Nothing Ever Happens in the Cook Islands


Cook IslandsHeaven is a place where nothing ever happens. It’s hard to imagine that nothing at all could be so exciting, could be so much fun.—David Byrne and Jerry Harrison

We were on our honeymoon on the tiny South Seas island of Aitutaki. Cue white-sand beach, palm trees leaning toward the water; fronds rustling in the breeze. Pan across bathtub-warm ocean water in shades of indigo and turquoise. There was hardly a soul around. The soundtrack was a relaxing acoustic guitar with soft flute strains. We entered our studio suite not far from the beach and like a movie cliché the needle skittered across the record and the music screeched to a halt. There were two twin beds in our room! Not your ideal honeymoon setup! But, since we were only staying a few nights on Aitutaki, we figured we could make it work, knowing that we had a fancier room waiting for us back on the main Cook Island of Rarotonga.

During an intense warm afternoon thunderstorm that trapped us in our room, we made up a game. We each sat on one bed and tossed a balled up pair of my husband’s white tube socks back-and-forth across the little room to each other. We made up rules about whether the walls, ceiling or floor were out-of-bounds and how to score points. We ended up playing this game every day. It was fun in its simplicity. Simplicity was definitely the theme on this remote island. The island being less than seven square miles was easy to walk around. At one point, we tackled a “climb” to the highest point of the island. The almost laughably short hike to this point called Maunga pu, could have been anti-climactic, except for the postcard-perfect 360-degree views of the island and the motus or small reef islands that circled its blue lagoons.

In the nineties, no one seemed to have heard of the Cook Islands. When asked where were going on our honeymoon, we’d explain, “They’re near Tahiti and used to be part of New Zealand. The islands are in a similar position to Hawaii but on the other side of the Equator. As far as tourist development they’re like Hawaii of fifty years earlier.” Even now, it’s not a well-known destination among Americans.

On one of our walks around Aitutaki we came across two rustic soccer goals on a field of semi-wild grass. One goal was not far from the water, so shots in that direction were backlit and framed in gray-blue stripes. We found an old, dingy white ball and started kicking it to each other. Within minutes, as if they emerged from behind banana plants and coconut trees, we were joined by a few barefoot local children. They joined in with big smiles and eager questions. “Where are you from? What do you think of our island? Can we play again tomorrow?” Soon more children came and we had a full-on pick-up game going. It was a pure, joyful game with lots of laughter.

In the middle of the night, the feral chickens that had been faintly comical and picturesque during the day were maddeningly active. Even with earplugs and a pillow on my head, I could hear them scratching and clucking outside our room. Periodically a “Cockadoodle doo!” pierced the humid night air—a terrible way to learn that roosters do not only crow at dawn. Good thing we had plenty of time for lazy afternoon naps on the warm sand to make up for nights of tossing and turning in our twin beds.
When we returned to the main island of Rarotonga, we were surprised to find it bustling and hurried. Everything being relative, this remote place with no traffic lights now felt like the big city in comparison with super laid-back Aitutaki.

Even though it has been nearly twenty years since we were there, I remember well how time felt on Aitutaki: simple and unhurried. You couldn’t even rush into the water if you wanted to. Nearly every square inch of sand in the shallow water was covered with nudibranch mines. You had to tiptoe through the nudibranchs unless you wanted a squishy sea slug beneath your toes.

While it may not have been the ideal honeymoon, with 24-hour party chickens, twin beds, and limited fine dining, I have no regrets about honeymooning in the Cook Islands. It is easy to have a good time and enjoy each other’s company in air-conditioning and high-thread-count sheets. A truer test of a relationship is laughing together when things don’t go smoothly and with little more diversion than each other’s conversation. After returning home, I made a blue ceramic sea star, an Etua Moana, that sits on our bathroom counter. It reminds me to appreciate the beautiful simplicity in life.

About the Author: Marcie Chan has been to all fifty states and has backpacked around the world. She enjoys singing, dancing, reading, writing, and making pottery, though not simultaneously.

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