Lorna Subritzky loves much about Rarotonga, writes Stephanie Holmes.
In an age of wishlists and ambitions to tick off as many places on the world map as possible, it's surprising to hear of someone who has been to the same place not twice, not thrice, but 14 times. But that's exactly what Coast host Lorna Subritzky reveals in the latest episode of Travel podcast Trip Notes.
"People say 'why'? Why do you keep going back to this place?" Lorna tells me and co-host Tim Roxborogh. "But the great Kiwi tradition is to go to the bach. Well, I don't have a bach, so for me, Rarotonga is like going to the bach. It's only three hours away . . . and I actually love it."
And it seems the Cook Islands nation loves Lorna, too — some of the most significant life events she's experienced have all happened on Rarotonga.
"I've been married twice and both proposals happened in Rarotonga," she says. "We found out we were having our surprise baby — and I really do mean surprise baby — in Rarotonga. That was a shock. And we got married there, my husband Steve and I. We had just our parents and our children, and it was really cool."
So what is it about the island that keeps Lorna coming back? She cites its ease, its hospitality, and its family friendliness, among other draws.
"The lagoon is amazing. If you go to Denarau [in Fiji], you can't step out of your hotel and jump into the water but in Rarotonga, you do. In fact, the first few times I took my children there, they didn't use the hotel pool at all, they were just in the sea. It's safe, safe water for kids."
To hear more about why Lorna loves Rarotonga, listen to Trip Notes — the new episode will be available free on Tuesday, September 3 at iHeart Radio, Apple, Spotify, Stitcher ... wherever you usually get your podcasts.
In the meantime, here are some of our must-do's for visits to Rarotonga . . .
1. Get wet
The lagoon surrounding Rarotonga is absolutely stunning, so don't even bother dipping your toes into the resort swimming pool. Ringing the island, it's perfectly protected and never gets very deep, so it's safe for even the smallest swimmers (under adult supervision, of course). The island's best beach is found at Muri on the southeast corner — here you'll find a number of watersport hire companies and boat tours, as well as the best snorkelling spots. Kayak across the lagoon to the tropical islets of Taakoka, Koromiri, Oneroa and Motutapu, or simply lie in the shade on the white sands and think about how great your life is right now.
2. Get cultural
There are many opportunities on Raro to celebrate Cook Islands' culture, and without a doubt your first stop should be a Sunday church service. Visitors of all nationalities and religions are welcome, and the chance to witness the locals in their Sunday best and hear the impressive singing of the congregation is not to be missed. You'll find churches in each village, so there'll be somewhere within walking distance of your accommodation — just talk to one of the hotel staff for recommendations. Make sure you're modestly dressed (covered shoulders, and long trousers/long skirts/dresses), and you might want to bring a fan with you — it can get pretty hot inside the white coral and limestone church buildings.
Other cultural experiences include Te Vara Nui Village in Muri Beach, where you'll be blown away by the dancing, music and entertainment at the over-water night show; and Highland Paradise, where you'll enjoy a guided tour of historical sites followed by drumming, singing, dancing, weaving, carving, medicine making, story-telling and food.
3. Get fed
There's no excuse for sticking to the same resort buffet every night because Rarotonga has more than 100 dining options across the island. Book a beachfront dinner at a neighbouring hotel, go to the night markets in Muri, or head into the main town of Avarua to explore the restaurants and Saturday market. Don't miss a fresh fish sandwich from The Mooring Fish Cafe, or a seafood platter for two at Tamarind House, or for a truly local experience, sign up for a Progressive Dinner with Cook Island Tours. You'll be picked up from your accommodation and taken to a different home for starter, main and dessert, and you'll have the chance to talk to local families about their lives. It's a very special experience, taking you off the usual tourist trail.
4. Get active
You could spend all your days on Raro's beautiful beaches, but to do so would mean you miss out on seeing the island's beautiful interior. Take a mountain bike tour with Storytellers whose guides — as the name suggests — will tell stories of local history and legends as you ride, as well as taking you to off the beaten track spots that only locals know. If you prefer two legs to two wheels, head out on a cross-island trek with Pa's Mountain Treks. The hike takes you on a 400m ascent to Te Rua Manga (the Needle), one of the highest points on the island offering stunning views, and your guide will teach you about the history and ecology of the island. Well worth the effort.
To hear more about Lorna Subritzky's favourite travel memories, listen to Trip Notes.
Subscribe, and each new episode will automatically download every fortnight — ready for you to listen on your way to work, while you dream about your next holiday. You can also go to nzherald.co.nz/tripnotes to watch video from the podcast.