Rarotonga, Cook Islands – Part 3 – Markets, amazing snorkeling and beautiful sunsets….

Back in July 2023 we had a wonderful 10 days in Rarotonga, Cook Islands. You can catch up on Parts 1 and 2 of the adventure (and many photos) here:
Part 1
Part 2

Now onto the next instalment…..

Friday 14 July – a rainy change of plans….

We awoke to a wet Rarotonga after plenty of overnight rain. Our plan for the morning was to drive around to Aroa lagoon, off Aroa beach, to check out the snorkeling. This was supposed to be a top snorkeling spot, and we hadn’t yet tried it.

So with all the gear loaded up we headed off for the short 10 minute drive. Rain wasn’t really a problem as we were going to get wet. Unfortunately when we arrived at Aroa it was blowing a gale (it hadn’t been all that windy at our house) and it was very choppy and not pleasant snorkeling conditions. We found that the weather changed somewhat dramatically from one part of the island to another, despite the small size!

There was a quick change of plans and we thought we’d drive back towards the airport and see what was open in the shopping area. The kids had been desperate to visit the popular fudge shop! It was continuing to rain but it wasn’t cold, so fine for exploring.

We noticed the markets appeared to be open. We thought they were only open on weekends, with Saturday being the main market day, but at least a few stalls were open this Friday, so a quick detour to the markets was in order. We hadn’t managed to find a lot of fresh fruit and veggies at a reasonable price, so thought we’d try our luck at the markets.

Fudge and pearls…..

The kids then got their requested detour to ‘The Fudge Factory’ where they harvested many samples and we left with more fudge than we needed.

The Cook Islands are well known for their black pearls. Next door to the Fudge Factory were some jewelry stores so Soren kept the staff well entertained with his incessant questions about pearls. He eventually concluded he didn’t have enough pocket money to buy us all black pearls, so back to our house we went.

Our second tropical hideaway….

We’d spent the first 4 nights of our Rarotonga holiday in a villa in the Takitumu district. We had decided to split our accommodation to be closer to different snorkel sites, and try different areas of the island. Our second house was quite close to the airport in Avarua district. By close to the airport, I mean you could see the runway from the pool!

We had booked the house in a holiday complex that also included a number of villas. The house was absolutely huge – 4 bedrooms, 2 living areas, 2 bathrooms and a garage with a table tennis table. It was not a bad way to spend the second half of our holiday.

Everyone again got their own room, and we could have fitted another 3 or 4 people if necessary!

The kids enjoyed a bit of garage table tennis and darts between swims and snorkels. The garage was always super hot but great for drying out our snorkel gear, and keeping kids entertained.

Again we had a great outdoor area, with a few free range chickens and roosters to keep us entertained as we ate and enjoyed the tropical weather.

This house had a shared pool between our house and the smaller villas, but we didn’t really have any issues with having to share. Most of the other guests hung out on their balconies and rarely swum. The pool was plenty big enough for everyone and we enjoyed watching the planes take off as we swam.

The airport noise wasn’t really a problem, you only really noticed a couple of times a day when a really big plane came in or left. We actually found ourselves checking the schedule so we could go and view the takeoffs and landings. Plane obsessed Soren thought it was wonderful!

Afternoon snorkeling at Aroa

After lunch the sun finally came out and the wind had dropped so we thought we’d try our luck at Aroa lagoon again. It was beautifully sunny and still when we arrived. Gear on, and the beautiful coloured water was begging for us to dive in.

In this spot you had to swim out a fair way to get to the best coral and fish. The water was again warm and not too deep, with minimal current so it was easy snorkeling.

We found some amazing, and huge, eels. They were very pretty but not happy about some large fish nearby so were putting on quite the display for us.

This guy was huge, at least a 2-3 metres long. He was in 1.5 metre deep water and wasn’t doing a great job of hiding!

We found a lot of very large fish in the lagoon. There were very few other snorkelers around so we had a wonderful time exploring. This was some of the best coral we’d come across so far. Soren was a snorkeling star now, so much stronger than our trip to Magnetic Island the previous year, and not the least bit fussed about being 200m off shore.

You would hardly of known it had been a rainy, grey and windy morning. It was back to beautiful blue skies and crystal clear water!

There was a particularly friendly beach dog here who the kids had a great time playing with. The dogs seemed keen on swimming too…..

The water was absolutely beautiful in this spot so we spent several hours here. Taking it in turns heading out for snorkels, while the kids intermittently snorkeled and played in the shallows and on the beach.

While there were many of our favourite fish and starfish from the other spots we had our first lion fish sightings in this lagoon.

Astrid was also more than happy to head out with either Anto or me for long snorkels. There were plenty of giant coral gardens and you could spend quite a bit of time floating around and checking out the coloured corals and schools of fish.

We came across some very large schools of fish, who were more than happy to let us drift along with them and were just a little bit fascinated with my camera.

Sunshine and pineapple pie….

Aroa lagoon had definitely been a hit and we didn’t drag ourselves out until after 4pm. The water was a very pleasant temperature, but the kids with their minimal body fat do eventually get a bit cold, so it was back to our house for an afternoon ‘sand-removal’ swim and some pineapple pie, purchased at the markets that morning.

We were definitely enjoying the tropical vibes and were not missing the cold Canberra Winter all that much…

Saturday the 16th – Morning Markets and drinking coconuts…..

We’d woken up to another rainy morning but we were keen to check out the markets. All the online (and local) info was that they get busy so we decided to head down once everyone was up. Everyone other than Astrid, who as a 12 year old was fond of sleep, had asked us not to wake her up and just bring her back a coconut…..

We took a ‘short-cut’ past the other side of the airport, where there were quite a few cows, who had excellent runway views. By the time we made the very short trip to the markets, the sun was out and the humidity had arrived. While there had been a few stalls open the day before, Saturday is the main market day and it was hard to get a park within half a kilometre of the markets.

We had a good wander around and the kids finally secured some drinking coconuts at an acceptable price. As promised we made sure we got an extra for Astrid,

There were plenty of food stalls as well as the usual array of souvenirs and clothes. We did spend quite a bit of time negotiating with children as to which souvenirs they would like and ended up with a few very nice local T-shirts. Like the Muri night markets, cash is the preferred method of payment so make sure you come with cash if you plan to buy anything. Most of the supermarkets and restaurants were happy to accept card, but cash was definitely required in several places. The local currency is New Zealand Dollars but Cook Islands have their own coins (although also accept New Zealand coins). You end up with a strange mix of both.

With souvenirs purchased and coconuts drunk, and a few items for lunch, it was time to head back to the house and see if the sleepy one had awoken.

Snorkeling at Black Rock….

Our afternoon snorkeling spot of choice was Black Rock, just in front of the airport runway. There is a fairly wide section of beach here with reef. We decided to try the end closest to Black Rock, rather than the runway. The water here was again crystal clear but incredibly shallow.

We immediately found some great coral and fish, but had to carefully pick our way around sections of reef and bommies. The kids could scoot over the top of some coral but Anto and I had to be rather careful and occasionally you’d end up in a spot that was just too shallow. It was fun for Zinnia though who had no trouble floating over the top of plenty of fish.

We had lots of fish to keep us entertained. Anto found another giant eel, hiding in some shallow rocks. I unfortunately had the camera at the time though!

Between snorkels we decided to check out Black Rock, which was both fun to climb and had a lot of crabs to keep the kids amused.

The shallow rock pools were inhabited by small fish and crabs. Zinnia was also endlessly amused by building sandcastles with all the washed up corals and shells.

Black Rock was another beautiful spot to swim and snorkel, and appeared to be a favourite of the locals as there were plenty of people around whenever we were here.

Soren was a fan of Rarotonga, and snorkeling, and was happy hanging out in the water for hours.

As this was a popular spot, the car park usually had a takeaway food van and an icecream van. This made for easy icecreams post-swim and snorkel……

Icecreams and coconuts

As we were only a 3 minute drive up the hill from the icecream van, we managed to get icecreams back to the pool. The car was by now well and truly infested with sand. We did manage to keep the icecream out of the car and the sand (mostly) out of the house by jumping in the pool post-snorkel and eating icecreams by the pool.

Astrid also got her long awaited drinking coconut, just making sure she was soaking up those holiday vibes….

Plane spotting…..

Most afternoons at around 5pm an Air NZ Boeing 787 departs, it’s a pretty impressive sight even from our verandah, so we had planned to go down to the airport and hang out at the end of the runway and see it closer. Us and about 30 or 40 other people, as plane spotting seems a popular hobby in these parts.

The kids certainly enjoyed the show and it’s not often you get to have a plane that big go about 50m over your head! We did leave Soren in charge of getting some video but he got distracted by watching the plane and forgot to hit record 😛

Cocktails on the beach….

When on holidays, you might as well enjoy an evening sunset and cocktail on the beach. We headed down to Vaiana’s Bar which is not far from the airport and right on the beach. It was a beautiful evening and we thought we’d better make the most of the great weather and see if we could get another fabulous sunset. This side of the island has the best sunsets and this turned out to be a pretty great spot.

Of course the kids found yet another beach dog to play with! It’s a great place to be a dog, sunshine, warm weather, beaches and plenty of people to give you pats…..

While the kids were playing on the beach, with other random kids they came across, we figured it was time for a holiday cocktail.

The kids were having a wonderful time playing on the beach, and leaving the adults in peace for at least 5 minutes, as we enjoyed another beautiful sunset……

This was definitely a great spot to enjoy Rarotonga and watch the sunset while we tried to get the kids to cooperate for a photo. This is was about as close as we got, at least they had fun!

As the final bit of light faded into lovely colours over the sea we had to say goodbye to the beach and head back to our holiday house for dinner.

Up next……

The final instalment of the Cook Islands adventure – more amazing snorkeling and diving, some kayaking and a very lucky turtle encounter for all of us………

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