The last time I travelled overseas with just my parents, I was 14 and still snapping holiday pics on a digital camera. Mum and Dad are both journalists, so I had been allowed to tag along on one of their travel writing trips - heading to New York and Tahiti (must be niiiice, right?).
Before you start thinking this travel story sounds a bit 'me, me, me'...it could be you, you, you (and your parents) going to Rarotonga for FREE, just read through to the end and enter below.
Thing is, my parents saw an opportunity. They got me to write a travel story myself, which was published by a national news outlet. It remains one of the most embarrassing bits of content I have online, outdoing even my cringey selfies from the Macbook photobooth rampage of 2009 - #shame.
I refer to strolling New York holding a "cafe mocha" (sorry, whomst is she?) and legit wrote out the word "gasp" about shopping at the same store as Mary Kate and Ashley. So no, I'm not going to link it here.
Anyway, when Jetstar rang in their 14th birthday by encouraging Kiwis to 'fly like they were 14 again', I thought it was about time to turn the tables. We were very lucky to be offered three nights in Rarotonga, but this time, my parents were providing the material.
Preparations began early. I sat through a lengthy phone call where I mostly listened to mum and dad tell each other things like "you only have to click continue ONCE" and "please shut up and go away" while booking travel insurance online. I wondered why I was being included, and then I remembered they were paying for my insurance. The perks of travelling with your parents were slowly coming back to me.
The flight was only about 3 and a half hours long - one of the many upshots of choosing Rarotonga as a destination - and once we landed, we were through customs, presented with a floral 'ei and transferred to the Sunset Resort in under half an hour.
Remember when you were a teenager and it seemed like your parents would rise at the crack of dawn for no real reason? Yeah, that hasn't changed.
We were at Sunset's complimentary breakfast by 8am sharp, before we grabbed our rental car from the resort car park and headed out to the Punanga Nui Market, with me behind the wheel.
One of the many wonderful things about Raro is how easy it is to get around - there's really just one big ring road called Ara Tapu, and you can do a full circuit of the island in about 45 mins.
For the three of us (me - severely directionally challenged, Mum - prone to yelling 'UH-OH!' and stomping on the imaginary brake, and Dad - still traumatised from trying to give me driving lessons 15 years ago) the simplicity of the transport scenario was a huge green flag.
The Saturday morning market is an excellent place to get your first taste of Cook Island culture. There's dancing and drums, delicious exotic fruit smoothies and beautiful local crafts.
That night, we were off to Te Vara Nui - an 'over water night show and buffet dinner' experience which really sets the bar for a tourist attraction done well. The stage is literally built over the water of a man-made lagoon (complete with eels that the kids can feed) and the performers that occupy it are seriously talented.
Oiled-up chiefs paddle past you on rafts, the women almost bring the house down with their rhythmic hip-shaking and the fire dancers set the actual stage alight.
The music is phenomenal and you're encouraged to feast many times over on the buffet, which includes famous traditional dishes like Ika Mata - raw fish marinated in lemon and coconut milk. Chef's kiss.
Before you ask, yes, I did get dragged up to dance in front of everyone, and no, I don't have footage of it because Mum ended up filming 5 different clips of the floor, the table and her own confused face instead of capturing the performance.
After getting mum to take a few poolside Insta snaps - "Yup, your boobs look good" - it was about time we actually got out on the water.
Cook Islands Tourism had organised for us to take a Koka Lagoon Cruise on a glass-bottomed boat manned by a team of multi-talented men with names like 'Captain Awesome' and 'Captain Sweet'. They did everything from driving the boat, dragging up giant paua from the sea bed for us to touch and entertaining us with renditions of traditional songs and Backstreet Boys hits accompanied by drums and ukulele.
Not long after one of them had scaled a gigantic coconut tree and demonstrated how to crack one open, Mum said: "You know, I think the Cook Islands could be a very good place to look for a husband". Dad shook his head and tried to duck out of the way of another round of audience participation.
When it came time to jump off the boat for a bit of snorkelling, Dad was in his element. I got roped into attempting manus off the side while the crew gave me scores out of 10, while Mum opted to gracefully 'sit down' before sliding into the ocean with her pride and behind only slightly bruised.
At one point, the boys from the boat coaxed a friendly eel named Roger out of his hiding place in the coral with a fish carcass while we all dived under the surface to watch. Mum and I bonked heads and she nearly tore my togs off while clutching at me in an attempt to balance on a fishing cage. Dad pretended he wasn't with us and let the current take him in the opposite direction.
We returned to our resort mid-afternoon, and spent the rest of the day drinking pina coladas in the pool and bopping along to the 70s hits coming from the swim-up bar. "The soundtrack to this holiday is my groove," Mum said.
Later, we strolled along the beach at sunset to a neighbouring resort for yet another buffet dinner (I bloody love a buffet). Dad did complain that the beach was "very uneven" and the "serviettes weren't very well located", but despite that, it was lovely. I even taught the parents about 'golden hour' for photo-taking.
As is often the bittersweet way with holidays, our final day on the island was the best one yet. We had nothing planned and had almost forgotten about the stresses of life on the mainland.
We drove to Tikioki Marine Reserve, where there's a stall with an honesty box to grab reef shoes and snorkelling gear. This slice of paradise gives you the white sand, crystal clear waters and schools of gorgeous fish for free, with only a few friendly dogs and a handful of people to share it with.
Inspired by the coconut show from the day before, Dad and I found one sitting on the shoreline and set about husking it with our bare hands. It was the kind of determined side quest you only have time for on holiday and took me right back to being a little girl and going adventuring with my dad.
About 40 minutes in, we started to make some actual progress. "You could be on a survival TV show!" Mum squeaked. "Naked and Afraid," Dad added.
There was no time to cringe. Finally, enough of the husk was removed to crack that sucker open on a rock, which prompted squeals of joy from me and proud chuckles from the parents. Nearby beachgoers glanced over, confused and mildly concerned.
Lunch was at the Mooring Fish Cafe on the roadside nearby - the crumbed mahi mahi sandwich with lime mayo was just what we needed after all that excitement.
One more lap of the island and there was time for one more sunset while enjoying dinner at the famous seaside restaurant, Trader Jack's.
Flicking through photos from the trip, I wondered out loud if I was too old for the matching bikini and bucket hat set I had chosen.
"You're in Rarotonga," said Mum. "You can be any age you want to be!"
Monika and her parents travelled to Rarotonga as guests of Jetstar and Cook Islands Tourism.