Sights in Rarotonga

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The central mountainous region is unpopulated and its highest parts consist of cloud forest, an ecological wonderland. This area begins at about 1300 feet (400m) and contains many species of plants unique to the Cook Islands. These include the ascarina (kaiatea ko'u), the glossy tongue fern and the Rarotongan freycinetia (kiekie), a plant similar to pandanus (ara).

Much valuable work has been done recently to conserve and protect native flora and fauna by the Cook Islands Natural Heritage Project. Funded by the Government and the South Pacific Regional Environment Program, its main aim is to educate people about the need for conservation. It is run by New Zealander Gerald McCormack and Swiss illustrator Judith Künzlé. They have published a comprehensive guide for hikers and eco-tourists: Rarotonga's Mountain Tracks and Plants. For visitors wishing to explore the interior on foot there is a guided cross-island walk led by the inimitable Pa. For the less energetic there is a three-hour four-wheel drive safari which takes one through the mountains and into the rain forests. Aerial scenery can be enjoyed with a 20 minute scenic flight from the airport at a cost of NZ$55 (US$26).

Rarotonga's endangered flycatcher bird, the kakerori, is also protected by the Takitumu Conservation Area project which provides guided tours into the southern mountains. The revenue from these trips contributes towards the cost of keeping down the rats which prey on the tiny bird's eggs.

Land on Rarotonga, as on most islands in the Cooks group, belongs to individuals and families and can only be leased, not sold as freehold. The downside to this is that when houses are not salable assets the result is often derelict homes deteriorating in the tropical climate, the rightful heirs unable to cash up, either lacking funds to rebuild or unwilling to leave the fleshpots of Auckland or Sydney.

One of the main attractions of Rarotonga is that it is a real place, not a manufactured destination point for tourists. Real people live there and wrestle with all the problems that tiny countries face trying to cope with the modern world of instant communications and jet travel. It is an idyllic place for travellers seeking lost horizons and for those interested in the ways of Polynesia.

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Destinations in Rarotonga