes on Tongatapau
so the land of Tonga has been naughty and nice to me, but I am here and have lived to tell so that is a good thing! Seriously this stretch of the trip has played on my patience in many ways, but it is all an experience, right?!?
Tonga is a small Kingdom in the South Pacific, 13 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time. Tonga was made famous by the Mutiny on the Bounty, has never been colonized by a Western power, and is not a major tourism destination. It consists of 170 islands of which only 40 are inhabited and are divided into three mail groups: Tongatapu (where the capital Nuku'alofa is), Ha'apai, and Vava'u.
Nuku'alofa is home to the Royal Palace, the royal tombs, and his majesty King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV. There are some spectacular blowholes here and the trails and roads show remnants of the bottom of the ocean with petrified shells and animals on the ground as you walk. I arrived in Nuku'alofa and stayed at a B&B - Winnie's Guest House- for a couple of days with a nice family. Luckily I got on to am Island tour on the Sunday, as EVERYTHING closes for church, except for tour operator stuff. So off I went on Toni's tours and had to decide whether what he was saying was the truth or made for tourist ears! We went all over the island, which isn't too hard as it is only 18 miles long by nine miles wide. Of Course we visited where they say Captain Cook landed, though it isn't likely for various reasons that it was that very spot he came to shore. We also stopped by Abel Tasman's landing spot (also not likely the real spot), a Stonehenge kind of contraption created by no one knows and is linked to the longest and shortest days of the year (the Ha'amonga Trilithon), a very cool bridge made naturally from the land, some terraced tombs (burying bodies on top of each other!), and some very cool natural blow holes on the beach.
On Monday, I arrived nice and early to the domestic airport for a 6:30 AM flight, that didn't exist. Then when the staff showed up at 6:45 AM, my name was no where to be found in their "booking system" (a nice piece of paper.) AND sadly I wasn't the only one! There were 7 of us who had booked in New Zealand and didn't exist in Tonga Air and the flights were full for the day, as well. So we waited patiently in the "airport", which some described as a bomb shelter, for 4 hours and finally got word we could get on the 10:15 AM flight. So after a lovely one-hour flight we arrived on the island of Vava'u.
The weather being what it is has been cloudy and a little drizzly at moments, so I have spent my time wandering around the one main street, climbing the "mountain" and luckily, due to a stuffed nose, going and swimming with the South Pacific Humpback Whales! yup AMAZING, and a couple of people have sent me pics so you can experience it as well! SOOOOO COOOOOL! Vava'u sure has a presence of overseas imports of men and women who come for a visit and end up staying. The Palau (sp?) (white people) have sure taken over much of the business from the Tongan people, but the Tongans seem all right with it (and hopefully Tonga Air doesn't go bankrupt until at least tomorrow after I get back to the mainland! NOTE: I did make it out, though had to wait 4 hours later than my original departure time)
I have spent my time eating in different venues and trying not to think about the missing dogs and cats, just eating what I have ordered, as I believe it to be. Neat little tourist pubs and restaurants: the Lobster house (that had no lobster), the Bounty Bar (once owned by a Canadian), the Dancing Rooster (with a Swiss Chef), Tonga Bob's (with the Drag queen night), the little Crow' s Nest Cafe (where I really do not want to think about where the hamburger came from) and the Cafe Tropicana (with the over priced meals! but very tasty!) I did have a pretty good massage, overlooking the bay one day - she forgot and showed up an hour late and charged $20 more than I thought, but seriously here is a different time zone with it's own time limits! The flights are a great example.
So the highlight of this journey was definitely the whales! I had planned on going for a dive, but had a troublesome cough and a bit of a stuff nose, so when she said they were heading out in 2 minutes for a whale swim and had one spot, I jumped on board! Amazingly only 20 minutes after everyone was on the boat and we were heading out to the west coast of the island we saw out first two South Pacific Humpback whales... lazing in the water and hanging out. Then they started playing around and splashing, diving down and rolling over. We watched them for about a half hour and then headed off to a bay to find some more. Shortly after arriving in the bay it was impossibly not to hear the whale singing! AMAZING! so we quickly got our gear on and four of us got in the water and listened to him sing away for 15 minutes or so before he surfaced and swam away. Then we waited a bit until he returned and the other four got their chance.
After he swam away we watched a few others around and found a group of three playing in the warm water- rolling over, resting and lazing about - so the first four of us got in again and had the AMAZING opportunity to swim with 3 whales at one time. With the 30 meter visibility, it was like they were only 10 feet away and loving that we were there! so spectacular! And after a cool lunch, the whales came through and jumped out of the water for us. If you have never seen a whale breech out of the water, it is an experience to see this huge thing fling itself out of the water. Very cool!
Then I had issues getting out of Vava'u, so by the time I landed back on Tongatapau, instead of 12-hours to relax before heading back to the airport I had 5.. so I repacked, had a bite to eat, and watched the telly until my taxi showed up. The flight took me to Auckland, New Zealand at 3:00 AM arriving at 5:30 AM, and my connecting flight to Rarotonga, Cook Islands at 9:00 AM left on time (with me on the manifest!)
I am in the Cooks now and will do my best to get updated ASAP, but I can't upload photos and Internet isn't always available, but I''ll do my best to get you caught up to Rarotonga, before I go to Aitutaki.
AND to recap Tonga:
THE GOOD: swimming with humpback whales, the views of the Bay of Refuge
THE BAD: the flight systems, everything closed on Sundays,
THEY UGLY: the drag queens at Tonga Bob's!