Dreaming of a midwinter getaway somewhere warm, sunny, and relaxed? TV presenter and journalist Carly Flynn shares her babymoon experience in the Cook Islands.
It's taken me 17 years to return to the Cook Islands. I lived there as a teenager and had always vowed to go back, but feared the island paradise I'd left would be no more than a teenage pipe dream, developed and Westernised beyond recognition. So it was with great trepidation I boarded the plane to return to my former home.
But all my fears quickly evaporated as we flew into the tiny capital island of Rarotonga. There to greet us were the very familiar island sounds of Jake Numaga, who has met every international flight into the Cooks, armed with a ukelele and warm smile for as long as anyone can remember. When the traditional welcoming lei of fragrant tipani flowers was placed around my neck, I felt like I'd never left.
The idea of a babymoon hadn't occurred to my husband and me. Yes, we'd thought we'd better spend some quality time together before our lives were undoubtedly changed forever as first-time parents, but I pictured afternoons of shopping for prams, cots and tiny singlets, not a tropical getaway. The excitement of Baby Flynn's arrival has been mounting, but inevitably overshadowed by the day-to-day demands of work and a busy life. This holiday would hopefully change that.
I was 30 weeks pregnant when we arrived (ideally, travel should be taken in the second trimester - at least for travel insurance purposes), but given how easy, accessible, and close to New Zealand the Cooks are, we felt safe enough to be making the trip. The Pacifc Resort was our first destination, right on Muri Beach, which is famous for its turquoise lagoon and motus (atolls) where you can snorkel, sail, or kayak for a relaxed afternoon. I think it's the best spot to stay and swim on the mainland.
As 14-year-olds, my girlfriends and I would lie on the white sand watching honeymooning couples, and dreaming of the day we'd get to return with the loves of our lives. I felt I'd come full circle, bringing my husband Dave back, and a wee poppet as well. The reality was far better than any teenage dream.
The beauty of the Cooks is that you can do as little or as much as you like. The "little" option wasn't for me, as I had places to rediscover and show Dave after years of talking about it, and old friends to visit. A hassle-free purchase of a CI license (not my first time driving on the island, but my first time driving legally!) we hired a little car and set off around the 32km ring road.
My fears of mass development, even over 17 years, were unfounded. While there are a few more hotels on Muri Beach, with that comes the bonus of internet access and real coffee from the local Deli-licious cafe, an essential fix for catching up with the two-hour time difference.
Armed with plenty of locally produced bottled water, we circled the island, dropping into other hotels for pools and massages, and sampling another island cocktail (mocktail for me). Unlike other Pacific destinations, resorts welcome non-guests into their hotels as long as you make yourself known and perhaps buy a drink or meal for the use of the pool. Everywhere is welcoming, friendly, and safe.
You can use New Zealand currency, buy New Zealand products, and eat Western food if you wish. But we indulged in freshly prepared seafood and local produce each night, the highlight being Monday's "Pacific Night" at the Pacific Resort, where the meal is wholly locally sourced and produced.
You can't go to the Cooks without experiencing an Island night; we packed in three. The most special was the one I used to perform in. I used to be the girl dressed in the grass skirt, shaking my hips as a Pacific Angel at the Pacific Resort. Those days, thankfully for the visitors, are long gone. Now, the resort boasts a more local and professional group, but I did relish the chance to be whipped up on stage for a dance with a warrior for old time's sake! The distinctive beat of the Cook Island drum is permanently embedded in my heart. I couldn't wipe the smile off my face, or the tears from my eyes. Baby Flynn seemed to enjoy the drumbeat too.
After a couple of days dragging Dave around the island, visiting my old house, school, eateries, and friends, it was time for a new experience. We boarded a tiny plane to one of the most popular and luxurious Islands, Aitutaki. The flight there is well worth it just for the sightseeing; the atoll is dwarfed by the massive crystal-clear lagoon around it. Everywhere is beachfront, and our accommodation, the Tamanu Beach Resort, was superb. The resort boasts "casual luxury" and owner Mike Henry greeted us with the instruction that when in Aitutaki, "If you do more than two things in one day, you're doing too much!" For me, that meant alternating between a day of sleeping and reading, then swimming and sunbathing.
The sound of the waves crashing on the nearby reef provided the perfect lullaby for a restless pregnant woman! The kind of sleep you can only get when you know there are no chores to be done, no phone calls expected, no knocks on the door.
While I slept, swam, and got pampered with massages and other essential pre-baby relaxation treatments, Dave made the most of the many lagoon activities. A dive trip to the outer reef with great visibility and a guaranteed turtle sighting, and a game fishing adventure where the big
ones definitely got away, but there were plenty of laughs and bloke bonding.
By night, the island has more than enough restaurants for variety. We spent many hours thrashing out baby names and ideal baby routines. One night, I think the sea air had got to Dave a little, when he very sweetly offered to have a "night on, night off" type of arrangement once baby arrives. That would, of course, be wonderful, if only he could breastfeed.
As much as this was a babymoon, one of the things the Cooks allowed us to do was to forget about the material preparation and constant decision-making that comes with an impending birth. Which cot to buy, which pram to trial, whether to use cloth or disposable nappies all seemed like conversations that we shouldn't labour over. I envied the Cook Islanders, who seem to survive just fine without a gadget for everything.
If the glorious heat doesn't get you in the water every hour in the Cooks, then the breathlessness and basketball growing out in front of you will. I spent hours bobbing around in the lagoon, soaking up the rays and relaxation. The water turned all that growth and extra kilos into a useful float, although I must have been an odd sight, with my belly protruding higher out of the water than my head or feet. The most exercise I did on the trip was a leisurely day snorkelling - a must, particularly in Aitutaki, where the fish life is vast and surprisingly friendly. Our last day was spent at the vibrant Punanga Nui market in Rarotonga. Had I known what a feast of local cuisine it would be, I wouldn't have eaten breakfast. Fruit, ika mata (raw fish), smoothies, donuts, curries, and coffee stalls are scattered among local crafts and dance troupes. I couldn't resist a couple of locally hand-stitched tievaevae cushion covers to bring an island feel to the baby's room. It was a delightful way to spend a morning and see the reality of island life.
A way of life that Aro'a Beachside Inn's Kiwi expat owners Jim and Jan have made their own, with their uniquely run beachfront resort showcasing local music and cuisine, and positioned perfectly for the nightly sunset. A lifestyle many of us would envy, but one we had to leave, and did so feeling relaxed and ready for our new baby adventure. The babymoon concept the Cooks is on to is a winning one, and should become part of every expectant parent's build-up to the big day. We'll be back for sure, next time with Baby Flynn in tow, and we won't be leaving it another 17 years.
Carly Flynn is a New Zealand television presenter and journalist for 3News, fronting shows such as Sunrise and Nightline. An award-winning journalist, Carly is delighted and a little scared to be expecting her first child with her husband Dave in late June. She is currently on maternity leave but will return to our screens and airwaves later in the year.