Growing up on the Far South Coast of N.S.W in a small town on the coast, I have always had a special place in my heart for the ocean. My entire life has been lived within a short distance of the beach, and I can’t imagine ever moving to a place where I can’t access the sea. It is a place I find intoxicating, and synonymous with happiness, warmth and freedom.
It should come as no surprise that one of my favourite places in the entire world is Rarotonga, the largest of the fifteen Cook Islands. I first visited this island paradise in 2013, and this trip was a memorable experience, in so many ways.
A Trip of Firsts
My first time in Rarotonga was a trip of firsts. My first time in the Cook Islands; my first overseas holiday with my boyfriend, Scott; my first time losing a loved one whilst out of the country; my first time falling in love with a place so far from home.
It is for these reasons that Rarotonga will always be a special place for me. I felt so much during this trip – from the excitement of being somewhere new, to happiness at finding a place I felt so at home, to anxiety about being far from home at a difficult time, to absolute grief at the news of the loss of my much loved aunt. Every time I go back, I will be reminded of her, and this is hardly a bad thing. She would have loved Rarotonga, and I know that she will follow me there every time I go.
The Resort Life versus the Local Life
We stayed at a resort on that first trip – the Edgewater Resort & Spa. Self-described as ‘offering affordable luxury’, the resort was like heaven on earth. For two wonderful weeks, we took full advantage of the fact that it was located right on the white, sandy beach. A few steps from our room was the crystal-clear lagoon, full of colourful fish and bright coral, which was always a balmy temperature. I spent the vast majority of my time soaking up the sun on a banana lounge only metres from the water, which is my definition of pure, pure bliss.
There were other benefits of staying at a resort, such as the breakfast buffet we enjoyed each morning, easy access to cocktail happy hour at the bar each afternoon, and having our room cleaned each day. We even managed to get a microwave added to our room, along with a bar fridge, giving us the opportunity to cook some of our own meals. Have you ever made a pasta dish using only a microwave? We have, and whilst not recommended, it is possible.
As much as we loved staying at the Edgewater Resort & Spa the first time around, we wanted to do things differently on our second trip to Rarotonga. We wanted to fully immerse ourselves in the island life, and with three weeks allocated to our trip this time, we thought we’d try and live like the locals.
We found Manuae’s Accommodation on Airbnb – a simple, self-contained unit in Arorangi, only a few kilometres down the road from the Edgewater Resort & Spa. While it wasn’t located right on the beach, we simply had to cross a road to get to a strip of beach so private we only saw a few people there for the entire duration of our trip. The hosts, Manuae and Shalom, were a grandmother/granddaughter duo who made us feel like we were part of their family only minutes after we met. We instantly knew that we’d made the right choice.
We quickly discovered that the island life was perfect for us. We felt like we’d moved into the unit, become part of Manuae and Shalom’s family, and had turned into locals. The family dog, Chewy, became our best friend, and he followed us everywhere we went. If having a dog living with you doesn’t make you feel at home, I don’t know what does! He’d follow us to the beach for a swim, he’d follow us up the mountain for a hike, he’d follow us when we went for a run, and he’d follow us to the beach bar for sunset cocktails. We got so attached to him that I struggled to let him go on the day we had to leave, and shed a few tears on the plane as we took off and I realised how much I missed him, and that it was possible to love someone’s else’s dog so damn much! I hope Chewy thinks of us from time to time, because we think of him every day, and can’t wait to go back to Rarotonga soon and pop in for a visit with our beloved Chew-man.
Why I Love Rarotonga
Rarotonga will always be a special place to me, for the reasons I’ve explained. But there’s so much more to it than my soppy recollections and my fond memories. Think of other island destinations you’ve travelled to, like Bali, Fiji or New Caledonia. All are beautiful in their own way, don’t get me wrong, but what are the first few words that come to mind when you think of them? Touristy? Commercialised? Rarotonga has plenty of tourists, and tourism is certainly one of their biggest industries, but find me one person who would describe it as ‘touristy’ or ‘commercialised’.
And that’s the simple beauty of why I love Rarotonga – it is a tourist destination without being a tourist destination. Everyone lives a simple, fulfilling life, and that is something to be envious of. The world we live in, especially in 2016, is sadly rife with hate, anger, and fear. Terror grips our lives, and we can’t avoid the tragedy that we see on our T.V screens every day. Is there crime in Rarotonga? Of course. Is there tragedy and sadness? Yes. It isn’t perfect. But is there rampant hate, anger and fear? Absolutely not. It is a place full of love, family, and peace, and I urge you to visit my island home to see for yourself.
You’ll never be the same again.