Arriving at the Cook Islands clutching a long list of holiday "must-dos" and "don't-forgets", it still blows me away that my favourite memory - and most exciting event - during our two-week stay hadn't even been a consideration at first.
Through the Rarotonga grapevine, I meet up with photographer Charlotte Piho (check out her 214,000-plus follower Instagram account), an idol of mine who is the most beautiful Moana princess of the Cooks.
She and business partner, surfer dude and all-round radical ocean-going expert "Dee" (real name Donald) run an incredible experience in their "backyard" on the southern side of Rarotonga.
There's a secret spot just before the shelf, where the ocean floor opens up to 10 kilometres deep where they guarantee we'll spy green sea turtles.
After a warm greeting and some basic instruction on the beach, we are treated to a special prayer in the local tongue.
Remembering to respect the higher powers before entering the ocean not only ensures our safety but also those of the turtles whose home we are about to invade.
Dee links our stand-up-paddleboards and walks us out to the spot. Charlotte follows with her professional camera gear tucked safely in its water housing, because every dive is an opportunity to catch an amazing souvenir.
Before we can fully don our skin-diving gear, one of the turtles swims in our direction, cranes his neck and pops up to say hello.
Dee invites us to jump in to explore under the water and we don't have to be asked twice.
Although our graceful new friends can hold their breath for up to five hours, one by one they leave their camouflaged safety and pop up to amble lethargically by our sides. You just know with one flick of a flipper they can leave us for dead but they seem to actually enjoy the company.
We swim side-by-side like slow-moving sloths and they pop up for a breath next to us, making brief but certain eye contact before beckoning us to explore the coral floor with them again. (This meant people of all swimming abilities could enjoy the spectacle; if you're not proficient in deep diving, you can skim the surface and the turtles will likely pop up to visit you where you are, and Charlotte's uber-quick trigger finger will take care of your next and most popular profile pic when they do!)
Touching a turtle is strictly forbidden, unless you're one of the grooming fish we watched at the "turtle cafe", the place where symbiotic marine relationships abound. Fish get fed, turtles get cleaned - it's a spellbinding thing.
Every now and then, the light gleams through the water directly onto the green sea turtle shell, and there is very little to compare with its exquisiteness. Sea turtles are endangered, so the more of us humans fall in love with them, the better.
It is easy to forget you can't breathe under water, as the enchanting other-worldy cosmos distracts us with its magic, but our lungs remind us to break the spell and take a gasp.
We swim side-by-side like slow-moving sloths and they pop up for a breath next to us, making brief but certain eye contact before beckoning us to explore the coral floor with them again.
Why does it feel so magical? Charlotte was able to put our thoughts into words. "I love diving deep and feeling my heartbeat. The deeper I go, the more connected I feel. My thoughts are consumed with trying to hear the hearts, the pulse of turtles, whales, all marine life," she said.
"I'm forever being asked why I don't scuba, especially as I'm all certified ... But if I can't connect, look an animal in the eye, hear its pulse, feel its energy, what's the point in taking a photo?
"I love photographing under water. It's my meditation, my recharge, a creative outlet and where I experience the most connection."
Forever grateful to share the playground of our human and turtle hosts, we vow to return. Also, Dee lures us with the promise of a special place he's found where we can swim with eagle rays. I've seen the photos. This one is on TOP of next years' list.