The Nouveau cyclist rides again – this time in Raro – where she finds ‘ the best’.
Written by Susan Matthews
‘ we are all travellers in the wilderness of the world and the best we can find in our travels is an honest Friend’
Robert Louis Stevenson
Until relatively recently my cycling adventures had been limited to short bursts
along the local Railway Reserve in my frock, a cruise along the cycle trails to
Mapua, culminating with a feast of fish and chips and a tipple on the wharf. I’ve
met a few interesting sorts along the way, got to know myself a little better and
discovered what pushes my buttons and bells big time.
However , my world cycling view was widened considerably during a recent sun-
kissed sojurn to Rarotonga . On Aotearoa’s doorstep, the Cook Islands in
my biased opinion, is the perfect tropical escape for us kiwi’s. No sooner do you
board the short flight across the Pacific Ocean and utter ‘ Pina Colada’ and you
find yourself languishing under swishing coconut palms with the lagoon lapping at
The island of Rarotonga has one main parameter road- flat as - which for exercise
fiends like myself begged to be cruised on a bicycle. Add to this a multitude of
narrow arterial lanes that criss cross and rise and fall into the wilderness of the
interior. I had hired a lime green machine- aptly named ‘beach cruiser’- from
down the road for $11 a day. The suspension was squeaky but sublime, and the
ample seat the perfect fit for my rubenisc bum. Together I set off with my right
hand man to explore the great unknown.
On our first heaven sent day we had pedalled leisurely along soaking up the
alluring ambience of the Cook Islands. We stopped along the way to chat to
locals, sample scrumptious Cook Island seafood, and to connect with friendly
characters like the ‘ Banana Doctor’. The Doc is well known around the island for
the range of alcoholic beverages he produces from vast quantities of home grown
banana’s. His home based distillery, festooned with a mural of oversized beauties
and cascading bougainvillea, nestles in the foothills overlooking magical Muri
Between topping up our glasses the Banana Doctor points out the break in distant
reef below “ see that is where my ancestors first set sail for the Land of the Long
White Cloud with only the stars to guide them”, he explained. I can personally
attest to the potency of the vanilla vodka having slurped a little too
enthusiastically. Rather moreish, with strong body, distinctive tropical
tempters and delivering an unexpected palate punching banana vibe to follow.
My right hand man and I had needed to gather all our powers of concentration, to
wend our back to our island home.
“ Come back tomorrow my friends, there will be another brew ” the Banana
Doctor called out cheerfully, as we cruised off into the sunset.
NB If you have a phobia about chickens Rarotonga may not be the place for you.
These two legged tyrants are very much part of the rich fabric of Cook Island
culture, and their sonic sounds resonate across the island day and night.
Fortunately I am a PFF ( phobia free female) and quickly adapted to the raucous ‘
cock a doodle do’s’ of the island’s rampaging roosters. I became adept at
recognizing different calls in the wee small hours, and the amusing attempts of
the younger fraternity to master the art of crowing like their cocky elders. My
tolerance towards these fabulously feathered critters, was tested to the max one
morning at breakfast, when a chicken swooped to launch a vicous attack on my
muffin! Not an experience for the faint hearted. At the time I was in a deep and
meaningful conversation with fellow guests, regaling them with the joys of
getting up close and personal with a pouting puffer fish while out snorkeling.
The next day we cycled off early after a wake up dip in the lagoon, and a troppo
brekkie of tropical fruits and the crowd favourite coconut muffins. Keen to
continue our adventures we followed a sign saying ‘Art’, down a drive edged
with hedgerows of hibiscus flowers to arrive at Ani’s studio and gallery. An
established artist, Ani was proud to share with us legends of her homeland and
the meanings of traditional Pacific Island symbols which are an integral part of her
“ this means ‘ tell a story and pass it on’ she said skillfully sketching a bold
geometric pattern. Ani then insisted I have one of her artworks as a gift, with one
proviso. I return to Rarotonga and bring back one of my own paintings for her.
Her warmth and generosity typified the friendly locals we met while bouncing
around the island on our bicycles. I could have whiled away the hours but
it’s not all about me!. My cycle was calling(along with the right hand man ) and
our sole daily rendezvous - Happy Hour at a beachfront bar that made a
dreamy cocktail aptly named the ’ Coconut drifter’.
The day finally dawned when I ventured off alone on my bicycle ( the right hand
man and I needed a little space). Being an inherently curious person(I have never
taken heed of my Nana’s words ‘ curiousity killed the cat’ ) I pedalled inland to
check out what was just around that next corner. I needed no encouragement to
follow a billboard advertising ‘ ukuleles for sale’ at the local prison. After
navigating my way cautiously along a pot holed track, I had arrived at the front
steps of the run down establishment. The ‘prison’ was deserted apart from the
odd reclining resident lurking behind a rickety barbed wire fence. I tentatively
approached the Shop? and peered in to find a lone ukulele propped up on a shelf
in an otherwise empty room.
“ do you make any thing else here… jewellery ….. earrings .. m..maybe” I
nervously asked a man who suddenly appeared from behind a curtained
“ I tell you what we’ll have your ear and make you some earrings” he said with a
Gummy grin. With a nervous giggle I hurriedly said my goodbyes and was out
of there in a flash. Which is saying something for me. My lime green machine
rose to the occasion, and stood up to the rigorous race down hill. With my Nana’s
wise words ringing in my ears I headed for the closest white sand
beach and sought solace at a café that served the most delectable mango
smoothies this side of the rolling reef. A lagoon side stall selling screenprinted
pareu(sarongs) the colours of the dreamy island sunsets, caught my eye and I just
had to stop for a little retail therapy. Local woman Teri was
busy demonstrating this traditional craft which had been passed on down
through the generations of her family. I selected a pareu or three, smug in the
knowledge that I had managed to finish my cycling adventures in Rarotonga with
a some shopping island style, and survived to tell the tale about my ‘ earry’
During my bike rides about the island, I had with reference to the
words of literary great Robert Louis Stevenson ‘ found the best and met a few
honest friends’ , including those of the feathered and finned variety. My time in
Rarotonga has left me eager to return to reconnect with them, inspired my
artistic self and prompted me to consider upgrading to a mountain bike, so I may
travel faster, higher and further into the wonder and ‘ wilderness of the world’.