Road Trip: Rarotonga
Nissan March in Rarotonga
I found the one good angle to take a picture of this car!

Road Trip: Rarotonga

By Sarah Forst

In The Sex lives of Cannibals: Adrift in the Equatorial Pacific, J. Maarten Troost writes: “No one who claims this to be a small world has ever flown across the Pacific.”  After the San Francisco to New Zealand plane ride, I can relate; intestinal pretzel anyone?  But there are a number of small islands in the South Pacific that you can leap frog your way across the Pacific and fulfill more of that wanderlust. Tahiti, Moorea, Fiji, Bora Bora, Tonga, and Samoa make up most of the tourist locales on both sides of the International Date Line.  I chose Rarotonga to entertain my desire for another segment of “Transportation off the Beaten Path.”

Rarotonga, the “Poor Man's French Polynesia,” is the most populous of the Cook Islands, a group of 15 sandy flecks that dot the middle of the South Pacific.  With translucent turquoise waters and soft white sand, it's a convenient stopover from New Zealand or Australia to the states.  The Cook Islands are self-governing but use the same currency as New Zealand, making it even more fitting to spend the rest of your travel budget if you're flying back from a Kiwi vacation.  But don't expect sports cars- this ain't a transportation mecca, but you can find adventure on wheels.
Leaving Auckland at 7pm gets you in to Rarotonga at 1am the morning before your date of departure; yep, that's two hotels in two countries for the same night.  Rumor has it that most long-haul flights in and out of Rarotonga are scheduled to take off and land in the middle of the night because the runway is so short, that daylight flights may scare the bejeezus out of the tourists.  The runway ends just before the island's one circumventing road, and there is about ten feet of runoff sand before the island falls into the sea.  Pilots basically dive bomb the runway in order to stop in time.  
Rarotonga airport near road
The island's one circumnavigating road almost intersects the end of the runway.
There are only one or two long-haul flights a day and for some perplexing reason, guidebooks encourage tourists to stand on the road just past the end of the runway to experience the jet-wash created by a departing plane.  This isn't exactly my idea of R&R so I didn't schedule a tar-laced spa treatment but supposedly, a nice loaded Boeing 777 could knock down a scooter or cause pigs to fly.  And the road is not even closed during departure!  Locals also enjoy watching a good takeoff, but from the hills above where they can get a front row show of the foolish tourists being pounded by the wake, shoved against the airport fence like flying rubbish and decorating their faces with asphalt and exhaust soot.  
Jet wash area near Rarotonga airport
I imagine occupying this area during a takeoff is like trying to stand behind a Funny car as it skyrockets down a drag strip.
One tip- if you think you can sneak some kava or other restricted items on your flight home, think again.  Going through security at RAR is like escaping Guantanamo Bay.  First, you pass through useless metal detectors before getting felt up like you're in middle school and under the bleachers.  You must show your electronics are functioning (as opposed to bombs I guess…) and they will even go through books page by page to search for hidden items.  For the enjoyment of this service, you'll also fork over $55USD for a departure tax.

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