NAUTILUS RESORT, MURI BEACH
By far, the thing that made our trip extra special was our accommodation. We spent so much time using the facilities and the super comfortable bed made it worthwhile it in itself. Once we arrived at the resort (after our complimentary 20-minute shuttle ride from the airport) we were greeted with cold face cloths and refreshing drinks. We were also given a 500mb internet data card. Internet on the island is limited and also very expensive so I used it sparingly. Because we went during the off-season, the resort wasn't full, so we were grateful to be upgraded from a Garden Are to a Pool room. We checked in, explored our large and luxurious room, the pool area and then down to the beach. The resort looked and felt expensive and the lush tropical gardens were maintained to perfection. Everything in the room was considered - wine, juice and fresh fruit in the fridge, a Nespresso machine, huge bathroom, air conditioning, the most comfortable bed we have slept on, and every single room had their own private plunge pool on their deck!
As well as the rooms being more than gorgeous, the resort facilities were also amazing. An infinity pool at the beachfront and conveniently right next to it was the bar and restaurant which served the most delicious cocktails. Their mojitos were especially good, made with local sugar cane and fresh island limes. The resort has lots of cool extras too like the complimentary use of kayaks and snorkelling gear, and activities like sarong screen printing and ei (head floral garland) making classes. Each afternoon we were delivered chocolates and a newsletter letting us know what was on at both the resort or on the island for the following day.
Breakfast was included in the room price and we were offered a generous buffet of cereals, fresh tropical fruit, and the most amazing coconut custards that I will forever dream of. As a coconut lover, I was in heaven! There were also freshly baked in-house croissants, pastries, bread, and juices. On top of that, we were also given a choice of cooked breakfasts (everything from bacon and eggs to pancakes) as well as an espresso coffee. Each morning I had fresh fruit, coconut custard (ok, sometimes I had 2!), a latte, and a mini croissant - perfect holiday fuel for the day ahead.
The snorkelling was a highlight of the trip as I had never done it before - even though my husband is an experienced free diver. On the first day, we stayed on the right side of the Motu (island) at Muri beach. The second time we went out, we were told that the left side was better…and it was! Lots of big corals and bright tropical fish, it was incredible! We were gutted that our trip to Aitutaki was cancelled because of the strong winds as we were really looking forward to snorkelling there on a more remote island. The weather was a gamble when we went because it was the wet season, but that meant it was the off-season for tourists so it never felt crowded - we were quite often the only people on the beach. It was a little windy, but it was perfect temperatures for us.
TIP: Buy some inexpensive reef shoes (we got ours from Number 1 shoe warehouse for $20) before you go if you are planning on snorkelling and spending time in the lagoon. There are (LOTS) of sea slugs on the bottom of the lagoon and I was so glad I had reef shoes. I would have hated touching those with bare feet. Also, for snorkelling, there is much beautiful but sharp coral.
SATURDAY MARKETS AND ROADSIDE STALLS
My favourite day on the island was Saturday. If you are planning on travelling to Rarotonga try to be there on Saturday as there is a real buzz on the island and it seems to all come alive.
I was really keen to create some beautiful flat lays with local ingredients, and always love visiting fresh markets in other countries, so I knew before going that the Saturday market in town was going to have exactly what I was looking for. On the way to the market, I had bought almost everything I had hoped for from the roadside stalls. The houses around the island would sell fresh fruit and flowers under umbrellas or gazebos on their front lawn, and this only happened on Saturday morning. At one roadside stall, the boy ran up to the front gate from his house where all his family was gathered. I asked him "how much for your coconuts?”. He yelled out in a cute little Raro accent back at the house, "Muuuuuum! How much for the Nu?" and she replied in Rarotongan to him. He looked at me dead in the eye and said "she said to charge you $2.50. But they are usually $2". I cracked up! They must have thought I looked 'rich'.
At the market, Aary got a mango smoothie and I got my daily nu (fresh baby coconut water). I soon learned to look for people selling CHILLED Nu - the colder the better! Each Nu I had tasted different every time, some sweet, others kinda bland, so I would cross fingers for a good one. There were so many stalls around the market...the doughnuts from LBV bakery looked particularly delicious next to all the fresh fruit around.
THE NAUTILUS SPA
I knew before we had even arrived, that I wanted to visit the Nautalis spa as I had read such great reviews about it. Spa's in Rarotonga vary in price. There are signs outside peoples houses offering massages, or you can go to the resort spa's which have a similar price as back home (not cheap!). Aary and I both got 50-minute massages by the lovely Jui at our resort. Jui was so passionate about her job, was warm and friendly and her love for what she did helped us relax even more. We couldn't get a couples massage as there was only 1 masseuse on that day (they may have more on in peak season) but while one of us was at the spa, the other was sitting poolside next door drinking cocktails. Not a bad way to wait our turn!
FRIDAY NIGHT OUT
We only went out one night while we were there, to meet up with our friend’s parents (who are now living in Rarotonga) at a local favourite 'hot spot' - Viannas beachfront bar. We drank at tables with the sand below our feet and it definitely had that tropical island feeling. The place was PACKED and had fun 90's music blasting. That night at the bar, I was gifted an ei (flower head garland) by a local lady and as soon as I put it on everyone started saying I looked like a local girl. I wore it for the rest of the night and then stored it in the fridge when I got back to our resort to preserve it, so I could wear it fresh the next day too. (A little tip I had learned from my florist friend Mindy). I wore it at the markets and all the locals smiled at me. It was such a fun night, and if you are wanting to have a seaside, tropical fun night - Viannas is the (only) place to be!
There are two main roads to the island (you will see them on a map) and the back road is the 'local' road and is also where all the plantations are. You have to dodge the potholes but it's worth the adventure, and there are also side roads off the back roads we explored too. It was hard to tell what was a road and what was a driveway to someone's house, so if it was tar sealed, we drove it. We stopped and talked to the locals and everyone was so friendly and relaxed. I watched people harvesting Paw Paw from the trees, and then they offered us as many as we could take (we only took one) no charge. For a true Rarotongan experience - travel like a local, by scooter...with jandles!
TIP: Get an international license before you go. We were told that getting a temporary license at the local police station is a bit of a "money-making scheme" and can literally take hours depending on the number of tourists waiting, and it costs $50. Depending on how long you are there for, the scooter hire places write you a free license on the spot which is supposed to last 24 hours until you get the one from the police station. However, the place we rented from was happy to extend it for us to last our trip. Next time, we will do what we did before we went to Bali and get an International license for $20 from the AA before we go. Just to save any hassle.
There isn't a huge variety of food on the Island - it isn't really known to be a culinary destination. The prices were pretty expensive - about the same as what you would pay in New Zealand for a similar thing, ie burgers were around $12-$15. The places that I did I loved eating at were Vili's and Charlie's in Muri beach, their food was really tasty and fresh. Vili's were out of fish as their boat was damaged, so we opted for their chicken burger! It was SO good that we ate there 3 times while in Raro. Also, at Charlie's, their fish sandwich was outstanding! They used the freshest tuna, the softest Turkish bread, salads and the best sauce! It was only $12 and was MASSIVE so we split it. The owners were warm and friendly too, and we had great chats with them. I also loved our resort for their breakfasts and cocktails, and also picked up a nu (baby coconut) to drink every day.