They say when people visit the Cook Islands it’s the people they remember most, and for Bonanno, this is why it’s so hard to leave and why she can see herself returning.
“I honestly don’t think I have met a culture as open, warm and proud of their heritage as Cook Islanders.”
Bonanno first came to the Cook Islands to work at Pacific Resort last year, and she returned again this year to work as an intern at the tourism office.
“It is a complete coincidence that I’m even here and completely about ‘who you know’,” she says.
Through her mum’s connections in New Zealand, Bonanno’s CV was put through to Greg Stanaway from Pacific Resort who offered her a Skype interview.
“I was just like, ‘where the heck are the Cook Islands’. No one in Kenya knew anything about the South Pacific, let alone the Cook Islands.”
At the time, she found herself with a serious fork in the road as she also had an opportunity to work for United Emirates.
“It was my dad who said I would never get another opportunity to go work in a small island in paradise, so I came here.”
Bonanno first started working at Pacific Resort in April last year, in what was supposed to be a year’s contract.
“I thought I would just be here for a year and then I was going to actually get serious with my life, but then I realised that I was seriously in love with this place.”
She says before even realising it, she had put her roots in and she just couldn’t imagine leaving.
Living in Muri, she says one of the first things she did was find the closest bar, which happened to be the Ngatangiia clubhouse.
She was then thrown into the ‘Muri Creeps’ crowd, joined the village netball team and found herself becoming really good friends with locals straight away.
“I think that’s one of the things I love the most, just how easy it is integrating into the local community. Everyone is just so warm and open.”
As her contract at the resort was coming to an end, she says she figured she would just say her goodbyes, have a massive farewell and then she wouldn’t be back.
However, as she was about to leave, she thought about how she always wanted to work in an organisation that markets something she loves, and what better place than Cook Islands Tourism.
After speaking to Karla Eggelton at tourism, Bonanno put her interest in for an internship and would await news of the position while she was home in Kenya.
“When I left, I was completely heartbroken. The whole time I was gone I was missing driving out of my driveway on my scooter, hearing people scream my name, walking into the local store and everyone talking about how they’d seen you on TV the night before,” Bonanno says.
“I just missed that small island feeling so within two weeks of being home I knew I had to come back. I knew my time in Rarotonga wasn’t over.”
Bonanno returned before she even found out whether or not she had the job at tourism.
But before she knew it, she had her own space in the tight-knit office in Avarua for her first fulltime 9am to 5pm job.
“People always ask me why I came back, and with a twinkle in my eye, I say for love of the island, and of course the local boy helped,” she says laughing.
Now that her time in Raro has come to an end again, Bonanno finds herself wondering if this time is actually goodbye.
“I definitely don’t think this is the last I’ll see of Rarotonga. Everyone has just been so awesome, and it’s just such an easy place to be.”