Day 23 – Cook Island
When the Captain came across the public-address system this morning, I fully expected him to announce that we would be skipping Cook Island due to the current sea state. However, I was pleasantly surprised when he explained that he would be putting the tenders in the water soon and would bring out the local immigration officials to clear the ship.
Our plan for today was to rent a car from Avis and drive around the island with Rick and Margaret. I reserved the car for 9:30. With tendering starting around 8 AM I figured we would have plenty of time to get ashore, plus there is usually a 2-hour grace period for most car rental reservations.
I went to the Lido Dome at 7:30 AM, which was the advertised starting time for passing out tender tickets. When I arrived, the line was already gone as they started passing tender tickets out a little early. Once they start passing out tickets, the line moves quickly. They added a warning to the tender ticket instructions for today saying that “cutting in line”, or “saving spaces” is “not allowed”. I wasn’t around to see if this was still happening, but since we weren’t in any hurry to get ashore, I didn’t worry about it.
When I received my ticket, it was Blue 31. To thwart people who were saving tickets from earlier ports and were hoping that their Blue 1 from Nuka Hiva would work today, they started with Blue 40 and worked backwards. That meant that my Blue 31 would be the 10th group called. At some earlier ports when I arrived 40 minutes early I was in Group 6, so I was only 4 groups further back when I arrived at the tender ticket starting time and I didn’t have to wait in line.
Tendering started around 8 AM and was going slow. The water was too deep to anchor, so the ship was hovering using its Azipods and Thrusters to remain stationary. Normally when we are tendering, the ship appears motionless and only the tender boats are moving. Today we could see the ship moving as well as the tender boats.
See the Captains blog for more details here
They announced that people with scooters, walkers or otherwise needed extra assistance will not be permitted to go ashore.
An hour after tendering started they had yet to call a number. Tenders have been leaving and I suspect they are full of people on HAL tours.
Mark, the event manager, is responsible for making most of the announcements on port days. Today we had the usual warnings about not taking any food ashore, but before he signed off he added that it was illegal to possess more than $10,000 NZD. After the second time he made this announcement he chuckled – “We know who you are – put the money back in your safe.” I suspect that each country has a series of mandatory announcements that must be made in each port and that Mark is simply reading a prepared script.
The first tender group, Blue 40, was finally called at 9:30 AM. Our number, Blue 31 (the 10th group) was called at 10:21. We were down on Deck A at 10:24. Today it took 10 minutes to get on the tender. There was so much sea motion that the tenders were moving quite a bit in relation to the ship and loading was appropriately going slow. Henk, the Hotel Director, is once again personally supervising the tender loading operation.
I captured the motion of the tender, along with Henk photo bombing my shot, in a video that is posted here:
Our visit to Cook Island was reported in the local press. Read about it HERE
Once ashore, Chamber of Commerce representatives were available in a small, covered shelter. They were available to answer questions, pass out maps and other literature. A man, dressed in native garb, was singing and playing a guitar to welcome us to the Cook Islands.
Renting a Car
The women sitting behind the welcome desk was very helpful. She gave us a nice local map and pointed out some highlights we should consider visiting. Our plan for today was to rent a car from AVIS which was located about ½ mile away. When I asked her for directions to the AVIS rental agency, she offered to call AVIS because she said that they would come and pick me up. At this point I was about 90 minutes beyond my scheduled pick up time. I had always planned to walk to the AVIS rental location, which isn’t that far, but getting a ride would save us some time and energy. After a brief conversation with AVIS, the chamber of commerce lady told me that AVIS would be down in a few minutes to pick me up.
On past visits you were required to get a Cook Islands driver license to rent a car here. This is no longer the case as long as your home license is appropriate for the type of vehicle you are renting. If you are licensed for automobiles and motorcycles at home, then you can rent those same vehicles here on your home license. If you don’t have a motorcycle endorsement back home, then you WILL need to get a Cook Island motorcycle/scooter license if you want to rent a motorcycle or scooter. These rules can change quickly, so be sure to check for the latest requirements for your trip.
The biggest change for people from North America and Europe will be the location of the steering wheel in the rental car. It will be on the right-hand side. This takes a little getting used to, but it is quite manageable, so you shouldn’t be discouraged from renting a car here for this reason alone. Your first mistake will likely be getting into the passenger seat where you thought you would find the steering wheel. After you get situated on the correct side of the car, take some time to familiarize yourself with the locations of the various controls. The turn signals and windshield wiper levers will be reversed from where you expect to find them, so be prepared to turn on your wipers when you wanted to signal for a turn.
NOTE: I recommend getting an automatic vs a manual transmission if you are getting a right hand steer car. While the shift pattern, clutch, brake and gas pedal are all in the same relative positions, I find that having one less thing to deal with is beneficial while you are becoming familiar with driving on the left side of the road. Renting a car with a manual transmission is almost impossible in the USA, but it is common to see a manual transmission option in other countries so be sure to read the car description carefully when you make your reservation. If you are planning on taking advantage of your credit card car-rental insurance option, read the fine print before you leave as New Zealand is often one of the excluded countries. I always get the maximum insurance offered by the rental car company, which I never do in the USA, but I don’t want to have to deal with any issues while on a cruise.
We made our reservation at AVIS, but we did notice a local agency renting cars that was much closer to the tender landing. I always prefer to make a reservation, but if you don’t have one, then going to one of the local agencies to see what may be available is worth a shot.
There isn’t any need to get an International driver license as long as your local license is in English. I have rented cars all over the world and have never been required to produce the International one.
Our plan was to drive around the island, stopping at any scenic spots that we come across or anything else of interest. Going counterclockwise, we drove back thru the center of town before settling in to the two lane road that circles the island. As usual, we used MAPS.ME to keep track of our position in addition to a local tourist map that shows some highlights and points of interest.
After stopping a couple of times to enjoy some scenic views, we came across a turn-off for a waterfall. The waterfall is at the end of a private road and there were some folks charging $5 NZD for access.
NOTE: Unlike French Polynesia, where dollars are readily accepted, you will need NZD in the Cook Islands. Most places take credit cards, but sometimes you need local cash to facilitate small purchases like this. We have found that VISA is the most commonly accepted credit card, followed by Mastercard and American Express, so we always take one of each when we travel to cover most contingencies.
The waterfall was about 50 feet high and fed a picturesque pool of water. Some local children were splashing around in the shallow water. We did get bothered by some mosquitoes or something similar on our legs, so I would recommend putting some repellent on your legs if you plan to venture off the main road.
While enjoying the view, we struck up a conversation with two German tourists, Anna and Louisa. They are spending a year working as nannies in New Zealand in what they called their “gap year” – the year between High School and College.
Continuing our drive, we stopped at the Matutu Brewery located on the south side of the island. I discovered this brewery on Trip Advisor and they mentioned that they offered tours at Noon and 1 PM. There is a sign marking the turnoff, but it is small, and unless you are looking for it, you may easily miss it.
The brewery looks like a converted house and the entire operation takes place in two connected rooms. The tour cost $10 NZD and includes 3 glasses of their beer. Calling this a tour is misleading – it is more of a lecture – since you remain seated for the entire hour. We found the experience interesting, but it is very small, and nothing like what you may have seen on other brewery tours.
Matutu only makes about 20 cases a day which they sell to local bars and stores. They don’t add any preservatives, so the beer must be refrigerated and has a shelf life of less that 2 months. They cater to the tourists as the locals won’t pay the higher prices they charge for a beer that is produced in such small quantities.
Around the Island
Our next stop was a small grocery/convenience/gasoline store. The gasoline pumps were marked with a stern warning: “Strictly No Self Service”. We always enjoy stopping at these types of stores to see what types of local products are offered and we often meet local residents who are invariably friendly and have interesting stories to share. We chatted up a couple from Alaska who spends the winters here house sitting for a variety of people over several months. They have come to make friends on the island and have been coming here for the last 13 years.
Muri beach, located on the east side of the island, is a very popular spot for tourists with a nice beach, restaurants, cafes and bars. It is too far to walk – about 6 miles – but you can get here via the local bus or a taxi if you don’t have car.
We didn’t stop at Muri beach, but continued on back to town to return the rental car.
Back in town
The final tender was in 2 hours, so we decided to walk the ¾ mile back to the ship and do a little shopping along the way.
There was a wedding at a local church that finished a few minutes before we walked by. Everyone was dressed in very colorful outfits and it was fun to watch the group of happy people who were on the Church’s front lawn taking pictures.
Back where we started, the Chamber of Commerce people were all gone, but there were still a few tents set up selling local goods and tourists items. There was a nice selection of items here and we were surprised that some of the best shopping for this type of stuff was so close to the pier.
The tender ride back to the ship was smoother and fortunately less exciting than the one in the morning. The crew of the Amsterdam did a wonderful job of getting everyone ashore and we learned later that over 700 guests were able to enjoy the Cook Islands for a portion of the day.
Back on the Ship
Since today was Australia Day, the theme for Pub Trivia was everything Australian. The questions were very hard, and we only had 3 correct answers with the winning team getting 7 correct.
Popular choices for dinner this evening were the Australian Meat Pie and the Sweet and Sour Shrimp.
Gary Arbuthnot was the featured performer this evening. He played a wide variety of popular and Celtic tunes using a flute and penny whistle. Toward the end of his show he played a stirring rendition of “Danny Boy” which he mentioned was one of his late Father’s favorite songs. Gary is an incredible musician and puts on a wonderful show.
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