You know a place is worth visiting when Survivor films a series there.
Rarotonga is the tiny capital of the Cook Islands, a small cluster of islands dotted in the South Pacific Ocean, sort of near Tonga and kind of close to New Zealand. It's so far from anything that when you zoom out on Google Maps the whole island disappears off the grid in a second.
Although the name rang a bell I had no idea the place even existed up until last year when I first met my boyfriend, who spent his teenage years living on the island. Oh what a fool I was.
Think of the most idyllic place you can picture, all sunshiney goodness and salt water, then chuck in endless coconuts and plates of raw fish and you have Rarotonga. After spending a week there with Hugo and his family, I've come to the conclusion it's not a place you are ever going to forget.
Big, menacing mountains covered in lush green forest play backdrop to a coastline of white sand and a lagoon filled with the bluest water your eyes will ever see. It feels fake. It looks fake. But it's so real; full of beautiful, welcoming people who kiss you hello and hug you goodbye.
We went to a wedding in a big beautiful church made out of coral limestone. The women wore flower head wreaths, the men wore bright floral shirts and everyone sang deep Maori hymns. The air was so thick with humidity that whatever you had in your hand instantly turned into a portable fan.
The reception was overflowing with mounds and mounds of food and people. I'm talking hundreds of people. It felt like everyone on the island had come for a big 'ol feed. Apparently twenty local pigs were killed for the wedding, to be cooked in underground 'umakai' ovens. The pork fell off the bone, and had an indescribable smokey flavour. I piled my plate high with handfuls of local seaweed that popped in my mouth like caviar, freshly shredded coconut that was seeping with delicious coconut milk and soft, roasted taro, kumara and arrowroot. Nothing went to waste - people packed their cars with plastic platters of food wrapped in foil, to eat for days after. The whole wedding smelt like pork fat, coconut oil and fragrant soap mingled with sweat.
We drove around on motorbikes for too long in the sun, went snorkelling with tiny fish and pastel coloured clams, ate dinner on the beach with the local dogs, danced to so bad, but so good r'n'b at a dodgy nightclub, played countless card games and drank too many gin and tonics. It was the best.