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

your pinkies.

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

beach. 

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

distinctive work.

 

“ 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

doorway. 

“ 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’

encounter. 

 

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’.