Rarotonga is essentially one large tropical garden, so there’s always something lush to capture in your sketchbook. Photo / Murray Dewhurst
BLURB PRINT: Words/Illustrations/Photos by Murray Dewhurst
Why sketch while on vacation? A while back I found an old rough pencil sketch of Mount Ararat from a backpacking trip to eastern Turkey many years ago. It surprised me when the memories, sounds and smells of a day when I met Kurdish goatherds and drank chai in Dogubayazıt came flooding back. I’m not sure your cellphone photos would do that, and cellphones take horrible photos.
Do you dream of taking a sketchbook with you on your island vacation but afraid you’ll delay your fellow travelers because you want to stop and sketch? Well, so did I, until on a vacation to the Cook Islands, I found a few tricks that helped me sneak into sketching while everyone wasn’t looking.
Map it first
Planning your destination before you fly works wonders to build anticipation and ensure you arrive with at least some knowledge of which side of the island you are on. An added bonus is that the first page of your sketchbook will already be ready when you arrive.
Sketching by the pool
You probably live somewhere with a swimming pool surrounded by tropical gardens or at least a beach with palm trees. Rarotonga is essentially one large tropical garden, so there’s 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 see their vacations as an opportunity 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 you’re here and you want to escape? There is plenty of time for this when you are at home, and the observation required for sketching will bring you closer to your subject while you soak up the tropical atmosphere.
go full throttle
So you like to sunbathe? Who doesn’t, so sketch and tan at the same time!
Sketch the locals in churches, at markets, or chatting under a big old pink frangipani tree. Rarotongans also like to have their relatives close by, so you will often see several graves on the front lawn of their homes, beautifully whitewashed and decorated.
Tours make it easy for sketchers to just sit back and sketch the show. The crew of the Captain Tama put on a hilarious performance after a reef cruise, snorkeling and grilled mahi-mahi.
Get off the island
To me, 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 hinterland surrounded by tropical palm trees, soft sandy beaches and a water lagoon. The problem with spectacular volcanic islands like Rarotonga, however, is that they are best seen from the reef. Use the hotel’s kayaks and paddle out to the reef to sketch the view back. The day I attempted it, there was a stiff breeze blowing off the shore that propelled me back onto shore several times before I could finish. Of course, check with a local to make sure it’s safe to paddle out first, watch out for reef vents that 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 pull out the sketchbook is when everyone is out. For example, take a walk on the Cross Island Track. We had packed plenty of water for thirsty kids, everyone had sunscreen to the max, hats were on and finally we found the trailhead. It’s a fun walk up a steep, rooted ridge path with epic views from above that a cellphone camera can never do justice. I scribbled the spectacular 413m high Te Rua Manga (The Needle) while standing on the trail and quickly motioned to the trees framing it, a few frigate birds circling overhead before catching up with the group. I added the sky and finishing touches at the base.
Get a little fruity
One of the best things you will 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
Grab a fabulous conch shell on your beach walk like we did? There is a well-known saying that goes: “Leave only footprints. Take only photos” (of course I would change that to sketches). Gone are the days when kiwis carried bits of coral and exotic seashells with them from their travels – we all know New Zealand customs will take them from you anyway, so you probably already have a picture of it – just draw it.
Air New Zealand and Jetstar fly direct from Auckland to Rarotonga.
Visit cookislands.travel for more things to see and do