Rarotonga Field Trip

Caroline Stratton
May 22, 2016

If you come to Christchurch, New Zealand with IES Abroad, you will be offered the choice to sign up for a week long field trip to the Cooks Islands with the other students in IES Abroad.  I remember signing up for this trip all the way back in January.  The timing of the trip is nice because UC Canterbury’s spring break is 3 weeks long.  So if you sign up for this field trip, you still have two weeks free to travel and go on trips.  I traveled through the North Island for the first two weeks, and then flew back to Christchurch two days before leaving for the Cooks Islands. 

The Cooks Island is made up to 15 different islands, and we stayed on the island that is most densely populated: Raratonga.

If you are going on this trip, Eunice will remind you to pack bug spray because there are many mosquitos in Raratonga.  Please pack bug spray. Also pack anti-itch because no matter how much bug spray you wear you will still get bitten.  I brought neither of these items.  Terrible decision.    

Night 1:  When we first flew into Raratonga we didn’t have much daylight left.  The highlight of this day was the dinner.  It was raining when we arrived so they had to move our tables under a tarp, but we sat at one long table that fit all 24 of us, and took our shoes off since we were having dinner on the beach.  The meal was buffet style, making me very happy, and I definitely went back for seconds, plus dessert. 

(photo credit: Andjelko Topic)

Mosquito bite count: 3

Day 2: After eating breakfast at Paradise Inn, we had a few hours to walk around the local market, which consisted of countless food stands.  Make sure you bring a small amount of cash for this day.  There are so many stands selling fresh fruits and vegetables you’ll definitely want to buy something.

After this we made our own skirts by painting material that was lying on a stencil.  We also made dinner plates out of leaves to use for our dinner that night.  We also had our first lesson in Raratongan dancing, which I think is very similar to Hawaiian hula dancing. 

My favorite part of this day was going to a coconut farm.  I drank so much coconut water that afternoon.  Our tour guides son climbed up a tree and knocked down around 12 coconuts, which they opened up and offered to our group.  I attempted to climb a coconut tree but only lasted around 20 seconds.  One of the tour guides definitely snickered a bit after watching my attempt.  After filling up on coconut water, it was our turn to try and husk some coconuts.  A common way of opening coconuts is by sharpening a tree branch and securing the not sharp end in the ground, and hitting the coconut against the sharp end at the right angles.  There were five branches set up so we raced against each other to see who could husk the quickest. Our guide could husk one in around 30 seconds; no one in our group came close to that time. 

Mosquito bite count: 8

Day 3: Snorkeling and Mini Golf!  Raratonga’s beaches have white sand that leads to light blue water with colorful fish beneath the surface.  Living in Southern California, I have been snorkeling many times, but the water in Raratonga is much clearer and calmer than I’m used to.  After getting a long safety speech from one of the instructors and grabbing fins and a mask, we were finally allowed to get in the water.  Let me remind you that I was in a group of 23 other students, and our tour guide gathered us all together and then said to follow him.  All 24 of us dove into the water, shoulder to shoulder, to follow this tour guide.  I didn’t realize what has happening until I found myself dodging fins to the face and struggling to swim without bumping shoulders with someone.  After a minor claustrophobia attack, I left the group, and explored the reef myself.  I found this much more enjoyable because the water remained calm and the fish were less frightened.  I was most excited about spotting a flounder on the ocean floor. 

After spending the afternoon snorkeling, we hopped back on our buses and headed to mini golf.  We were sorted into teams and the winners were promised a free non-alcoholic drink from the bar.  My team didn’t care much about the drink, but were competitive non the less.  We started off strong, had some rough holes half way through, and fished strong.  Our hard work paid off and we placed first!  Now that it’s been a few weeks, I can admit that we may have started over on a few holes that didn’t start off so well on the first attempt.  Sorry everyone! But we shared the drink (since it was the size of a bathtub) so hopefully there are no hard feelings. 

Mosquito bite count: 10 

Day 4: Cross Island Hike

This was one of my favorite activities.  We didn’t actually walk across the island, although Raratonga is small enough that it wouldn’t be a major feat if we did.  The hike was through rainforest terrain and when we got to the top of the mountain, we could see for miles.  The rock at the very top of the mountain had a chain to use to climb higher up on the rock, but unfortunately we were not allowed to go any higher since we were with a tour group.  We took a different route down the mountain that involved a few stream crossings and steeper, muddier pathways.  I enjoyed the path we took back down more.

(photo credit: Andjelko Topic)

After the hike we went down to the beach to do some paddling in canoe like boats, but I was more interested in the rope swing.  To end the day we walked down the beach to relax a bit.  Two other girls and I walked/swam to a close by island and played with stray dogs.  Our favorite stray dog followed us back to the main island and enjoyed being cuddled by the rest of our group. 

Mosquito bite count: 30

Day 5:  Biking, cleaning, and sunsets.

We split into two groups that day, half of us would bike first, and the other half went and volunteered.  I was in the volunteering group.  We were supposed to be able to choose between volunteering with an animal shelter, or going to Nan’s (famous whale researcher) house and volunteering with her.  I love being around animals so I probably would have chosen that, but the animal shelter was closed so we all headed to Nan’s jungle mansion.  Her house was amazing, it was basically a tree house tucked away in the middle of a forest.  Her 3 dogs ran down to meet us, so it was kind of like being at the animal shelter.  Nan asked us to help clean her boat.  There were around 12 of us, so we all grabbed towels, sponges, and soap and got to work without asking many questions.  The weather was being fickle that day; it rained when we first arrived at Nan’s house, but then cleared up and the sun came out. I’m not sure how helpful I was during this boat cleaning extravaganza, because the dogs and geckos we found seem to have drawn my attention a bit more than the boat, but after a few hours Nan’s boat was clean.  I’m not really sure if this should have been defined as volunteer work, it seemed more like Nan just wanted people to clean her boat for her, but oh well, I still had fun playing with her dogs.  After quickly eating lunch with our whole group, it was my turn to go on the bike tour.  We would ride for a bit and stop along the way and learn about different landmarks, plants, and the haunted Sheraton Hotel.  Our guide showed us an awful smelling fruit that apparently acted as a natural insect repellent, so I rubbed it all over myself.  He said the same thing about a certain type of leaf we passed; by the end of the bike tour I was covered with natural insect repellent.  We all met up again and watched the sun go down over the ocean. 

Mosquito bite count: 50

Day 6: Renting Bikes, Night Market, and Jungle Book!

We had free time this day and we all rented bikes so we could get around the island.  Two friends and I wanted to learn to kite surf so we biked to the shop that offered lessons.  Unfortunately the wind was not strong enough so we didn’t get a lesson, but instead we had lunch at a fancy hotel.  Our table was on the sand and the water was only 15 ft away.  The shop also leant us free paddleboards for the day so after lunch we paddled around, and attempted to do some yoga moves on the boards.  That night we ate dinner at a very popular night market.  We were each given around $10 to spend and there were so many different booths to choose from.  I had veggie tacos, a smoothie, and chocolate cake.  What I was most excited this day was going to see the Jungle Book! The movie theatre, which only showed one movie a week, gave us a private viewing.  The movie was very entertaining and it was nice to do something so laid back as a group.

Mosquito bite count: 60

Day 7: Last day 

We had the morning free again so a couple of us biked back to the kite surf shop to see if the weather was better that day.  The weather was great but the guy who was going to give us the lesson didn’t show up because his car had broken down that morning.  We weren’t too upset because the shop owner was so kind and apologetic.  By the time we biked back it was time to pack up and head to the airport to fly back to Christchurch. 

If you are coming to New Zealand through IES Abroad, I would highly recommend this trip.  You’ll have plenty of time to do independent traveling, and it is a great time to bond with everyone and learn about a new culture…and get another stamp in your passport.    

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Caroline Stratton

<p>I&#39;m Caroline, a native to Southern California, and a student at Texas Christian University. &nbsp;I&#39;m studying Social Work and hope to eventually work in the field of child welfare, where I&#39;ll give children who haven&#39;t had the best start to their lives a chance to be successful. &nbsp;I love to play soccer, surf, go on backpacking trips, and eat delicious, healthy food. &nbsp;I&#39;m hoping to meet new people, explore as many places in New Zealand as I can, and gain cultural awareness through my experience abroad. &nbsp;I&#39;m ready for some new adventures and in New Zealand, those aren&#39;t hard to find.</p>

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