Castaway Resort and Rarotonga

By Steve Lopes
This item appears on page 30 of the May 2016 issue.
Lois on the Cross-Island Track — Rarotonga. Photos by Steve Lopes

A 5½-week South Pacific adventure that my wife, Lois, and I took to the Cook Islands, New Zealand, Australia and Fiji, Nov. 8-Dec. 16, 2014, was organized by Lindsey Neale-Rozga at Australia & New Zealand – Unique and Unusual (operating with Travel Arrangements, Ltd., Palm Desert, CA; phone 858/550-9622 or email

The package included 14 flights, five rental cars, seven boat rides and almost all accommodations and events, and when we added in the credit card receipts when we returned home, the total cost of the trip was $38,000. 

Lindsey, who also obtained our visas, was as able and professional as promised, and our thanks go to ITN subscriber Patricia Kriz for recommending her (Oct. ’14, pg. 41).

After staying in a hotel in Los Angeles on Nov. 8, the next night we caught our 9½-hour Air New Zealand flight to Rarotonga, in the Cook Islands, where we lived a dream among kind people in clean, safe surroundings. 

At the airport, we collected our well-used Toyota RAV4 rental car, which had no trunk space and tiny back seats but was fine for our purposes.

We stayed three nights at the Castaway Resort (phone +61 682 21546,, the ultimate getaway. It gets five stars from us for location, service and hospitality. We enjoyed our poolside villa (listed on their website at $266 per night), which had a full kitchen and a west-facing view from which we enjoyed beautiful sunsets. Perfect! 

Internet access was spotty and pricey. Bandwidth was sold by the megabyte, so if you watched one movie, you were done for the week. Emails were cheap, but some of my emails may not have gotten through.

Let me tell you about the Cook Islands, which is a self-governing New Zealand protectorate. If you want remote, this is remote — 15 islands totaling 92 square miles scattered over 690,000 square miles of ocean. Its population is under 18,000, 13,000 of whom live on Rarotonga, the biggest island in the group. The “House of Parliament” is a storefront in a strip mall in Avarua with no obvious foreign presence, not even of the New Zealand government.

The airport is at Avarua (pop. 5,500), the largest town in the country, on the north coast. On the southeast coast is Muri, known for resorts and tourism. There are no megaresorts or casinos on the island, and every accommodation appeared to be locally owned and locally operated.

The coastal ring road is 20 miles; we drove it in about 40 minutes. The maximum speed is 50 kph (31 mph), and it ranks as one of the cities with the most motos (scooters and motorbikes, no motorcycles) per capita, after Hanoi. The few paved roads, with narrow or no shoulders, are not conducive to bicycling, however.

The rugged interior is mountainous and uninhabited, with no cross-island roads, only trekking paths through pretty dramatic volcanic mountains. Their physical beauty is breathtaking. 

The island is surrounded by a coral barrier reef 100 to 200 meters off of pristine sandy beaches, so the waves break offshore and the tide gently laps the beaches. This allows easy snorkeling and wading, especially during high tide. The tides are small, maybe a meter, and at low tide you can walk to the reef. 

The first day, Lois and I sat on the beach and read before buying peppers and eggs for a luncheon omelet. Food was pricey — $9 for a dozen eggs and a stick of butter, but the people were very friendly, and we enjoyed the sun and the sea and the quiet (while Kansas was experiencing a snowstorm). 

Glimpse of the ocean from the back porch of our lodging in Rarotonga.

Tuesday, we did the Cross-Island Track, a 4-hour steep hike to The Needle, a stunning rock monolith at the ridge top. It was often a hand-over-hand climb but doable. The overcast sky made it easier. The island-circling bus took us back to our drop-off point at the north end of the trail, where we recovered our car.

Later, having previously signed up for it after seeing a poster, we took a cultural village tour led by Cook Islands Maori, who speak a unique patois. This was followed by a fairly good buffet dinner. The “fire and water show” was pretty elaborate — men and women dancing with fire sticks on rafts and boats in the lagoon.

We had only two dinners in restaurants (both just OK), preferring to use the fully equipped kitchen in our bungalow. There was a lot of local produce, especially fruit. The fresh fish was amazing. We cooked some of the tastiest just-caught albacore ($5 a pound at the Ocean Fresh market) for dinner.

We had a delightful 3½ days in Rarotonga before continuing our trip. The experience exceeded our expectations. The owners of the Castaway Resort were warm and helpful, and their good-bye hugs were heartfelt.


Lawrence, KS