Warning: If you are an active relaxer, this story is not for you. Emma & Kelly take a tropical trip for five days to check out the Rarotonga bubble.
“Please take off your mask,” says a smiling face as we pass through the customs area of the Cook Islands airport, our baggage (emotional and literal) in hand. It’s my first time in Rarotonga and Kelly’s second and we are feeling both extremely excited and extremely ‘woah, this is bizarre’ to have left the country for the first time in 18 months. As print journalists, we were both used to travel being one of the perks that balanced out the fact that we have the lowest salaries of all our friends, and so grabbing your passport and nipping off to do a story was something that happened fairly frequently in the Before Times.
But now, the idea of international travel feels so fraught and impossible, that it’s only thanks to the last-minute realisation that we’ll be leaving via the International Airport, not the Domestic one, that we actually make our flight at all.
The once bustling Auckland International Airport is now a brightly lit echo chamber where our one flight is the only one taking place in the ‘green zone,’ so us and our fellow passengers rattle around for a while, taking photos of the deserted departure lounges and marvelling at the lack of queues for the Women’s loos. On the flight, there is a real sense that the lot of us are pulling off some kind of jail break – with the Australian bubble now closed, we are the only country allowed in Rarotonga and vice versa. Yes, this does mean that we were surrounded by Kiwis for our entire five days on the tropical island but if that’s the price to pay for a week in paradise, I’ll take it.
After a quick trawl through booking.com, we’ve picked the Muri Beach Club Hotel, located on the edge of the Muri Beach lagoon, where the hotel is Adults Only and they’re not joking – the average age of the people staying there would be 65+. As someone who is politically young (Greens voter) but spiritually ancient (listens to Magic FM), I really felt like we were among our people.
With a restaurant that looks over the beach and where you can have drinks and snacks delivered to your lagoon-side loungers, this accommodation was completely perfect and surrounded by beautiful nature, as well as being run by the friendliest staff (Joey, we love you!) The food was excellent, the cocktails were hearty (just ask the neighbours who had to endure our impromptu karaoke at 9pm) and having the biggest decision you make each day be ‘lagoon or pool’ was pretty fantastic. It’s also located directly in between other restaurants like Nautilus, as well as the famous night markets, plus The Mooring Fish Café on the other side, where you can get a fish sandwich that’ll blow your socks off.
Because Kelly has ruptured her ACL, walking anywhere or doing any activities were a no-go, which I didn’t even pretend to be sad about because all we really wanted to do was a) swim three times a day, b) read five books in a week and c) eat as much fresh fish as possible. Muri Beach is the beach of your dreams – completely clear and warm water, white sand, palm trees swaying in the warm breeze and an army of friendly dogs who are there to nap with you and accompany you on your (very gentle) adventures. We could have borrowed from the hotel’s set of paddle boards, kayaks and snorkelling equipment but we simply… didn’t, and chose to watch other people do that instead.
We were pretty worried about being a risk to the Cook Islands community, just in case we were Covid carriers, but the government are super on-to it and you do a health survey before you go, plus download the Cook Islands tracer app and get a tracer card that helps you scan in everywhere you go. Also, this is a country where tourism is a massive part of their economy and everywhere we went, we were told how thrilled they were that things were booking out again. That’s important to know if you’re planning a trip: Book ahead for EVERYTHING! Kiwis are definitely taking advantage of the bubble and even the gentle, knee-friendly tours we investigated once we arrived were booked out three weeks in advance.
Here in Aotearoa, we’ve been – comparatively – very lucky with our Covid experience of the past 15 months. However, it’s one of those situations where you don’t know the level of stress you’re under until you leave it; especially for those from Auckland and Wellington, who have had extra lockdowns, and especially for parents, who have been in the balancing act from hell for large parts of the year. Five days in Rarotonga was the longest we’ve gone without masks in 15 months and the longest I’ve gone without shoes in 36 years.
I’ve never done a mid-winter escape to the Pacific Islands before (God knows I have LONG been jealous of those who do), but I can now see that it really is the perfect mid-year tonic and I don’t know a single person who isn’t in need of any kind of tonic, stat. On day four of our trip, when a short but fantastically intense rainstorm set in, I found myself getting a little bored and then I thought, ‘When was the last time I had the time to get bored?’ That’s when I realised it wasn’t boredom, at all, it was a sense of relaxing that has evaded me ever since Covid/redundancy/blah blah blah.
Home, for a lot of us, has stopped being just ‘home’, it’s the place where we work, where we stayed during lockdowns, where we watch the news every day to figure out how bad things are. It’s where we get the Civil Alert text messages that tell us to stay where we are, it’s where we get stuck on an endless loop of sleep, work, chores, repeat and repeat. Three hours from here, there’s a place where you can swim all year round, where can you can experience a cuisine that is fresh and clever and sensational and you can befriend a dog, nickname it Barry, and have him accompany you on your sunrise swim and your midday massage. (Barry, I miss you). Now that’s a bubble worth fighting for.
Capsule’s editors stayed at Muri Beach Club Hotel courtesy of Booking.com, which offers great prices, unparalleled selection and amazing customer service with millions of listings including everything from cosy country homes, funky city apartments and elegant villas to world-class hotels and resorts. To support holidaying, Booking.com has also announced country wide ‘getaway deals’ with participating accommodations to encourage travel throughout New Zealand. Travellers can book from now through to 30 September 2021 at select participating properties who have opted in offering a minimum 20% off.