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YOUTH BEAT

Cents and Sensibility in Cook Islands

November 12, 2000|LUCY IZON

The South Pacific's Cook Islands, made up of 15 islands, is a fascinating stop on your way Down Under. But there are few youth hostel accommodations, and camping isn't allowed on all islands, so booking a room before you arrive is recommended.

International flights arrive on the main island of Rarotonga. It's thought that the original Polynesian settlers arrived here in double-hulled canoes in AD 800. By the 11th century they had built a coral road around the island that's still used today. In 1901 the nation was annexed to New Zealand; it became a self-governing nation in 1965. New Zealand currency (paper, not coins) is used here.

To find budget accommodations before you arrive, check the Internet site for Budget Backpacker Hostels of New Zealand at http://www.backpack.co.nz. The annual handbook includes recommendations for facilities in the Cook Islands. Free copies are available at youth hostels in New Zealand.

The Are Renga Backpacker Hostel, on the west coast of Arorangi village next to a white sand swimming beach and snorkeling, is a handy hostel. It's within walking distance of Rarotonga's Cultural Village, where you can learn about history, dancing, cooking and crafts. The hostel has a mountain view and is in a tropical fruit tree garden. (Oranges were introduced by the crew of the Bounty.)

Accommodations are about $12 in a single room, $9.40 per person in a double room and $6.40 per person in multi-bed rooms (maximum four beds per room). For more information, contact Are Renga Backpacker Hostel, Box 223, Arorangi, Rarotonga, Cook Islands; telephone 011-682-20-050.

For those interested in night life and shopping, the recommended budget accommodation closest to the main town of Avarua is Lovely Planet Hostel (a 10-minute walk to town). To reach the best beaches and snorkeling areas you have to take a short bus ride. This hostel provides a barbecue, television, laundry, luggage storage, fresh fruit and a kitchen for guests to use. It has been accredited by Tourism Cook Islands.

Accommodation is $12.80 per person in single rooms, $8.60 per person in shared rooms. For more information, contact Lovely Planet, Box 711, Rarotonga, Cook Islands; tel./fax 011-682-25-100.

The Ariana Hostel is 1 1/2 miles from town, at the base of the island's highest peak. The ocean and the local bus stop are just a block from the hostel. This hostel has a swimming pool, barbecue, TV and video lounge, laundry, bar, grocery shop and rentable bikes and motorbikes. Each unit has a full kitchen. The rate for a single room is $12.80 per person, for a double it's $8.60, and for shared rooms it's $7.70 per person. For information, contact Ariana Hostel, Box 925, Rarotonga, Cook Islands; tel./fax 011-682-20-521.

Also recommended is the Cook Islands Lodge, where continental breakfast is included in the rate. It's on a white sandy beach and is clean and tidy, with a free paperback exchange library. Accommodation costs $12.80 per person in single rooms, $8.60 for double rooms and $6.80 for shared rooms. For more information, contact Cook Islands Lodge, Box 3050, Arorangi, Rarotonga, Cook Islands; tel./fax 011-682-24-303.

For more recommendations for budget accommodation, and background information on the Cook Islands, visit the Web site at http://www.cook-islands.com. Most lodging facilities will pick up guests from the airport, so be sure to ask when making a reservation. And be aware that most facilities shut down on Sundays.

Food on the Cook Islands can be expensive, so take along a few canned goodies from your last stop to help stretch your travel budget.

Lucy Izon is a Toronto-based freelance writer. Internet http://www.izon.com.

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