Thursday, May 29, 2014

Aitutaki Adventures

Where to start??? There were a lot of good times to be had in Aitutaki. When we could finally convince ourselves to leave that perfect beach, we ended up finding all kinds of other fun things to do. First thing on the agenda was to figure out our transportation situation...

Most people get around on the islands on motor scooters. We're not most people.  And that's not because we are too good for scooters. It turns out, we're not good enough for scooters.

This was either right before or right after I scraped off the end of my big toe when my turn went a little wide and I had to hit the brakes and brace my feet so I didn't run into a barbed wire fence. But I ended up getting good enough to pass, I think, after several passes up and down the road.

However, this was right before or right after Tera took off down the hill through a field on her scooter when her turn went REALLY wide. I think her toes were fine though.
After that, Mom had zero interest in getting on a scooter.

PLAN B!!!:
Somebody was pretty excited about driving on the left side of the road, right side of the car!

One of our first destinations was a clam farm/research station someone told us about. It was actually way more interesting than it sounds. and it was really close to where we got our rental car.
And check that out!!!  Those are clams! I had no idea they looked like that. I think the bright ones are from Palau. Clams come in lots of sizes depending on the species. they go from tiny to this:
These are Australian ones. They are putting them back in the lagoon here to help with the biodiversity or something, which means we got to see some of these bad boys out in the lagoon when we did our lagoon cruise. I didn't think these were real. and the shell in this picture probably weighs more than I do. They are remarkably heavy for their size.

These were the tanks they grow the clams in.

And just past the tanks was the beach (you're never far from the beach when you're on a tiny island), and the beach there was covered in chunks of coral. I think the Cook Islands are called the Coral Islands, or are part of a bigger group of islands referred to as the Coral Islands. Makes sense given the amount of coral here. 

Look how clear this water is!

Aren't they cute? It would have been great to see them anywhere, but I'm sure glad they picked such an awesome place for our reunion trip!

We were pretty excited at this beach. you can't tell from the pictures, but the white coral made it look like snow instead of sand, so it was pretty surreal.

Moving along!

This is actually the airport of Aitutaki. Both the airport here and on Rarotonga were built by the US during World War 2. We were nice enough to pay rent to the people whose land they were built on. a hot issue now is that since the US left them, the airlines and people who run them now don't pay that rent, so there is some turmoil about the airlines there. Also, there is a monopoly on flights to Aitutaki by Air Rarotonga, so they are trying to get a second airline in to help lower costs of getting to and from there. But despite their efforts to get more flights in and out, they don't want any of those flights to be on a Sunday. The Cook Islands are very religious, and some people there think it is unholy to have Sunday flights. At least enough people think that that there are signs up around the island encouraging people to not support Sunday flights.

 Another stop on our drive was at this very large banyan tree:

That's Tera at the far end of the tunnel.

And near that tree is a turn-off for 'the watertanks', which are high on a hill overlooking the entire island and lagoon. You can get 360-degree views, which are as beautiful as you'd expect.
Dream House.

Dream View

Dream Team

The water gets darker, and deeper, as soon as you get out of the lagoon.

Back at sea level, we walked around this little wharf.

At some point, Tera and I took this out to go looking for one of the giant clams someone had told us was near the resort we were at. We didn't find it, so we had to wait until our lagoon cruise to snorkel and find the big ones in the wild.

Our beach at sunset

Golden Hour selfie. 

If two's good, three's better.

 And here's the golden sunset casting that orange glow on us:

I seriously have a couple hundred sunset pictures from this trip.

We checked out the local market, which was kind of a joke. There was one lady there with a couple of tables of stuff. But we did find this miracle product:

read carefully
and start chugging.

 and in another shop, we found this mysterious product from the Blood Protection Company.
Despite the confusing packaging, I think these were mosquito coils that you burn to keep mosquitoes away.

One afternoon, we all finally got to go stand-up Paddleboarding! Somehow, no one fell in.

And lastly, here's the Island Night entertainment we had one evening at a big resort on the island.
This is the fire dancer that made Mom and Tera get up and hula for the crowd!!!
hahahahahahahahahaha.  Mom was a really good sport. Tera tolerated it. but they both really gave the local girls a run for their money... ok not really. Those island girls can MOVE!!! 

So that's a lot of what we did on Aitutaki! Stay tuned for a few more posts about our lagoon cruise, the hike up the hill and the awesome views, and one about a sunset that just wouldn't stop.

Island Hopping

After a few days of playing on the beaches of Rarotonga, it was time to check out another of the Cook Islands.

So we headed to the local airport to hop on a plane for our 40-minute flight to one of the crown jewels of the Pacific: the island of Aitutaki.

It's a pretty laid-back airport if you hadn't noticed.

Off we go!!!

Good-bye Rarotonga, and
'Kia Orana' Aitutaki!!!
 Aitutaki is a pretty small island. Rarotona is about 6 miles across. Aitutaki is a lot less than that. And Aitutaki has several other small islands around it, sharing a very large, incredibly stunning (just WAIT for the pictures - you won't believe it) lagoon. 

Upon landing at the airport, we received an Island Welcome consisting of leis and a fresh coconut to drink.
Island Princesses.

I've never been happier to look like such a stereotypical tourist.

Mom getting into the island way of life. Easy-Breezy, Beautiful.

Our Home away from Home on Aitutaki. and yes, I hiked the hill behind this place too... pics to follow another time.

The interior with our flowers hanging in place. If you look really closely just to the right of the pointy top of the wall, there is a tiny black dot. That was the only spider I saw there. I kept a watchful eye on it, hoping Tera wouldn't see it. He pretty much came back every other night and just sat up there. Luckily Tera never saw it! Otherwise I probably would have had to go on a bug-kill mission again.... OH I never told you about the wasps at our first place! One day, a whole bunch of wasps decided to camp out at our front door, but I showed them who's boss. They were nothing a dust pan and a team of hungry chickens couldn't handle!!! I would swing and slap them out of the air with the dust pain. As soon as they hit the sand below our balcony, the local wandering chickens would run over and eat them! It was perfect!

Ok, back to Aitutaki: after we got settled in, we checked out our beach, which was sporting a very gray sunset that day: 

It got a little more orange right before it went dark.

This was our little Hut Village at Paradise Cove.

The next morning, it was time to really get to know our beach: 
Tera heading down to check it out in the bright light of day.
Our beach bar/restaurant.

 And this was what our beach looked like there at Paradise Cove, Aitutaki......
So you know how the rest of the day looked:
this is the life....

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Rarotonga Hike - Raemaru Heights Lookout

Although I have improved significantly over the past few years, I'm still not as good of a beach bum as my Mom or Sister. These sun goddesses can lay in the sun for hours on end. I'm good for a couple hours of sun with countless layers of sunscreen before I have to transition to a couple hours of shade. And after that, I have to get moving.

On Rarotonga, there was a large hill/small mountain near our accommodation that was listed as a 'strenuous' hike and offers sweeping views of the West Coast of the island. Perfect! I"ll take it!
I also needed to get away from the beach time because I was BURNING through the first Hunger Games book I bought in the airport on the way there. I was having to put it down intermittently to try to pace myself so I wouldn't read it all in a couple days then have nothing to read. So to burn off some energy and to peel myself away from my book, I decided to go on this hike..

Oops. I mean 'We'. 'We' wanted to burn off some energy and go on this hike. Tera was very clear that we all did this hike and we all loved it, even though it was steep and hot. and we all thought the views were incredible. I'm sure you'll agree

The top of that hill is the destination. I set out We set out with a picture of the page from the guide book that had a vague description of how to get to the trailhead. Turn at the church and you'll get to another road. Check. 
That's where my guidebook stopped being helpful. 
Once I got to this point, I started wandering looking for the 'path that leads up the hill, eventually to an abandoned pineapple plantation with some old terraces. From there find a dirt path that leads up the mountain' or something like that. 
Luckily I found a local girl that pointed me in the right direction, but things were still pretty murky for a while. Turns our the real directions should have been: Turn at the church, then pass this cemetery:

continue up the road:

Pass this luscious garden:

Turn left at the Goat: 

Then keep wandering up an increasingly overgrown road until there are only two options, one of which says 'no entry'. So walk through the weeds for a little while and then you'll see the trailhead! EASY!

 And this was the trailhead.....
Clearly not a well-traveled track. There was a sign-in book just inside the tunnel opening there. There had been two people the day before me. The people before them were a few days before, and they wrote that they didn't finish... not a good sign.

The trail at its best. not really joking.

These were just growing wild in the jungle there! Crazy!

Finally got a view of the coast after a while. Maybe 1/3 of the way up.

A little higher now!

Even higher!

And the path just kept getting better. this was actually the trail.  The worst part was the underbrush. It was actually quite scratchy, and was tearing up my legs.

So after about an hour and a half of a steep, slippery hike through the wet jungle, I get to this: 
say what?
I was actually pretty excited about this. My little guide book never mentioned that you needed ropes and bolted-in pegs to scale the rocky face at the top of the mountain. I had assumed the trail would wind around the back side of it or something, but nope! Straight up it!

 And this was the view I was rewarded with:
Worth. It.

Feeling good about the hike.


Zooming in on the lagoon. Our place was somewhere along here I think. 

The next mountain over. I thought about heading on over to the top of that one, but there is actually a huge drop-off between where I was and that next green peak on the left.

There were some really cool rocky outcroppings across the valley.

Maybe the nicest picture of the hike. Looking down on the canopy of the forest was great. It looked so smooth in some places.

I was basically on a big plateau on the top of this. On each side, it just dropped off  in vertical cliffs. Southwest view.

Looking Northwest.

Climbing back down the cliffs. Look how scared I was.

This was a serious trail!

Peg ladder built into the rocks.

This trail was pretty rough.It definitely wore me out... oops... I mean us. It wore us all out. And anywhere above that I typed 'I', I really meant 'we' : )  And since we're still running with that story, I'll just say that  ONE of us fell down on the way down and cut his leg and smacked his knee. It was one of those ugly falls too, with limbs going every direction before finally collapsing in a twisted pile headfirst down the hill, laying on your back. Luckily it wasn't a fall off the cliff, but on the rocky wet trail in the jungle below. It was so steep and loose that every step was precarious, and combined with being out of view from all the ferns along the trail, there was a lot of slipping and sliding the whole way down. 
And since we're apparently in full disclosure mode, I'll also admit that one of us got temporarily lost on the way down too... All of a sudden I realized that I had just passed that same tree about 5 minutes before... then a lot of things started looking familiar and then I was at a dead end. I had to walk back and forth across a 200-yard section of trail about 8 times before I finally found the trail down. Still, all that said, it was a great use of 4  hours that day. I'd We'd do it again.