The couple, who had been working together in a restaurant in Dunedin, left New Zealand on March 17 on one of the last flights out of New Zealand to Rarotonga.
They had been saving for a two-year working holiday in Canada but had first planned a 10-day holiday to Rarotonga to visit Coral’s family friends, Debbie and Andrew Whittaker. Andrew is chief executive of Edgewater and Club Raro resorts.
“We had to decide the next day if we were going to stay or go back to New Zealand before lockdown,” says Coral, 25.
It was a pretty easy choice.
They had already quit their jobs, given up their flat and were footloose and fancy-free. There could be worse scenarios than an extended holiday on a Pacific island, they reasoned.
“We didn’t realise how big this Covid was going to be. At the time we just really wanted to go on holiday after working 70-hour weeks for a long time to save for our OE to Canada. We were ready for a holiday and determined to make it out to Rarotonga,” says Coral.
Their return flight was cancelled the morning they were due to fly on Virgin Airlines.
“When our flight got cancelled, we were actually quite stoked. We didn’t want to go into lockdown in New Zealand,” says Coral.
“We had nothing to come back for.”
It’s a rather enviable existence, being happily stranded in the Cooks.
“We are living the island life. Everything has slowed right down for us. It’s so relaxed. When the sun is out everyone is at the beach, snorkelling, sunbathing, swimming with the turtles. When it rains we read our books, bake, do arts and crafts. It’s pretty laid back,” says Carlie, 24.
The couple, who have been able to stay with the Whittakers at the Edgewater resort, are part of a ‘stranded travellers’ group made up of more than a dozen travellers from all over the world - from Switzerland to the UK, Australia to Germany.
A veritable United Nations living like castaways with perks.
Their What’sApp group is a bush telegraph that corrals them together for drinks, evening swims, or just a chill sunbathe at the lagoon.
“In New Zealand we were working all the time and when we weren’t working we were busy with sports, we were going out with our friends,” says Coral.
“Coming here, our lives have flipped completely. We have gone from having our days filled to having our days free to do whatever we like.
“We wake up and think, ‘what will we do today?’ We have slowed right down and find we can take time to enjoy life a lot more. We can read that book, think about stuff you’ve put to the back of your mind because you’ve been so busy.”
Their four months-and-counting stay is the ultimate holiday with no tourists and all the time in the world to enjoy Pacific Island life. With the disappearance of tourists the tourism companies have discounted their rates so they have been able to afford most of the tours and activities the island has to offer.
Not much beats hiking in Rarotonga, says Carlie.
One of their favourite hikes is in the Raemaru Mountain area in the west coast of the island 350m above sea level.
“The two-hour walk takes you through the jungle. It’s like you’re in a Jurassic Park movie.”
But too much of doing nothing is no good for anyone, so they’ve tried to find a balance between slowing down and getting involved in island life.
It’s been hard not working and earning, but they believe local jobs should go to local people.
While they have been hosted by their friends at Edgewater, life in Rarotonga can be expensive with food and drinks costing an arm and a leg. They've had to be careful with their savings.
Volunteering has been their way of contributing to the island.
Debbie Whittaker is on the board of the SPCA and both Coral and Carlie help out as full-time volunteers.
They walk the dogs, flea and worm them and collect strays needing medical attention.
There are more than 4000 dogs on an island with a population of just over 10,000 people.
“You see dogs everywhere in Rarotonga. Most have homes, but they roam all over the island during the day but because a lot of people have gone back to New Zealand for lockdown, many of the dogs no longer have homes to go back to,” says Coral.
Their work with the SPCA has been hugely important in their Rarotongan experience.
It’s their way of giving something back to the island that has hosted them during this global pandemic, they say.
They have even fostered their own dog, Benji, who came into the SPCA in terrible shape, flea-ridden and starving.
But their island life has to end some time and that looks like September when they plan to return to Aotearoa to work for a few months before heading off to Canada.
They remain unsure whether they will have to pay for their New Zealand quarantine.
Given they are coming from a Covid-free country, they feel it might not even be necessary. If they can put off their Canadian visa till January they may avoid having to fork out the $3100 they could be charged if returning for less than 90 days.
In the meantime, the beach awaits. And frankly, those cocktails aren’t going to drink themselves. –