Rarotonga: Here's mud in your eye

By Rachel Tiffen

Mud sticks for the unwary in Rarotonga. Photo / Rachel Tiffen
Mud sticks for the unwary in Rarotonga. Photo / Rachel Tiffen

With his toothy grin and beckoning hand, I fall for it again.

I inch the buggy forward until it nudges the back bar of Coconut Tours' guide Tony's quad bike and he raises his hand to stop.

Then he lets rip with a wheel spin and the mud starts flying

We are wedged into a rut somewhere in the back tracks of Rarotonga with no such thing as reverse.

Slimy, orange mud cakes us from head to jandal-covered toe as Tony's laughter roars with the engine.

My partner groans, "He got you again."

This is an off-road safari - Rarotongan style, probably illegal in New Zealand - on 4WD machines built for punishment.

"We do a fair bit of maintenance on these," admits Tony, who had pretended to take a patu to my partner's head and helped me don traditional island kit - including strategic coconuts - at the Te Vara Nui Village cultural tour the night before.

Just six weeks old, but with few signs of teething, this was a great way to learn local traditions such as carving, weaving and natural medicine - winding up with the umu dinner and hip-shaking dancing demonstration.

But the rich food had taken its toll on Tony. "I've put on 4kg since working at the village," he tells us patting his belly. Still full myself from the buffet they served, I'm not surprised. Rarotonga is no diet destination.

As we hit the road in our buggies that morning - about 45 minutes late as per what locals proudly call "island time" - my little arms fight a steering wheel that seems determined to wander left.

Our first stop on this two-team tour - the other buggy holding an Australian businessman and his enterprising young son (explanation to come later) - was at the island's noni juice plant.

A noni is a fruit that smells like armpit and tastes like sweat mixed with urine. But apparently it's good for you.

Tony says Asian countries are the biggest importers and, from memory, 90 million odd litres of the stuff leaves the island each year.

We are each given a shot glass each and told to knock it back. The young Aussie refuses and his dad has to take one for the team.

Then it's back into the buggy onwards to the permanently half-finished Sheraton Hotel before we hit the back roads. Weaving around among smiling, waving islanders and rows of local produce we pull up at a marae.

Unlike in New Zealand, this is a grassy area with stones for elders to park up on.

Tony says there are many similarities between Maori and Cook Island culture - a waka becomes a vaka - except for the savage war dances.

He jokes that a Cook Island haka before a rugby match would involve smiling and hip-shaking the opponents into submission.

As Tony chats away, we are oblivious to the situation behind us. And then the buggy starts up. Enter enterprising young Australian, aged about 6 or 7, who has put the key in the ignition and headed off on a solo run.

We suppress giggles as dad gets mad and Tony's cruisy demeanour disappears for a second.

Then off we go again to the mud rut where Tony has the chance to get his own back. Half an hour later, caked and soaked we finish with a feed and a laugh.

CHECKLIST

Getting there: Air New Zealand flies regularly to Rarotonga.

Where to stay: Rumours Luxury Villas & Spa, at Rarotonga and Aitutaki.

What to do: Coconut Tours 4WD, buggy and quad adventures are based at Muri Beach.

* Te Vara Nui Village cultural experience, also at Muri Beach.

- NZ Herald

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