Travel to the Cook Islands: the best tips for designing your vacation
Rarotonga is essentially one big tropical garden, so there’s always something lush to capture in your sketchbook. Photo/Murray Dewhurst
PRINT BLURB: Words / illustrations / photos by Murray Dewhurst
Why bother drawing on vacation? Some time ago I found an old pencil sketch of Mount Ararat on a backpacking trip to eastern Turkey many years ago. This surprised me, as the memories, sounds and smells of a day when I met Kurdish goat herders and drank chai in Dogubayazıt came flooding back. I’m not sure your cell phone photos would do that, and cell phones take terrible photos.
Do you dream of taking a sketchbook with you on your island vacation, but worry about delaying your fellow travelers because you want to stop and sketch? Well, I was too until, while vacationing in the Cook Islands, I found a few tricks that helped me sneak into the drawing when everyone wasn’t looking.
Map it first
Mapping your destination before you fly does wonders for building anticipation and ensuring you arrive with at least some knowledge of which side of the island you’re staying on. An added bonus is that the first page of your sketchbook is already finished by the time you arrive.
Drawing by the pool
Chances are you’ll be staying somewhere with a pool surrounded by tropical gardens, or at least a beach with palm trees. Rarotonga is essentially one big tropical garden, so there’s always something lush to capture in your sketchbook. Take advantage of this relaxing time to capture the flora and fauna that we don’t get at home. I drew ginger, Tiare Māori, frangipani and heliconias while everyone was reading a book.
Lose yourself in a book
A sketchbook. Everyone likes to read as an escape and many approach their vacation as a chance to catch up on reading, but why escape your vacation when you can draw it instead? You’ve been dreaming about it for weeks and now that you’re here you want to get away? Once at home, you have plenty of time for this and the act of observation necessary to draw will bring you closer to your subject, while soaking up this tropical atmosphere.
So you like to tan? Who doesn’t, so draw and tan at the same time!
Draw locals in action in churches, markets or chatting under a big old pink frangipani. Rarotongans also like to keep their loved ones close, so you will often see several graves on the lawns of their homes, beautifully whitewashed and decorated.
Tours make it easy for sketchers, just sit down and sketch the show. Captain Tama’s crew put on a hilarious performance after a reef cruise, snorkeling and BBQ mahi-mahi.
Exit the island
To me, Rarotonga looks like a combination of Moorea, Tahiti and the Whangārei Chiefs – exactly my idea of what a tropical island should look like. A lush mountainous interior surrounded by tropical palm trees, sandy beaches and an aquatic lagoon. The problem with spectacular volcanic islands like Rarotonga is that the best view of them is from the reef. Take advantage of the hotel’s kayaks and paddle to the reef to sketch the rear view. There was a strong land breeze the day I tried, sending me back to shore several times before I could finish. Of course, check with a local that you can paddle safely first, beware of reef openings which can have dangerous currents, and be careful not to drop your sketchbook in the lagoon!
It’s a jungle out there
One of the hardest times to get out the sketchbook is when everyone is on the move. Take walking on the Cross Island Track for example. We had packed plenty of water for the thirsty kids, everyone had maximum sun protection, hats were on, and finally we found the trailhead. It’s a fun walk on a steep rooted ridge trail, with epic views from the top that a phone camera will never do justice. I scrawled the spectacular 413m Te Rua Manga (The Needle) while standing on the trail, quickly suggesting the trees framing it, a few frigates circling overhead before catching up with the group. I added the sky and the finishing touches to the base.
Be a little fruity
One of the best things you find on tropical islands? Exotic fruit! Before diving in, draw it! Dragon fruit and starfruit were new to me, and I just had to draw them.
Do you get a fabulous conch on your beach walk like we did? There’s a well-known saying that goes “Leave only footprints. Take only pictures” (naturally, I’d change that to a sketch). Gone are the days of Kiwis bringing back pieces of exotic coral and shells from their travels – we all know New Zealand customs will take you out anyway, so you’ve probably figured out the picture by now – just draw it.
Air New Zealand and Jetstar offer direct flights from Auckland to Rarotonga.
For more things to see and do, see cookislands.travel