I recently visited Rarotonga for the first time. In fact, it was my first time visiting any of the Pacific Islands.

Living in New Zealand, we are incredibly lucky to be just a few hours away from a number of tropical island paradises. I decided it was time to see exactly what everyone else raves about.

Before I left, I jotted down a few of my expectations. I planned to compare what I expected to how it actually was. Being a bit of a travel nerd, I had done a heap of research on the Cook Islands. I was expecting beautiful, tranquil beaches with clear blue water and pristine white sand, pretty standard for one of the islands, I'd imagine.

I was also expecting the culture to be a big part of life on the island and was looking forward to learning about it. I figured that resort life would be pretty insular but I was excited to visit the local markets to make an effort to connect with the people there.

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Most of my predictions were spot on. The pristine white beaches were endless as they surround the entire island, however, it was windier than I was expecting. Wind is pretty standard in winter over there though and it wasn't too hard to find sheltered beaches.

We didn't experience as much of the culture as we had hoped, though island music was a staple almost everywhere we went, which was lovely.

Lauren Jones paddle boarding in Rarotonga. Photo / Lauren Jones
Lauren Jones paddle boarding in Rarotonga. Photo / Lauren Jones

Most of the resort staff were locals and they were all exceptionally welcoming. We also visited the local Muri Night Markets for dinner - they were beyond amazing (in fact we went three times). We had some of the best food in Rarotonga at the night market, and it's pretty damn cheap to eat there, too.

The five days we spent in Rarotonga were wonderfully relaxing and exactly what we expected from an island holiday.

We did come across some unexpected and quirky things so I thought I would put together a list of things I wish I knew before going. The following are a few tips and tricks for making the most of your Cook Island getaway.

Top tips for first-timers

In case you didn't know already, Rarotonga uses New Zealand currency. So no need to exchange any money before you go. Perhaps just consider taking a decent amount of cash, as not everywhere has Eftpos.

Get your international bike licence before you go; this will mean you can hire mopeds on the spot. Mopeds are a great way to get around the island - a licence is compulsory but once you're there it's quite a mission to actually get one as the only place you can do the test is at the police station in the main town and you have to book too.

As an alternative to mopeds, some places hire bicycles; this is what we did. Bicycles are great because the main road around the island is pretty much flat the whole way so it was a great way to get a little bit of exercise and see the whole island. The road around the entire island is only about 32km so can be done in a day.

After picking a resort to stay at, you can feel as though you're stuck in one place. This is certainly not the case; when biking around the island, we decided to stop off at different resorts for meals and drinks. You can pretty much walk into any resort and try their food, or walk along their beachfronts. This is also a great way to get an idea of where you'd like to stay if you return. Also make good use of the happy hours at resorts; cocktails can get as cheap as $10.

Finally, forget about Wi-Fi. Internet in Rarotonga is expensive - there are sim cards to purchase and the best deal we found was 3Gb with some calls and texts for about $50. Resorts also have deals but these tend to be expensive too. We decided not to buy any kind of internet and, for this millennial, it was really nice to have a week completely offline - I would totally recommend it.
Instead, book a resort with free use of kayaks and paddle boards - which most do have - and make the most of getting out on the water.

CHECKLIST
Getting there
Air New Zealand flies from Auckland to Rarotonga, with one-way Seat fares from $313.