When you arrive at the departure point to a warm “kia orana” from the people who run the tour, you wonder why you are advised to keep your phone in your bag, wear something you don’t want to be wearing for the rest of the week, and to stick with the buggy convoy.
I am soon to find out why.
But before we even get off to a start, two things come to my mind, because of the media attention they have attracted this year: the buggies’ noise levels and claims by some people that the convoy causes bad road congestion.
My advice: Try this once-in-a-lifetime tour through the island’s muddy and rough mountain terrain, then decide for yourself.
The convoy takes off from the Muri Beach Club Hotel where tour participants first have their drivers’ licenses checked.
The tour offers the challenge of driving your own grunty little four wheel drive buggy whatever the weather, and venturing into some rough and tough rocky terrain.
But first we are introduced to the beautiful scenery around the historic site at Avana where some of the migration canoes set off for New Zealand, hundreds of years ago.
Tour guide Sean Brown talks about the historic site with real passion for his country.
He believes the Avana passage, carries a number of traditional names, one of them being Te Ava Rau, the main entry point into Rarotonga and the place where the first chief settled in Rarotonga.
However, dropping a joke to the New Zealanders present, Brown says the site is more commonly associated with the great migration of the seven canoes to Aotearoa, New Zealand.
“And we are still waiting to get our canoes back,” laughs Brown.
Sticking closely with the convoy, we drive to the Rutaki back road where the locals are all smiles and wave to the tour team as they go about their daily chores.
Animals remain calm beside the road, taking no notice of the 10 buggies that roar past them.
The next stop is Wigmores Waterfall. Be warned, you will need mosquito repellant.
“The mosquitos love me here because I bring them fresh blood twice a day,” Brown jokes.
He talks about the “good old days” at the waterfall and explains how to get to the cross-island track just beside the waterfall, leading up to lofty landmark, the Needle.
It is after this stop that the most challenging and exhilarating part of the adventure begins. It’s rough and bumpy, but loads of fun. Located near the derelict Sheraton Hotel site is some of the muddiest countryside you’re ever likely to find, and a significant amount of it ends up plastering the faces and clothes of the buggy occupants.
Then it’s time to try your skills on the nearby golf driving range. Everyone is given a chance to hit a hole in one and if you do, you win your money back.
While our escorts are busy washing the buggies, Brown shows the tourists how to husk a coconut.
Being a Fijian, I am pretty sure I knew how to husk a coconut using those sharp stakes, but I am soon proven wrong.
Brown shows where to stand and how to hold a coconut or the matured “nu” for husking. He later explains how to break it into half using the “famous Pacific face,” - the part of a coconut that resembles two eyes and a mouth.
The last stop of the day is for a bite to eat at Charlies, or sometimes the Mooring Café.
Here’s where you get a chance to take a break and breathe in the exotic scenery of Rarotonga’s beautiful green valleys and pristine sandy beaches.
Buggy Tours has created employment for a number of people and the places they call at have also been given a boost.
New Zealander Shane Langton and his daughter Addison, 7, decided to go on the tour when they happened to spot the buggy convoy on the road one day.
“It looked like something we wanted to try and we enjoyed the whole tour,” Langton says.
At the end of my adventure I stay back with a tour guide to gauge for myself the difference in noise levels between the old buggies and the new ones the company recently acquired. They were all given an exhaustive check before being given warrants of fitness.
Many may not agree with me, but the noise levels aren’t that high and while on the tour I didn’t notice any passers-by complaining. In fact, they were waving and smiling.
The road congestion caused by the buggy convoy might be a problem for some island residents rushing off to work or town, but Managing Director Anton Hayward is also looking into splitting a day tour into two to shorten the time the buggies are out on the road.
As far as I am concerned, the Buggy Tours experience is a “must do”.
In fact, driving these little machines is a real thrill. The tour organisers say the wetter and muddier the conditions, the better.
And now I know why!