After nearly 5 months, my time in New Zealand was coming to a close, but I wasn’t ready for the adventures to end so I changed my travel itinerary.
I was already booked for a production in Delaware and was also planning to visit my brother in Scottsdale, Arizona before that (he moved from Boston while I was away), so I couldn’t delay my arrival back home. But I could leave NZ a week early and have myself an island stopover. Rarotonga it was.
The Cook Islands
15 of the most beautiful and remote islands in the world, scattered in the middle of nowhere South Pacific, happen to be not so far off my path from Auckland to Los Angeles.
I had done a pretty great job spending money in New Zealand, but I did still have enough left to change my ticket, book a hostel, and lay low in Rarotonga for the week. It felt necessary after having a year straight of winter and now heading straight into my third. I would bet good money that I was the only person in Rarotonga with a snowboard that week…
After touch down, I caught a cab out to Vara’s Beach House. For $20/night I had a bed in a shared dorm literally right on the lagoon.
I spent my week kicking back in the sand and sun, swimming, reading, drinking, playing guitar, snacking on fresh caught raw tuna, and climbing coconut trees. Husking and cracking coconuts is actually way harder than I would have thought, but this is where I learned and they were a huge part of my diet that week (budget necessity).
Te Rua Manga (The Needle)
Visible from most stretches of the small island that is Rarotonga, the 1,355 foot-tall (413m) Needle stands tall above the surrounding jungle. And without a doubt, one of the best hikes in the South Pacific is the cross-island trek up to the Needle.
From what I hear, many people try to hike to the Needle and get lost and never find it. The trail through the jungle can be hard to follow at times, but if you are a frequent hiker competent in route-finding it shouldn’t be too much of a problem. I did the cross-island trek to the Needle two days in a row it was so amazing.
From Vara’s, I would hitchhike to the start of the trail, and from there, end-to-end across the island it’s only a few miles. Straight into the lush jungle, up the mountains, and to the base of the stone sentinel. Both days, I led a couple other travelers also crashing at Vara’s, on this amazing island adventure.
Probably the most meaningful memory from my time in Raro was having the honor to play a wedding on the beach! How the hell did that happen, right?
Well, I mentioned that I was playing guitar on the beach each night. It just so happened that one of the wedding guests was also staying at the hostel – he was one of the guys I did the Needle hike with. Just down the beach from Vara’s, his soon to be wed friends, Justin and Kylie, were staying with their family.
On the days leading up to their wedding, I was invited to hang out with the wedding party and join for a few meals. My new buddy, Kerwin, started talking up my skills on the acoustic and without even hearing me first, Justin and Kylie said all they had planned was to plug in an iPod but they would love it if I played. I couldn’t believe it, but was stoked!
After their ceremony on a smaller island across the lagoon, the wedding party returned our stretch of beach for a beautiful tented wedding reception. Their first song? I played it! How crazy is that? I did a slowed down version of Slide by Goo Goo Dolls and changed the name in the bridge from May to Kylie of course 🙂
After that, I kept jamming for a while, until joining the dancing and the inevitable eventual late night lagoon skinny dip. What a night. I can’t thank Kylie and Justin enough for the honor of the part I played in their celebration of love.
Rarotonga was magical, and the perfect way to transition out of my time in New Zealand, close that chapter, and return to the states fully embodying my new found self.