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Guest Blog – Zoe’s Rarotonga Experience

Here is my Rarotonga experience! by Zoe
In 2012 I suffered a sudden and random illness that left me hemiplegic. They aren’t sure if I’ll walk again but I have never doubted I will. I decided I needed a good holiday after months in Rehabilitation and Mum’s 50th was coming up, so I decided to take her to Rarotonga. It was also a goal for me to be walking by. I thrive off goals like this, as it was a great incentive. A family friend came too just in case I didn’t reach my goal, which unfortunately I hadn’t and still haven’t. We decided to go anyway, willing to risk the many challenges that were ahead of us with me being a wheelchair rider.

We took my manual chair as my power chair wouldn’t be too happy in sand. The plane trip there from Christchurch NZ was just outstanding. We flew with Jetstar to Auckland, and they were nothing but helpful. They took me on to the plane first, giving me the option to take my own chair or borrow one of theirs. They helped me to my seat and made sure we were all comfortable before boarding the rest of the passengers.

In Auckland we disembarked last so I could use my own chair from the plane door. Even the pilot stayed and chatted with us whilst we waited. They took us right to our bags too. Air NZ from Auckland to Rarotonga was the same. It was a funny experience disembarking as they don’t have the walkways that connect to the plane, only stairs. So they took us down the food lift (basically a detachable platform that extends to the door off the plane, health and safety would have a field day over there!). We were escorted to our bags and through customs, and greeted with many smiling faces.

We hired a car so it was easier to travel. We hired a private house right by the airport. It did have 2 steps going to the door but we found ways around that to get my chair inside. Once I was in, the house was really wheelchair friendly for me. We went shopping and it was surprisingly easy to get around. Some shops were a bit congested but overall, it was about the same as getting around shops here. All the locals were amazing towards us, and moved things out of the way if we needed. One shop had a step and the owner sent her boys to life me and my chair up so I could see the rest of the store!

We did the Koka Lagoon Cruise too. I cant speak highly enough of it. They carried me and my chair on to the boat first (2 very handsome men by the way… was a very enjoyable experience!) until I was comfortable then brought the rest of the people on. We even went snorkelling, and the captain carried me off the boat, and had flotation devices all ready for me. He lifted me in to the water and held on to me the whole 45 minutes we were in the water. He took Mum and I personally to see the eels, coral and even let me feed the fish. There were thousands of amazing fish, words can’t describe. It was magnificent and it gave Mum a chance to just enjoy the experience too, which I was really relieved about. He asked if I was tired but I was enjoying myself so much I said no. So we stayed another 10 minutes…little did I know everyone else had already got back on the boat! They have a saying over there ‘island time’ there is never a set time to do anything so it didn’t bother them at all! When we got to the island they always checked I was ok and carried me anywhere I needed to go. We even did crab races (with sand crabs) and I won! My prize was a coconut!

On the way back they put me right at the front of the boat. It was the most amazing feeling just looking out over fresh clear water and feeling so normal. In NZ, I’m the odd one out, and everything is complicated.  In Rarotonga, I felt like a princess, and everyone just wanted to help me.

We also went to an island night and dinner over water. It was magnificent. I got to sit right at the front so I could see everything too. At the end, the performers came over to me to say hello and see if I wanted photos. They were lovely, so kind and genuine. One of the performers even wheeled me back to our car.
In Rarotonga, people looked at my face. Not my chair, but at me. This was a new experience for me. They didn’t care what my disability was, they just wanted to make sure I was happy and comfortable at all times. And I was. Of course there were some challenges, there is sand about so it made pushing my chair a bit harder in a few areas (mainly just the market and on the beach, around the shops is concrete). Nothing was impossible though (thank goodness I have such a patient and caring Mum who would have done anything it took), but it was a lot easier than we would have ever expected. It was the best holiday I have taken, and we are already planning our return!
PS: It is as beautiful as it looks on TV and in photos!


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