Cook Islands, South Pacific

South Pacific Part 4: New Year in Rarotonga

It is below freezing temperature outside while writing this post so please excuse me if I sounded a little bit down or even rage on why did we had to come back LOL! When we left Aitutaki it was blue sky there (and I did debate if we should change the flight etc so we could stay one more day to go back to the sandbar) and when we arrived Rarotonga, it was cloudy…..I really don’t have much luck but at least it didn’t rain while we were there – during the wet season. We booked our transfer through the hotel which they outsourced to Raro Tours. Our driver was there on time and we picked up our luggage right outside the “terminal”!

It was a short 15 minutes ride to the resort – Muri Beach Club and on the way, we get to see a little bit of Rarotonga.

We arrived!

Christmas decoration inside the lobby. Our room was not ready yet so we had to wait and found out there was FREE wifi via the hotel’s laptop in the lobby!!!

Hotel laptop with FREE wifi for guests to use but have a little caution note there to avoid uploading and downloading large size contents. You had no clue how excited we were with FREE wifi after disconnected with the outside world for 4 days! What should we post, what should we check, and those after Christmas sales that we were missing? The cost of free wifi was being eaten alive by mosquitoes especially at night! The window next to the laptop station was open and without a screen…..we noticed windows in Cook Islands and New Zealand do not have screens to keep bugs away….why????? I posted a picture in Facebook and in return got 3 mosquitoes bites! Ever since, I put on insect repellent before going there to use the laptop!

We didn’t arrange any activity in advanced so we were looking at brochures in the hotel to see what’s interesting. There’s a very famous Polynesian dinner show Te Vara Nui Village that hubby was interested in and we asked reception where it’s just around the corner from the hotel..nice! Snorkeling tour? Sure, the lady in the reception helped us to call the tour for availability and no one answer so she called another tour operator (Captain Tama Tour) and booked us. Both tour companies are the same itinerary and same price for $79 NZD per person including island bbq lunch!

We walked out to find Te Vara Nui Village and it was just around the corner on the main road but unfortunately they were fully booked! We went back to the hotel again and got my brother to walk back out for lunch to Deli-licious, a high ranking restaurant. It was a long walk but we passed through many restaurants in which we could consider for later meals….we stayed in Rarotonga for 3 nights. Originally was only 2 nights but Air New Zealand changed the flights so we had to stay an extra night! There are Mexican, Chinese/Vietnamese, and even a night market within few minutes of walk from the hotel!

Muri night market every Tueday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday, we’ll come back one night to check it out!

There was a pharmacy right next to Deli-licious and we went in to search for sunburn relief gel, we bought a huge bottle and hoping it’ll help! We arrived Deli-licious….don’t be fooled by the “Internet cafe”, it’s not free, you’ll need to purchase a data plan! It’s more of a cafe than a restaurant, order from counter, mostly deli and hubby wasn’t interested…so we walked back to the restaurants we passed.

The beautiful trees on the main road of Muri!

Every single restaurant that we passed by were closed for lunch; they only server dinner!!! It was so hard to find a place to eat for lunch in Muri OMG, I missed the Boat Shed! We came across a field with goats roaming around someone’s backyard, how cute were they!

We had no choice but back to the hotel restaurant for lunch 🙁 We were the only customers there when we arrived…urg shouldn’t that a bad sign?

Hubby ordered a drink with ice cream…actually whipped cream lol; it was okay but not as good as the ones we had in Aitutaki Lagoon Resort!

Brother and I both got the mango with apple juice, interesting combination but came out to be quite good and refreshing!

I ordered a steak burger, good portion:

Hubby ordered a seafood coconut soup….it reminded me of Tom Yum Koong but without the sourly taste.

Brother ordered a sandwich, big portion too and tasted good. At least food wasn’t bad but it was a bit more expensive in terms of Cook Islands pricing….cost us $83.50 NZD for three of us.

After lunch, our room was ready…it was on the 2nd floor without much of a view; Muri Beach Club is considered a higher end property, 4 stars, and quite pricey at $287.65 USD per night, I booked it when it was on sale too! The bathroom….was spacious and clean but none of the luxury feel.

The room has two double beds and the mattress was more comfortable than the single beds at Aitutaki.

Not much of a view from our balcony…it was taken on the last day so it was clearer sky….we were spoiled by the beach bungalow in Aitutaki!

The hotel pool, rarely anyone there….oh the resort is adult only which was nice without the noise of kids running around!

Walked through the restaurant is the famous Muri Beach. Look at the shades of blue of the lagoon..of course not as amazing as the Aitutaki lagoon…awww spoiled!

There are few islands scattered throughout the lagoon which made a good backdrop for photos! We didn’t stay on the beach much longer….we were still suffering from our sunburns!

Hum…what else to do? We decided to check out the main town and shop for Cook Islands black pearls. We catch the Cook Islands bus that comes every hour on both clockwise and anticlockwise directions (you can find out more info here). Around trip was $8 NZD per person.

We got on the bus and the driver sounded super friendly. On the way, we passed by smaller villages and the trip took less than 15 minutes to get to the main town….but we had a short detour due to a house was on fire so they closed a section of the road.

A church we passed by:

From the main bus terminal, we walked out to shops…this tree is very pretty:

Ministry of Justice:

There were a few black pearl stores recommended for selling real Cook Islands black pearl (instead of imported from somewhere and not black pearl) that we read on an in-flight newspaper: “Accredited retailers of Avaiki Cook Islands Pearls include Moana Gems, Pearl & Art Factory, The Pearl Lounge, Paka’s Pearls and Goldmine.” We checked out Moana Gems, Pearl & Art Factory, and Paka’s Pearl. Our shopping tactic always never purchase from the first store, check out all to compare prices and then decide. In my opinion, the pearl shops in Rarotonga didn’t have as much choices in terms of designs as the stores in French Polynesia but the pearl prices were much cheaper in Cook Islands. After visiting those stores, we walked back to the one we would like to make a purchase of a pair of earrings and by the time we got there, it was closing!!! It was only 3 pm GRRRR! We walked to another one and they closed, oh gosh!!! So we ended up back to Moana Gems which is still open luckily and the lady there was surprised to hear that other stores had closed…quite early! She was very patient with us while I was back and forth among a few different pendants.

We finally picked out our favorite, it’s grade B 10mm pearl setting in white gold that has a green-ish tone and the luster is very shinny! It’s a gift to our friend whom we’ll be visiting in Auckland so I will not disclose the price of the pearl 🙂

Mission completed and walked to a nearby bus station to wait for the bus to get back to the hotel. Look at our legs and arms…burning red 🙁

We got back to the hotel around 4:15 pm and rested a bit before heading out to check out the Muri night market. We didn’t dine there since we already booked in advanced a dinner buffet show at the hotel restaurant.

Locals were selling anything from smoothies to sandwiches to grilled seafood there and prices were very budget friendly!

After checking out the night market, we walked back to the hotel restaurant for our dinner buffet and show. It was $59 NZD per person all inclusive:

But we were quite disappointed by the quality of food…it wasn’t as tasty as we have had other meals in Cook Islands!

As we were eating, I looked out the windows and the sun was about to set, I decided to walk out to check out the sunset. I am glad that I sacrifice food time for the most colorful sunset I have ever seen in my life!

The amount of colors changing within that short 10 minutes or so of sun setting was amazing!!!

I walked around for different angles and compositions to get the perfect sunset photos; that island and that canoe made a perfect backdrop and subject to include in the photos!

I have been dreaming to have a chance to photograph those tropical colorful sunsets but never have the luck – multiple times in Hawaii, French Polynesia, and Caribbean Islands, until now and I wasn’t even expecting since it was cloudy throughout the day! Things always come unexpectedly! My favorite color – purple! It was unbelievable, I have never seen a purple sunset before!!!!

Thank you Cook Islands for fulfilling my dream of seeing a colorful tropical sunset!!!

I was super thrilled to show my hubby and brother the beautiful sunset I captured! Then, the show began, it was a much bigger scale performance than the one we saw in Aitutaki.

Their costumes were very pretty!

And two fire dancers! We sat on the 2nd row so the two guys sat in front of me were sort of blocking my view 🙁 The fire dancers had their performance right outside next to the pool.

This female fire dancer was incredible, we heard that she ranked 2nd in the world!!!

She was super fast even with two poi!

This pink costume was my favorite!

And then the dancers go around and invite guests to go up to dance with them….I refused but got pulled blahhhhhh!!!

They had a great time!

After the performances was dessert time. The first Pavlova I ever have and fell in love with it, it became my 2nd favorite dessert after tiramisu!

Actually the best location to see the performance is outside the pool area!

Next morning was New Year’s Eve and we first had breakfast (included in our room rate), it has varieties of fresh fruits and some hot cooked items. I love having a hot breakfast, it’s so much filling than a cold breakfast!

The scrambled egg was good 🙂

After breakfast, we walked to Captain Tama for our snorkeling tour!

There were a total of 3 boats that day on the tour, a large group occupying almost a whole boat!

We sailed out pass those little islands (motus) and the boats anchored in the middle of the lagoon, time to snorkel! Captain Tama Cruises has life vests in the boat yay! The reef there wasn’t impressive….and the water was quite murky probably due to a lot of people!

But there were fishes!

The rest of the two boats:

The boats are glass bottom so can see the fishes underneath if you don’t want to get into the water. He’s one of the tour guides’ son, growing up here must be very swimmer as the lagoon is their playground!

Next, we sail to the little island that we could see from our resort. Likewise, there’s our resort!

We had some free time on the island while waiting for the crew to prepare lunch! Grilled banana anyone?

And grilled tuna:

Most of the guests in the tour were from New Zealand….we heard that Cook Islands is the kiwis (people of New Zealand) vacation spot while Australians vacation in Fiji.

Food was not as great as Captain Fantastic’s though 🙁

After lunch some entertainment…..coconut tree climbing demonstration!

He was really really fast!

He got us some fresh coconuts for the next demo….how to open a coconut! Tool: sharp stick!

He explained that coconut tree is tree of life, each part of the coconut can be used to do or make something even for medicine! He opened the coconut in no time!

And made coconut milk for girls…best lotion ever!

I got some coconut milk for my burned skin!

Afterwards, he showed a few different ways to wrap a sarong.

Can even be a “two piece” too!

Didn’t know guys could wear a sarong too LOL!

It was quite entertaining to spend our New Year’s Eve!

We got back to the resort in the afternoon and we were tired! We took a nap before heading out for dinner. We had our New Year’s Eve dinner at Rickshaw. I ordered the Vietnamese noodle soup (pho), it’s considered to be an appetizer from the menu hum……it does came out to be small. It’s not quite the pho I had at home, quite greasy!

Hubby ordered the spicy calamari, it was just okay!

My main dish was the seafood noodle….I don’t quite like the thick noodle but the flavor was okay.

Hubby ordered a fried rice, it was good at least!

And the best was my brother’s Indonesian fried noodle!

Dinner came to be $117 NZD for three of us. It wasn’t great but filling!

I read that there’ll be fireworks for the New Year at Muri Beach but since it’s around countdown time, we still have a long night to go. We ended up sleeping but set an alarm to wake us up at 11:45 pm. The alarm buzzed and we grabbed our tripod and cameras and walked out to the beach. We had no idea where the fireworks would shoot up but since Muri Beach Club is at the end of Muri Beach, we set the camera facing the middle section of the beach. While I was setting up the camera, I saw many stars in front of us and after a few minutes that my eyes get used to the darkness, it’s the Milky Way!!!! The countdown started and then the fireworks……I wasn’t pointing exactly at it so I quickly readjusted my camera! It was quite windy at the beach so the fireworks quickly blowing apart as soon as it shoot out…….

In no time, it was over…’s small island fireworks after all so I wasn’t expecting too much. Back to the Milky Way, which to me was much more interesting to photograph! The little island across the lagoon where we had lunch, hum it was lit up perhaps locals partying there since no one lives in that island? It give a perfect backdrop and a bright subject to focus in. One of the biggest challenges of photographing the Milky Way is getting it to focus!

My 2nd time of seeing the Milky Way unplanned as well! Happy 2016 everyone! It was very special to see the Milky Way on the last night of 2015 and first thing in 2016!

The next morning New Year’s…we literally had nothing to do so many places are closed and no bus running that day. Going on vacation during holiday has the holiday spirit but then at the same time many places will be closed so is it a good idea? Well for me it’s the only opportunity to go on a long vacation without spending too much vacation days so I say yes, it’s a great idea! LOL!

We were surprised that the mini convenience store was open in the morning! Ice cream cone for lunch?

In between the store and the road back to the hotel is the community police office….very small house…..crime isn’t much of an issue in here I bet!

Hubby and I was in search for lunch and then we saw right at the Muri night market area, a woman and his son was selling marinated chicken wraps! What a great idea to make extra money with left over food after the New Year!

Each sandwich was $10 NZD and in HUGE portion!!!! We bought two and took back to our room to share among three of us..plenty of food!

The weather was perfect!

Chicken and chicks running all over the hotel, they are fun to watch!

We took it as a day to rest and recharge so we could be ready for the next segment of our adventure: New Zealand!

For dinner, we went back to Rickshaw again since a lot of restaurants were closed. We don’t want to waste our time to walk all the way to find out they are closed and then have to walk back so stick with Rickshaw, close by, not expensive, and okay filling food! I ordered a marinated stir-fried beef with rice!

Brother ordered a curry with Indian breads and rice. That was pretty good!

Hubby ordered the noodle that my brother had last night since it was the best!

Our New Year dinner: $78 NZD 🙂

That concluded our days in the Cook Islands. Overall, we enjoyed the Cook Islands, food are quite good and not expensive, people are friendly and speak English, everything was great except for no free wifi! The most impressive was Aitutaki’s lagoon and sandbars and the most memorable was crab hunting! Rarotonga was nice but since Aitutaki was overly beautiful that made Rarotonga looked just average. Don’t get me wrong, I will pick Rarotonga any time over the Caribbean islands; its lagoon and friendly locals win both hands! Nowadays with smart phones, I noticed that people spent more time looking down at their phones than looking up at the scenery….perhaps no wifi could be a good thing to enjoy a true vacation!

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