Cook Islands travel: Top tips for sketching your holiday

Rarotonga is basically one big tropical garden, so there is always something lush to capture in your sketchbook. Photo / Murray Dewhurst

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PRINT BLURB: Words / illustrations / photos by Murray Dewhurst

Why bother sketching on holiday? A while back I found an old rough pencil sketch of Mt Ararat from a backpacking trip to eastern Turkey many years ago. It surprised me, as the memories, sounds and smells of a day meeting Kurdish goat herders and drinking chai in Dogubayazıt came flooding back. I’m not sure your cell phone photos would do that, and cell phones take terrible photos.

Dreaming of taking a sketchbook on your island holiday but worried you’ll hold up your fellow travellers because you want to stop and sketch? Well, I was too until on a holiday in the Cook Islands I found a couple of tricks that helped me sneak in sketching while everyone wasn’t looking.

Mapping Rarotonga before his holiday was a good way for Murray Dewhurst to begin his sketchbook and build anticipation of the trip to come. Illustration / Murray Dewhurst
Mapping Rarotonga before his holiday was a good way for Murray Dewhurst to begin his sketchbook and build anticipation of the trip to come. Illustration / Murray Dewhurst

Map it first

Mapping your destination before you fly works wonders to build anticipation, and ensures you arrive with at least some knowledge of what side of the island you’re staying on. An added bonus is the first page of your sketchbook has already been completed by the time you arrive.

Sketching by the pool

Chances are you’re staying somewhere with a swimming pool surrounded by tropical gardens, or at least a beach with palm trees. Rarotonga is basically one big tropical garden, so there is always something lush to capture in your sketchbook. Use this relaxing time to capture the flora and fauna that we don’t get at home. I sketched ginger, Tiare māori, frangipani and heliconias while everyone else lay around reading a book.

Lose yourself in a book

A sketchbook. Everyone loves reading as an escape and many approach their holiday as a chance to catch up on reading, but why escape your holiday when you can draw it instead? You’ve dreamed of this for weeks and now you’re here you want to escape? There’s plenty of time for that once you’re home, and the act of observation required to sketch will bring you closer to your subject, all the while soaking in that tropical atmosphere.

Go flat-out

So you like sunbathing? Who doesn’t, so sketch, and get a tan at the same time!

One of Rarotonga's Captain Tama's Lagoon Cruises' crew with a sketch by Murray Dewhurst. Photo / Murray Dewhurst
One of Rarotonga’s Captain Tama’s Lagoon Cruises’ crew with a sketch by Murray Dewhurst. Photo / Murray Dewhurst

The finished sketch of Captain Tama's crew, drawn by Murray Dewhurst while on holiday in Rarotonga. Illustration / Murray Dewhurst
The finished sketch of Captain Tama’s crew, drawn by Murray Dewhurst while on holiday in Rarotonga. Illustration / Murray Dewhurst

Get cultured

Sketch the locals in action at churches, markets or chatting under a big old pink frangipani tree. Rarotongans also like to keep their relatives close by so you will often see multiple graves on the front lawn of their homes, beautifully white-washed and decorated.

Tours make it easy for sketchers, just sit back and sketch the show. The Captain Tama’s crew put on a hilarious performance after a reef cruise, snorkelling and barbecued mahi-mahi.

Get off the island

To my eyes, Rarotonga looks like a combination of Moorea, Tahiti and the Whangārei heads – exactly my idea of what a tropical island should look like. A lush mountainous interior ringed by tropical palms, soft sand beaches and an aqua lagoon. The problem with spectacular volcanic islands like Rarotonga though, is the best view of them is from the reef. Take advantage of the hotel kayaks and paddle out to the reef to sketch the view back. There was a stiff on-shore breeze the day I tried, blowing me back into shore several times before I could finish. Of course, check with a local that it’s safe to paddle out first, beware of reef openings which can have dangerous currents, and be careful not to drop your sketchbook in the lagoon!

Take advantage of the hotel kayaks in Rarotonga and paddle out to the reef to sketch the view back to shore. Photo / Murray Dewhurst
Take advantage of the hotel kayaks in Rarotonga and paddle out to the reef to sketch the view back to shore. Photo / Murray Dewhurst

It’s a jungle out there

One of the trickiest times to break out the sketchbook is when everyone’s on the move. Take walking the Cross Island Track for example. We’d packed plenty of water for thirsty kids, everyone was sunblocked up to the max, hats were on and eventually, we found the trailhead. It’s a fun walk up 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 Frigate birds circling above before catching up with the group. I added the sky and finishing touches back at base.

Get a bit fruity

One of the best things you find on tropical islands? Tropical fruit! Before you dive in, sketch it! Dragon fruit and Star fruit were new to me, and I just had to draw them.

Leave it behind

Pick up a fabulous conch shell on your beach walk like we did? There’s a well-known saying that goes “Leave only footprints. Take only photos” (naturally I’d change that to sketches). Gone are the days of Kiwis dragging back bits of coral and exotic shells from their travels – we all know New Zealand customs will take it off you anyway, so you probably get the picture by now – just draw it.

CHECKLIST: RAROTONGA

GETTING THERE
Air New Zealand and Jetstar fly direct from Auckland to Rarotonga.
DETAILS
For more things to see and do, see cookislands.travel

Destination Tips