Newspaper article Fraser Coast Chronicle (Hervey Bay, Australia)

Escape to Tropical Paradise

Newspaper article Fraser Coast Chronicle (Hervey Bay, Australia)

Escape to Tropical Paradise

Article excerpt

Byline: Shirley Sinclair

TROPICAL island paradises are often only fair-weather friends.

For most of the year, they may be gently swaying palm trees, calm lagoons and brilliant sunshine enticing visitors into their aquatic playgrounds.

But what happens when it's blowing a gale from trade winds, the lagoon is awash with uncomfortable waves and the sun decides to hide behind clouds?

Well, if you are holidaying on Rarotonga in the Cook Islands, "holiday heaven" means holiday heaven in any weather.

A blustery winter escape recently forced us to explore, discover and uncover much more of Rarotonga than we expected when cocktails while lounging around the pool was no longer an option.

Using the island's quirky clockwise and anti-clockwise buses, walking and hiring a car, we could cover the relatively flat 32km Sacred Road circumnavigation several times over.

We found deserted soft and sandy beaches out of the wind, stumbled upon barefoot bars with million-dollar lagoon views, sampled a host of culinary treats and met some of the 15,000 warm and friendly locals (and free-range chickens!).

Rarotonga - so named because it was raro (down) and tonga (south) for the early French Polynesian sailors - is one of 15 islands in the Pacific nation that lies halfway between Auckland in New Zealand and Hawaii's Honolulu.

Direct flights from Sydney can have Aussies in Rarotonga in six hours (or a little longer from Brisbane via Auckland).

Since 1965, the islands - named after Captain James Cook, who sighted them in 1770 - have been self-governing, although New Zealand still manages defence, foreign affairs and currency.

That close relationship sees many Kiwi families flying north for the winter, as we found during our stay at The Rarotongan on beautiful Aroa Beach in the south-west of the island. Our beachfront resort room gave us a bird's-eye view of a dreamy place that doesn't need to be Photoshopped to look spectacular.

Here were all the palms, turquoise waters, reef-breaking waves, sun lounges or hammocks, hibiscus gardens and soft sand underfoot you could ever want. By contrast, if we turned 180 degrees, we found a "lost world" of mist-covered volcanic mountain peaks (the highest of 16 mountains is Mount Te Manga at 658m) and lush green jungle.

Here are some must-dos:

CocoPutt Alehouse is walking distance from The Rarotongan and more than just a laugh-and-a-half for mini-golf fans. Visitors take advantage of beer and meal deals on the covered deck with a view to the highlands.

Shipwreck Hut at Aroa Beachside Inn offers glorious sunsets, and ice-cold local beer, wine and margaritas on the sand.

Visitors can get up close and personal with the jungle life on the Highland Paradise Cultural Centre Sunset Cultural Night. …

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