The Cook Islands. What a place! What a visit! I was invited, along with Jo and Joel Simpson and Ando, by Josh Utanga and his new company Surfski Cook Islands to check out what’s on offer and I most certainly wasn’t disappointed. Ando and I arrived into Rarotonga on the Monday after racing in NZ over the previous weekend at the Poor Knights Crossing. Just before we boarded I rang Josh to remind him when we were going to arrive and in typical island style he had no idea we would be in, in only 3hrs. Haha. We arrived late and were taken to our accomodation before hitting the hay to see what tomorrow would bring!
Day 1 (Monday) started with a 20km paddle out from Avaavaroa pass to the old Sheraton hotel. We punched into it for a few km before getting a great 15knot downwind for about 10km. It was then shirts off for the rest of the paddle (we all know how much I love that!) and just taking in the natural beauty of the place. After a quick lunch it was time to do the cross island walk. It took us about 2hrs through pretty tough terrain. But what can I say, it was worth it! We got nearly 360 degree views of the island seeing coastline on all sides. It’s definitely not for the faint hearted as climbing up the Needle involved ropes and chains. The photos tell the story better than I can type!
On day 2 we paddled from Rutaki Pass to Trader Jacks in town with Josh skipping the paddle as we didn’t have a driver! We punched out for 3km again before getting a cracking downwind along the west coast. We passed surf breaks such as Socials and Black Rock which were barrelling pretty much all week. The impression I got was that the ocean is relatively undiscovered over there. After the paddle we headed to Te Vara Nui for a cultural dance/dinner performance which told a story of a seafaring warrior settling on the island in the 18th century. Guy gave up his daughter to the chief so they could settle there… Not totally sure thats the best story to be telling haha!
On day 3 we did an around the island paddle. We like to think we were the first guys on surfskis to do it! It ended up taking us 3:30 of paddling but we had stops at Trader Jacks (Avarua Pass) and Avaavaroa (for lunch at the Mouring cafe – the fish Tacos were unbelievable!!) before finishing at the Rutaki Pass in some pretty crazy conditions. It was a building South West swell and when we left in the morning it was small and tame. But as the day went on it built up and the tide went out making the return to shore an achievement in itself. The tide was rushing at at least 20km/hr through the narrow pass and we were essentially on a travelator. We managed to muscle our way in through the foamy treacherous waters before turning around and seeing 8ft sets close out through the pass. We all considered ourselves pretty lucky at that point and a sigh of relief was shed by all! In the afternoon we were treated to a bon fire with some local meat and taro, a couple of drinks and some toasted marshmallows to top it off! We also met a couple of Josh’s mates Tharo, Zayne and a few others which really added to a great day.
On day 4 there was no backing off except for Joel, the big fella needed a rest… Too many kilometres for this ex-200m kayaker! A tropical rain front moved through so we had the morning off to rest before paddling in the afternoon. I think everyone was a bit tired from the day before! We then had the best downwind of the trip getting a solid 20knot East wind allowing Josh, Ando and I to surf our way from Avaavaroa to Trader Jacks. We then headed to another cultural dinner involving breaking coconuts, eating a umu (hungy) and drinking some home brew! It was replicating the local environment on Atui and we got involved in a drinking circle that left many worse for wear haha! At this point it was Thursday night and I was suppose to board my flight back home. However got bumped and carried on with the night haha.
Since I got an extra day I made the most of it. Ando was unable to rise after the evening before a antics so Joel, Josh and I did our last session on Rarotonga in and out from Trader Jacks. We got another 13km done and finished of a 110km week which we were all relatively pleased with. Especially the boys who hadn’t been doing much… namely Joel and Josh. We then drank fresh coconuts and ate fresh bananas from the open air market, I love how they can still cultivate and live off the land. After our goodbyes at the airport to Ando, Joel and Jo I ran back to Josh’s with an 8km run along the beach and road. Josh and I then did a scenic drive around the points on the scooters and checked out the surf as all the points glassed off in the afternoon. It was magical!
The Cook Islands is a paddlers paradise and a training haven. No matter what way the wind and swell is going you can get a solid 12km downwind paddle in 365 days a year. It also gives you all conditions allowing you to work on your skills to become a more adaptable paddler. The beauty of the island is that its 36km around on the ski with distinct north, South, East and West coastlines which his allows for some great and testing paddling conditions everyday. I loved it.
Big thanks to Josh and Joyce for being so hospitable. Nothing was too hard and all our needs were catered for. I strongly recommend this place to all paddlers out there. It’s a picturesque holiday destination where you can now paddle surfskis and do what you love, what more can you want! I know I’ll be back!