Cook Islands


Day 9

Lagoon Scuba Dive

Today I was booked in for my next scuba dive, except this time I was going out into the lagoon instead of just in the hotel pool.
I went down to The Dive Center at about 9am and got fitted for flippers and a wetsuit. There was a small group of us with varying levels of experience. We Had a twenty minute introduction lesson to learn the gear, the hand signals and which skills tests we had the option of doing.

The gear is pretty cool, the tanks are made of aluminum and are positively buoyant and because our bodies generally have good buoyancy too, we wear weight belts to make us sink. Because the goal is to be able to hover at a particular depth, we wear a BCD (Buoyancy Control Device) which is a vest that can be inflated or delayed by pressing the appropriate button on the end of a hose that goes between the tank and the vest. There are hand signals for releasing air and inflating air. The tank also had a hose with a set of gauges for tank pressure and depth and on the other side another two hoses for the main regulator and a secondary regulator that can be used to help others in an emergency situation.
The tank was filled with normal air, but it has been dehydrated a bit so it can make your mouth a little dry sometimes.

There were three tests, the first one is simply taking out the regulator under water and then putting it back in and clearing out any water from your mouth, the next one was letting your regulator float away and recovering it and the last one was letting your goggles partially fill with water and clearing it out.
These were optional and when it came time to do them, we would used hand signals to respond with whether we wanted to give it a try or not.

Being my first time, with the prospect of tests and having four different hoses floating around me, I thought it would probably be easier if I didn’t bring my GoPro this time around.

There were five students and one instructor in our group. Two of the students already had their license and were doing a refresher course, so they were required to do five skills in addition to what we did. They had to do an exercise where they take their mask off under water and another one where they simulate being out of air and using someone else’s secondary regulator.

We got geared up and waddled over to the beach. The gear was pretty heavy on land. I was bare foot as you are only meant to put your flippers on once your in the water, so with all the extra weight you definitely feel every little pebble under your feet!

We walked into the water about waist deep and attempted to put our flippers on, this was actually quite difficult for me. I felt a little like a turtle stuck on its back, beached on the shore! Eventually we were off and swam out to where it was between two and three meters deep. The instructor would check if we are ok quite often with hand signals and also point out interesting marine life. There were specific signals for the Bluefin Trevally which is the most dominant fish in the lagoon, Puffer Fish and a few others. We saw schools of colorful fish swimming in synchronization, a small ray, a Blue Triggerfish, quite a few Trevally and just caught a glimpse of a Puffer Fish in the distance.

The hardest part for me was trying to relax and keep my buoyancy stable. Scuba diving is meant to be a low energy, calm activity where you rarely even need to use your arms, but my breathing was a little faster than it probably should have been and I found myself using my arms quite a bit out of natural habit. Either way it was amazing and by the end I was controlling my buoyancy fairly well with my breathe alone. I kind of wished I had brought there GoPro now! Even the tests would have been ok with a GoPro in hand because unlike in Bali I had a proper handle and strap for it this time. Ah well, maybe next time.

We eventually got back to the shop and rinsed and returned our gear. They had some fresh grapefruit and coconut waiting for us inside. I think it was the best grapefruit I’ve ever had, nice and sweet! They pointed out all the fish we saw on a chart and answered any questions we had.

Because I passed the three skills tests, the next step for me would be a boat dive. Instead of being limited to about 3 meters, we would be going a little deeper than 20 meters. This extra depth means emphasis is put onto equalizing and not ascending too quickly. Also, because I get asthma symptoms when I’m sick, this puts me in a grey area for the medical sign off so I would need to book a time at the local hospital for them to test me and give me the go ahead. It’s still an option for me, but I’m not sure if I’ll do the boat dive this trip. The experience so far has been great though! I’d even be happy to do another lagoon dive!

I got back to the hotel and was fairly hungry, so I packed some things and rode into town. When we were doing the lagoon boat cruise yesterday, the captain was telling us a story of how McDonald’s and KFC wanted to bring their restaurants to the island, but they were rejected. The government decided that they didn’t need them here and they would have just taken money out of the island. Instead local restaurants popped up and they put they’re own spin on things. In town I saw a sign for “Raro Fried Chicken” and there are heaps of burger places around. The captain said if you want a good burger, to go to Palace Takeaway and every Wednesday is happy hour (all day) where every burger is only $3.50. He also said, ask for a Palace Burger - he says it’s like having all the burgers you’ve ever had in one and it’s as tall as a mountain!

On the way in, I saw the Palace Takeaway shop and there were heaps of people there, so I thought I’d give it a go (although I’m not keen on trying the Palace Burger! I’ve already put on weight on this trip) I was pretty hungry though, so I got a meal that had a cheese burger, chips and a drink. This means I paid more than $3.50, but the whole lot only cost $11, much cheaper than a grocery run!

I sat at the benches with the pier on one side and a great view of the mountain on the other. There was a lot of clouds slowly moving over the mountain covering the peaks, it looked awesome!

The burger was pretty good, the buns tasted like they were fresh from the bakery and the cheese was nicer than the processed cheese from McDonald’s.

Looking at all that cloud, it reminded me that I wanted to buy a raincoat, just a light spray jacket that would save my clothes from being drenched when I’m riding the scooter in the rain, so I did some shopping around. I went to the only three clothing stores I could find, but apart from an extra large “Island size” one (shop assistant’s words, not mine), I didn’t come across any light jackets.

I went to the grocery store to buy some supplies and headed back to the hotel to have a shower. I had a chat with the office staff and almost booked the party bus for tonight, but I have a pretty early start tomorrow so I booked it for Friday instead. They also made a suggestion for dinner tonight at a place called Waterline which isn’t too far from here, so they booked me in.

I realised I left some groceries back at the store, the weather was looking pretty gloomy, but I thought if I go, I should go right away, so I jumped on the scooter and went back. About half way there the rain had started, but I kept going and even though the shop had closed, I was actually able to get my groceries back! They opened the door for me and found my bag at a register for me.

I got pretty wet on the way back and happened to go past the place I was booked in for dinner. I thought about stopping there to get out of the rain, but I would have been 45 minutes early so I continued home. When I got there, I put groceries away and relaxed for a bit before heading back out into the rain.

The one thing to remember when looking for a place that you’ve never been to in Rarotonga is to go down the driveways, even though it looks like you’re going into someone’s house, everything is on the beach side rather than the road side!

The restaurant is really nice, even though it was raining and the roof was leaking. I ordered a beer and took a seat, there was a duet playing soft mellow music in the background and the waiter noticed I was by myself and even stopped for a bit of a chat.

I ordered a “pork bagger”, which is a pork fillet cut in half and stuffed with button mushrooms and bacon cooked in truffle oil and butter, then sealed and fried with a light crumbed coating.

The food was delicious and the waiter was happy to go through the process of how I could make it at home. Eventually the dessert menu came out and I thought I’d treat myself to a apple crumble. It had ice cream on the top and I assumed the apple part at the bottom would be warm, but it was really hot. Despite almost burning myself, it was delicious!

As I was on my way out, I got a tap on the shoulder and the neighbors from the hotel were also there. I had a bit of a chat and then jumped on the scooter for the ride back to the the rain.