Rarotonga: Paradise found (+photos)

By Carolyn Meng-Yee

Day one

We are met by a gregarious resort bus driver who is not backward in coming forward with helpful holiday hints: "No driving over 50km, and if you need a driver's licence, buy one in Aitutaki for $3 as opposed to $10 in the the city."

We swoop down the southeastern coast and 40 minutes later are deposited at the stylish, 64-room boutique Pacific Resort Rarotonga on beautiful Muri Beach.

Husband Mike and I are lei-ed and debriefed about the resort's facilities, including the fact it has a Kiwi gardener who oversees the treatment of all waste (yes, all) which is then recycled on to the lush, landscaped gardens.

From there, we high-tail it to our stylish, garden suite and a snooze before being stirred by the haunting refrain of a conch horn calling us to 5pm Happy Hour. The $10 frozen margaritas are the size of Everest and the entertainment is a swarthy Burt Bacharach doppelganger performing Moon River. Dining out on the sand is a romantic novelty, although the mozzies are dining, too. Note to self: if we dine alfresco again - bring the mozzie repellent.

Day two

Even the roosters are on "island time" and don't start crowing until a very considerate 10am.

The smell of sizzling bacon beckons and breakfast runs to a civilised 10.30am for holidaying sloths like me.

In the restaurant we fall on star fruit, pineapple and paw paw with a crew of doe-eyed honeymooners, red-eyed babyboomers (us) and cocooners (remember that 1980s movie about retirees?) in matching his-and-hers leisure suits and Crocs.

The sun is shining, the towering palm trees lean Pisa-like, and the tide is high, demanding our first swim in turquoise waters. After a lounge in the sun, there is a fine lunch of prawns and parrot fish. So exhausted am I by the rigours of resort life I must immediately nap under a tree while Mike takes advantage of low tide to walk to neighbouring resort Motu Koromiri. It has been a perfect do-nothing afternoon in paradise.

Day three

The radio alarm clock goes off at 6.30am sharp. We have a plane to catch to Aitutaki, for a day of cruising around captivating islands.

First we take our place, with a dozen other tourists, in an open-air truck with wooden benches. (Warning: race for the seats in the front or you will feel every pothole along the way.) We constantly duck to avoid the palms overhanging the roads.

On Aitutaki, Mike gets his $3 driver's licence and we board the 25m traditionally designed catamaran, Titi ai Tonga, for a sail past beautiful motus (islands).

Everything is a delightful cliche: dazzling white sand and crystal-clear lagoons. The guide and crew are disarmingly funny, and the skipper is wonderfully multi-disciplinary - he plays a mean ukulele as well as being the chef. The snorkelling is sublime, with rainbow-coloured "Nemos" in all shapes and sizes.

Day four

I spend a morning with another cool Kiwi bloke, Pacific Divers' owner, Steve Lyon. Eight years ago Steve did his masters thesis in marine science before marrying his Rarotongan wife.

His Discover Scuba diving programme is perfect for total beginners. That's me - a scaredy-cat who has fearsome issues about going under. Steve says it's all about the breathing and in no time I'm submerged and feeling (relatively) confident.

Next up, Mike appears with a fire-engine red VW Golf convertible from Budget Rentals and we take a tiki tour around the island - completed in under an hour.

The island also has just two buses, which circumnavigate constantly. One is "Clockwise", the other (of course) "Anti-clockwise".

After trawling through a number of tacky souvenir shops we find treasure in the form of The Art Studio gallery on the Arorangi main road. And it's owned by more Kiwis, artists Ian and Kay George. Mike buys two of Kay's vibrant, patterned works and is smitten by a glorious red hibiscus painting by local artist Sylvia Marsters.

His justification is that the works are made for an urban bach.

He's suffering island fever - we live in a 1950s bungalow in Mt Eden.

This is our last night so we go for a sundowner at iconic and popular Trader Jacks Bar and Grill. Jack Cooper has been there since 1986 and holds up the bar most nights, telling wild tales of the cyclones that have literally passed through his bar, but left it standing.

Next stop is Tamarind restaurant, which has been highly recommended, and doesn't disappoint in its stunning, colonial house setting.

The menu uses locally grown produce, the staff are charming and the Thai fish curry is very, very good. This is paradise found, so make sure you book on the first day.

Day five

Our last day and, in line with our mood, it rains cats and dogs. An Australian wedding party has arrived. An Amazonian bridezilla, with a Kath and Kim drawl is as grating as a galah as she runs around like a headless chook searching for her veil. For us, the honeymoon is over, but it's been a fabulous five-day pleasure.

- Herald on Sunday

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