This time we arrived in Rarotonga and were in for a surprise: walking out of the airplane, it was cold! The temperature probably was only 65°F and the humidity was quite low. The wind was blowing hard, and the palm trees swayed and fluttered in the gusts like cheerleader’s pom poms. It took us a while to finish work and head for the rental cars, which were pre-staged for us in the parking lot. In the mean it got dark. It gets dark very quickly in low latitudes, and in some 20 minuted the daylight faded out and darkness descended, with barely enough light to find the door handles on the cars. Getting by some by flashlight and some with a light from a cell phone screen, we loaded up the luggage into the cars and headed for the Rarotongan.
The Rarotongan had our rooms prepared, and the air conditioners in them worked great, enough actually to make the rooms very cold. Asking for a second blanket on a tropical island seems rather odd but it was almost in order. Since we left our Alaska clothes on the airplane, turning the a/c off was quickly accomplished and soon brought the inside temperature to a more tolerable level. The rooms were well equipped. I said it before and will say it again, if I were to come to Rarotonga for another reason I would not hesitate to stay at the Rarotongan. It is not cheap but it is very nice.
We had a day off on the day following our arrival. The winter weather must have reached the island, and the wind was whipping along at probably 20-25 miles per hour. It was blowing parallel to the shore, and the waves rolling in onto the break at the edge of the reef rolled over it, with their foamy tips lifting off in the wind, spiraling off and creating an amazing sight that I have not frequently seen.
The later in the day, the higher the waves became until they finally started spilling past the reef and into the shallow waters along the shore. Every 5-6 minutes a really high wave would come upon the reef and spill over, pushing high up onto the beach, spilling over its crest and – ouch! – right into the porches of the first level ocean view rooms. Some people had their wide glass doors open, and you could see their furniture standing in 4 inches of water, with vacationers standing ankle deep in the middle, wondering what to do, and their children happily running about in the water, enjoying the unusual situation. The same fate befallen the hotel restaurant, and people there sat, eating, while streams of ocean water ran 1-2 inches deep all across the floor under their feet.
The hotel staff were unperturbed but quite annoyed, and pushed the water out with large push brooms. Once the water was cleared and they sighed a relief, another surge from the ocean brought in twice as much water, again. I watched this for a while and finally the staff gave up and served food away from the flood plain.
During the night the ocean could be heard loud and clear, waves crashing on the reef and on the beach. In the morning it appeared that the hotel restaurant deck sustained some damage from the waves. You could see how surges of water moved across the lagoon to the shore after the larger waves passed the reef, and slammed into the shore under the deck, sending sprays of water six feet high into the air through the gaps between the deck boards.
I took about 500 pictures of the waves and never got tired of sitting on the shore and watching the ocean at its eternal work. Not all of them will be keepers; some, however, do translate the untamed power of the waves. On occasion, the blue wall of wave rolling over looked as if the entire ocean level just raised 10 feet and is moving onto us, ready to leave nothing standing after it is finished.
We left the island the following day at 10 AM, starting the airplane engines while smelling the familiar smell of burned coconut husk. That unmistakable smell will always be associated with Pacific islands for me.