circling the islands by bus

RAROTONGA, Cook Islands Travelling around on the local bus is usually a good way to explore a new destination, and Rarotonga is no exception.

RAROTONGA, Cook Islands

Travelling around on the local bus is usually a good way to explore a new destination, and Rarotonga is no exception.

Since the island circumference is just 32 kilometres and there is only one main road, the transportation system is wonderfully simple.

One bus travels clockwise; the second bus travels counter clockwise.

According to the timetable there are specific stops, but the drivers will pull over wherever you flag them down.

A 10-trip concession card can be shared among travelling companions. Hopping on and off the bus is a bargain.

En route to the Whale Research and Education Centre, a young Cook Islander gladly provided information about things to see and do.

George wore his sunglasses between his eyebrows and his hairline, literally on his forehead.

The sunglasses remained there, like a second pair of mirrored eyes, as he talked about shopping for local black pearls and cocktails at waterfront lounges.

No question about it, George was cool.

A huge mural covers the entrance to the Centre, and relics of last century’s whaling industry, as well as films and books, are on display. Whales are now protected within the two-million-square-kilometre sanctuary established in the Cook Islands in 2001.

The humpbacks of the southern hemisphere (Australia, South America, Africa and the Pacific Islands) travel more than 6,000 kilometres to their tropical breeding grounds.

They pass so close to the Cook Islands that the best whale watching is actually from shore.

Lunch was at a spot located on Avatiu Harbour aptly named Fish and Chips.

The wahoo burger and the crispy prawns were dished up by students who were saving their wages to attend college in New Zealand; all Cook Islanders hold citizenship there.

The view from the outside patio is perfect for whale watching while you eat, and you can take a stroll past the international yachts when you are finished.

The next stop was Muri Beach, arguably the island’s most popular. The traditional Ra’ui conservation system constitutes some eight per cent of the reef circumference of Rarotonga and restricts or prohibits the harvest of any marine life within its boundaries.

As a result, the snorkeling within the reserves is incredible.

There are literally hundreds of species of colourful tropical fish as well as blue starfish, clams, turtles, eels and stingrays among the many types of coral.

The water is clear turquoise.

Self-catering accommodation is popular on Rarotonga, and local shops provide everything you need.

Manny’s shop is the best for fresh tuna steaks.

A spry 81-year-old soccer player, he attended a tournament in Vancouver just four years ago.

At a stand across the road, Nikki bagged up tomatoes, radishes, pawpaw and tomorrow’s breakfast eggs. She wore the tiara lei in her hair, chatted about their plantation and insisted on slipping four bananas into the bag at no extra cost.

Arriving “home” at the end of the day, the ever-present sound of the surf could be heard in the distance and the setting sun smudged purple and pink shadows on the sky.

It was time to heat up the BBQ for those tasty tuna steaks.

Catherine Miller is a Whitehorse-based writer on a months-long tour of far-flung places. Her chronicle appears here every Monday.