Kim McFadden laps it up on a tiny island, where the tropical waters are a diver's delight.
Coconut palm-fringed, white-sand beaches — tick. A bucketload of Creole culture — tick. World-class scuba diving on the cheap — tick, tick, tick.
It's hard to think of a place that epitomises a tropical paradise more than Little Corn Island off Nicaragua's Caribbean coast.
Nothing moves too fast here in the 30C heat — it's all about island time, mon. If you can drag yourself out of your hammock, the island, at only 2.9sq km, is easy to walk around.
Arriving by panga, an outboard-powered fishing boat, from neighbouring Big Corn Island, we're greeted on the dock by locals hawking accommodation and offers to carry our luggage. It doesn't matter how heavy your gear is, those locals will have no trouble lugging it for you.
There are no vehicles or machines on the pequena (little island) — and no power from 6am to 1pm — so everything must be transported by manpower: think food, fuel and heavy building materials.
This is a feat to watch unfold each day as the loaded supply boat comes in and small groups of men begin their backbreaking work.
Not me though; I was there to relax and check out the 20 dive sites on hand. The two main operators, Dive Little Corn and Dolphin Dive, are friendly outfits who decide on the sites to visit by request, the weather and skill level of the group. A casual dive will set you back US$35 ($52) and decent discounts apply if you sign up for 10.
My first dive to the Yellowtail site, maximum depth 18m, delivered a spectacular array of coral around the sandy channels and hundreds of beautiful tropical fish. We were also on the lookout to be part of the "Save a reef, eat a lionfish" initiative to help eradicate these predators; they are prolific breeders and wreaking havoc on Caribbean reefs. We spotted one but it disappeared before our instructor's speargun arrived (note that spearfishing is banned in the area for tourists).
We saw lobsters peeking out of their rocky holds, plenty of red snapper on the loose, and were fortunate to end the dive witnessing a nurse shark meandering the channels.
Heading next to Stanley Reef (14m) on the north of the island, we shadowed the edge of the reef and were treated to shrimp, a stingray and a spider crab, a great cleaner of the reef.
Here, the number and colours of reef fish were magical. Our guide was able to point out the well-hidden toadfish and moray eels.
If you're game, you can dive the tunnels and caves, and on night dives you're almost guaranteed to see turtles, sharks and shrimps. There's also a spot to check out hammerhead sharks.
Tona is the preferred local beer and matches the postcard-perfect sunsets and sweet local lobster — a staple food on the island — brilliantly. Yes, that's right, lobster is a staple. My friend managed lobster for breakfast, lunch and tea for nearly a week. Delicious coconut bread is made on the island, as is the traditional hearty rondon soup of fish, potato, vegetables and coconut water.
There's plenty of apres dive, accompanied by happy hours and delivered with a heavy dose of reggae. If you're really lucky, you'll hit town for the local So You TINK You Could Dance competition. This is where dancehall moves defy gravity.
If you're not into diving, the snorkelling on the north and east of the island can be just as rewarding and a fishing trip is included. Climb the "lighthouse", a tower at the highest point of the island for amazing panoramic views. Stop in and have a rum punch at The Lighthouse Hotel with French twins Sullivan and Gary Suteau, who own the bar and accommodation there. You might need the Dutch courage to reach the top of the steel ladder.
For the ultimate luxury experience, walk 20 minutes to the north end of the islan, to Yemaya Resort, where you can indulge in spa treatments, a tasty lunch and access to the fastest wi-fi on the island.
Little Corn is an easy place to fall in love with and you'll want to be a part of it. When I bumped into an old friend on the island — as only Kiwis can, halfway around the world — she asked me, "What are you doing on my island?" And after just one visit I feel like it's my island too.
Getting there: LAN Airlines flies from Auckland to Santiago. Regional airlines continue onwards to Nicaragua.