Jake is now 3. He’s at an age where we talk about upcoming vacations before we go on them. He understands, he gets excited, hes engaged. And when we get home he remembers the place and his experiences there and differentiates it as travel, as something different than home.
We recently spent a week on Rarotonga, the main island of the Cook Islands group. It’s a great little get away for families. There is just enough infrastructure there to keep everyone interested and happy, but without being over commercialized or fake. For travelling families, you can have the all inclusive resort experience, or you can get out there and get immersed in culture and explore the island. There is a world of possibilities.
The island doesn’t have a heap of tour providers or tour options, but the ones that it does have are very well done, quite varied, and mostly all appropriate for any age. The below list is five of our favourite activities from our one week stay. Jake is 3, but these activities would be amazing for any age (even adults with no kids in tow).
The lagoon around Rarotonga is a very special and kid friendly place to explore, and Muri Lagoon is the prettiest part of the lagoon. There are two main companies which offer lagoon cruises and activities in Muri Lagoon and both are quite comparable. We went on Koko Lagoon cruises for no other reason than they had a slightly more varied buffet. Both lagoon cruises take you on a glass bottom boat through the lagoon to a snorkelling location. Here they feed the fish to ensure there is plenty of action. The water of Muri Lagoon is crystal clear and the snorkelling is fantastic. Even Jake tried on a toddler set of goggles (provided) and had a go at looking at the fish.
The second part of the lagoon cruise is actually land based. The boat takes you to a nearby island where a buffet lunch is served and a short cultural performance is presented (with plenty of audience participation). Learn how to climb a coconut tree, tie a sarong, and open a coconut, and don’t worry – there will be amble opportunity to practice your new skills as well (although none of us could master the tree climbing technique!).
Cost of the lagoon cruise half day trip is $76 per adult. Kids under 5 are free.
We stayed at the Edgewater resort, and every Thursday in their open to the public bar they have crab racing. I’ve been to crab racing before but this one was particularly well done, and whats more, got the kids involved.
The first race involved a bucket full of hermit crabs being released in the centre of a circle. The first to exit the circle wins. Pretty simple. The second race is where things got interesting. All the children in the crowd were asked to stand along the rope circle. They all had to introduce themselves into the microphone before being asked to take either one or two steps into the circle and then sit down.
The announcer then revealed the special aspect of the second race. It was a steeplechase. And the children were the specially designed crab obstacle course. As you can expect, the children who were old enough to understand all started squealing. Little Jacob didn’t catch on though.
Kudos to the kids who managed to stay put during the crab “steeplechase”. Jake certainly wasn’t one of them. But that particular element of audience participation is one he won’t likely soon forget.
We had already explored the inner reef with our Muri lagoon cruise, so now it was time to have a look at the outer reef.
The area neat the main town of Avarua does not have the same sort of protective reef around it as much of the rest of the island does, allowed you easy access to the outer reef. There is one boat tour of this area, and its a semi submersible boat with underwater viewing areas. The Raro Submarine offers a look at the deeper sea that you just can’t get otherwise (while staying dry).
The tour lasts just over an hour and takes you to the outer reef and past a large ship wreck. We saw several large species of fish, most notably the giant trevally. The ship wreck was really notable, as we were able to get a look that is normally unattainable to non-swimmers like me.
This tour was absolutely great for Jake. He was able to see the deep ocean, giant fish, and the ship wreck in detail from the submarines windows. I got a little sea sick though, so if you are sensitive like me I would recommend taking an anti nausea tablet prior.
Attending an island night is not just a good idea for travelling families – I would in fact recommend it to everyone. We attended a combined tour which included a cultural village tour plus dinner and dancing show. At first I wasn’t sure how engaged Jacob would be during the cultural tour, but he really amazed me. He sat and listed through (almost) all the talks, and was on relative good behaviour. I even knew he was listening by his hilarious (and loud in only a way toddlers can) comments.
In a talk about the history of the Cook Islands and the Pacific peoples migration:
Jake : “Momma she said Cook Islands”
Me : “I know hunny, shhhh.”
Jake : “Momma, she said Cook Islands again. We’re going to the Cook Islands!”
Me : “We are on the Cook Islands now.”
Jake : “What!?! No way!!!”
But the highlight of the night was the show during dinner. The cultural performance consisted of live drumming and dancing, telling the story of the first peoples in the Cook Islands. There was singing, dancing, fire spinning, and lots and lots of drumming. Jake was totally enthralled during the entire performance, and didn’t once take his eyes off the stage.
And while I loved watching my boy so engaged with the cultural display, I was equally impressed with the buffet banquet. A huge array of traditional foods were prepared and they were DELICIOUS. The best way to explain how good the food is would be this statement – I got a 3 year old to down a massive helping of raw fish and steamed taro leaves (resembling steamed spinach), AND ask for seconds.
We recommend getting the combination ticket for $113 per person. Kids 5 and under are free.
Plenty of beach time
The best thing about being on a tropical island is doing not much at all. An outer reef provides a safe and shallow lagoon which is great for families travelling with children. There are no waves, and no dangerous creatures to worry about. The only thing to consider in the lagoon is to always wear reef shoes, as there are some very well camouflaged stone fish in the lagoon.
And the best thing for travelling parents is that there are several bars which are located right on the sand. Meaning you can kick back with a cocktail while you watch your little one splash around in the lagoon. Perfect.