More to Rarotonga than the beaches

EASY: The buggy tour of Rarotonga’s green heart.

Planning an escape to Rarotonga?

Tear yourself away from the beach to dig a little deeper at the roots of the island. Venture along the back road and enter a timeless world of free-range harmony in abundance.

On my various forays along the back road, I feasted on freshly-plucked pawpaw, mango, guava, bananas and star-fruit, bursting from the roadside trees.

Scenically insatiable, I marvelled at the colourfully-painted hinterland homes and the dense plantations, bracketed by Rarotonga’s serrated peaks which exude a Jurassic Park aura.

There are many ways to get a flavour for Rarotonga’s vast green heart, including taking a ride with the recently launched Tik-e Tours. These tropical three-wheeler luxury tuk-tuk limousines are fully electric, so unlike the racket they make on the streets of Bangkok, these beauties will glide you around Rarotonga’s ravishing interior in virtual silence.

My driver/guide was a worldly elder called Mata, a natural and charismatic raconteur. Throughout my tour, every passer-by warmly waved out to Mata, or stopped to chat. One chap we talked to was busy cultivating noni fruit by hand.

Lauded by locals for centuries for its numerous health benefits, noni juice has taken the world by storm and is the Cook Islands’
No 1 agricultural export product.

My two-hour tour traversed a slew of insights, including stops at ancient marae sites, a rendezvous with Government House, the magnificently carved new war memorial in honour of the 500 local soldiers who fought in World War 1, Tinomana Palace and the sacred Great Migration site of Avana Passage.

Operating for just over a year, the people behind Tik-e Tours are Cook Islander Tania Farman and her husband, Karl, who have swapped corporate life in Auckland for the Rarotongan lifestyle, while injecting an innovative and eco-friendly tourism product into the mix.

For more heartland hi-jinks I jumped behind the wheel of a Rarotonga Buggy Tour. These grunty off-road vehicles are a cross between a kart and a beach buggy, highly manoeuvrable and hardy.

They’re even kitted out with roll cages if it all goes badly wrong.

These wildly popular buggy tours have been making quite a splash for two years. Our conga line of yellow buggies looked like a slithering giant snake. The biggest mud pits awaited us at the site of ill-fated and abandoned Sheraton Hotel development, where the grounds have been reworked as an off-road buggy track, which is where I got utterly splattered in mud, as we ripped up and down the mounds of the track.

Our touring route also romped into the hinterland and the Turangi Valley, thickly carpeted with tropical rainforest. Seriously good fun if you like to get down and dirty.

Swathed in jungle-like tropical foliage, the environmentally-friendly embrace of Ikurangi Eco-Retreat is a winning new roost in Rarotonga.

Established by Luana and Matt Scowcroft last year, this thoughtfully created offering treads a very light footprint. You’ll notice the sustainability elements wherever you turn.

The toilets are self-composting, the beautiful toiletries by Ashley & Co are studiously organic, the natural and biodegradable cleaning products, a sustainable waste management system, all materials are sustainably sourced and there’s free use of bicycles to go exploring.

Being uber-boutique, the experience is absolutely distinctive, personalised and ultra-attentive. Luana says: “We think of it as a unique combination of the allure of a safari with the romance of the South Seas, where luxury meets sustainability.”

I loved sleeping in my luxury safari tent, stunningly furnished, and perched on a deck to allow airflow.

A tropical breakfast was delivered to my deck each morning and I adored the
locally-roasted, fair trade plunger coffee.

I awoke each morning to the “Tail of the Sky,” Mt Ikurangi, gilded in the glow of the rising Rarotongan sun, and I revelled in the novelty of showering in the open-air bathroom, flanked by swaying palms and bountiful banana trees.

•Set amid the bountiful hinterland beauty, but just minutes from the beach, Ikurangi Eco-Resort is a masterclass in sustainable hospitality in paradise. Five per cent of Ikurangi Eco Retreat profits go to local conservation initiatives.

I do love how Rarotonga is replete with colourful roadside stalls brimming with freshly picked produce and alluring treats, like organic fruit ice cream. They directly help villagers supplement their incomes. It’s a great way to give back.