But in my ignorance, I thought that one Pacific island was pretty much the same as the next - and that a trip to Rarotonga would be pretty much just the same as a trip to Samoa, Fiji or Tonga. I was wrong. There is a lot to love about the uniqueness of Rarotonga (or Raro as it gets called for short) that you can't replicate on any of the other islands. Here are the top 5 reasons you'l fall in love with Rarotonga:
1. The currency is exactly the same as NZOne of the most annoying things about going on holiday can be having to do mental currency conversions in your head every time you are buying something to decide how cheap or expensive it is. This hassle is taken away - in Raro you just buy with NZ dollars - easy peasy. If you're lucky, you might even get given one of the local coins as change which is a bit of a novelty.
2. The swimming is the bestEven though other parts of the island also have lovely beaches, we found being based at the Pacific Resort at Muri Beach was fantastic because of the sheltered and shallow lagoon which made it super safe for family activities including snorkelling, crab racing, getting out on a glass bottomed boat and general swimming. We found the sea water was actually warmer than the resort pool most of the time but later in the week when the wind got up a bit, having the option of both the pool and the sea was still great with the kids.
3. Take whatever food you need and find some little local gemsWe checked before we went, and you can pretty much take anything into Raro except fresh fruit and veges - so even cheese and vacuumed packed meats are OK. When we arrived at customs with a suitcase full of biscuits, crackers, muesli bars, tinned fish, a loaf of bread, jam, margarine, chocolate and cheese, they didn't bat an eyelid (or for that matter even look in the suitcase). It sure made it much cheaper for us to have reasonable lunches and snacks than ordering off the resort menu!
For dinner, we also found some great local eateries at Muri Beach. Like La Casita the little Mexican just down the road. OK so it's not actually run by Mexicans but the food was cheap and cheerful, no more than $15 for a main like enchiladas or nachos.
But the pick of the bunch for us Vili's Burgers - we ate here twice and we all swore that we had never eaten a better burger in our lives. Truly. Their Anzac burger at $12 was something special indeed.
4. The leisurely pace of lifeKia Orana is a word you will hear a lot in Raro - all the locals will say it the minute they see you. It doesn't sound unlike the Maori word Kia Ora. Here, the pace of life is super leisurely - which is perfect when you want a very relaxing holiday. You do however have to be willing to accept a bit of 'manyana' - easy come, easy go, and not be in too much of a hurry to do anything. Things happen on Raro time so you have to leave any type-A, anal retentive, hurried personalities behind if you're going to enjoy yourself here!
5. The island might tiny but the sunrises are epic in proportion
The island is only 32km in diameter - which makes it easy to get around. Most people hire a scooter if they want to explore the island. Whilst we had too many of us in our family group (and young kids to boot) to contemplate scooters, we enjoyed seeing everyone else zip around the island two by two - even helmets seem to be optional.
If you're going to stay here, you really must must get up early enough to see at least one sunrise. There is just something about watching the sun rising over a tropical island - I believe every person should see it at least once in their lifetime.
So if you find yourself in need of some winter sun, I cannot recommend enough this magical spot. I could share so many more reasons to fall in love with this place but I guess you'll just have to go and discover some of your own!