The Cook Islands, named after Captain James Cook, is a group of 15 islands in the south-western Pacific Ocean between Tonga and French Polynesia. The capital is Avarua in Rarotonga.
The peaks of the mountains are reminiscent of the mountains in Jurassic Park. Their jagged, primitive edges seem misplaced in 2012. They appear imposing, prehistoric and untouched.
Travelling from Sydney, Australia to Rarotonga in the Cook Islands is like travelling through time in more ways than just crossing over the International Date Line. Here, the birds look and sound wilder, the elongated leaves of the plants appear primal and the sultry climate behaves like an adolescent – unrestrained, heated and tempestuous. The climate in Rarotonga is how one would imagine the climate was at the beginning of time, when nature was only concerned with feeding and watering the earth instead of rebelling against the geological fluctuations introduced by humans.
The concept of time in Rarotonga is not what time is in Sydney or other busy cities. The people here are not governed by a ticking hands or clocks on mobile phones. The compendium in my room explains: ‘Rarotonga is renowned for being stress-free and relaxed. Please be aware that timing and some services may be slower and more approximate than you are probably used to in the faster pace of your daily life.’ The locals walk slower, looking at the world instead of their smartphones and the speed limit on the main road that circles the island is a leisurely 50 kilometres per hour. There are two bus routes: Clockwise and Anticlockwise.
Papa Nga, the local handyman who comes over to help me operate the safe, asks me how I slept the night before. “Not bad,” I say, “but I woke up a few times.” I full well know that it’s not because of the soothing, calm air being circulated by the fan, and it’s not because of the gentle sound of the ocean outside. It’s because I’m still connected to the concrete jungle and all its concerns. “I must have a couple of things on the mind.” Papa Nga smiles and says, “Well, no time for that now, you’re on holiday and you’re on island time.”
In fact, I don’t even know what time it is. I tried to adjust the clock on my iPhone but ‘Rarotonga’ doesn’t exist. I’m pretty certain that I’m three hours ahead, but the day before. I look outside at the sudden, torrential rain which will give way to blue skies before long, and I know that time doesn’t matter, anyway. There’s nowhere I need to be in a hurry.
Sitting on a deck chair on the veranda, three-quarters of the way through my first book I feel something soft and warm at my feet. Squeaky, the local ginger tabby starts mouthing, eyes pleading. “I have no food for cats here, sorry little one.” Squeaky insists, and makes his way through the doors, into the kitchen and stops at the fridge. “I don’t think you’ll like limes or lettuce.” I fail to mention the chicken breast that I plan to cook that night. Squeaky accepts the situation and goes back outside with me, content for now with a neck rub instead of a feast.
Reading is easy here. Back home it can be a challenge to find the opportunity to read because there’s always so much going on. At home one can often glance at a few pages in a zombie-like state and in the morning already forgotten what was read. Not here.
When the rain clears and the sky explodes with blueness, I pass by reception and borrow a snorkel and fins. Coco the dog meets me at the driveway and decides to come along. The beach is pristine and the water inexplicably clear. It is easy to just float, breathing through the tube and looking down at the multitudes of colours and life that thrive in this other realm. Approaching a large cluster of coral, a sound travels through the water and the ‘chomp, chomp’ sound of fish teeth gnawing at it can be heard. I wonder if they can hear my muffled sounds of admiration and wonder.
In the evening, instead of switching on a television, I cook to the sound of music. There are no TVs in the rooms. The compendium says, ‘There is a TV in the Breakfast Café for guest use. There is only one TV channel in the Cook Islands. New Zealand’s TV One News screens every night at approximately 8.30pm. Cook Islands local news screens at 7pm Monday to Friday.’ I love this. I love that instead of having their consciousness interrupted by ridiculous plotlines and shouty ads encouraging them to buy things they don’t need, guests can daydream, make up their own stories and remind themselves of what matters most.
Sunsets are not merely a reminder of the world’s beauty. They tell us much more than that. Sunsets show us that a day has passed and that the world is huge. When our sun disappears for us, it rises for many others. A Rarotongan sunset is an unhurried, spectacular blaze of colour and when the orange sphere finally falls past the horizon, one knows that it is now time to rest and prepare for another beautiful day.
When all is quiet, the pool beckons at night. It is like an ancient, welcoming family, where The Cool Water introduces its wife, Clear Night Sky and their children, Warm Air and Sound of Stillness. They all embrace me at once, my mind clears and I melt into a blanket of tranquillity.
See you again soon, Rarotonga.