Anticipation. After spending virtually my whole life being seduced by the mystical allure of the South Pacific, thanks to my mums fanatical fascination with the musical of the same name, there was always a risk that it would not live up to its billing. Hawaii, Phuket, Barry Island – all of these had suffered exactly this fate. But no, the tropical idyll Gods were smiling, and almost from the first tentative steps off the plane in Rarotonga, I was sold. Sure, it could be a bit cleaner, the beaches a bit nicer, the rain less frequent, but you would struggle to find on this earth a place more comfortable with itself and its surroundings. Life in Rarotonga is what it is, and I for one love it.
If a place is epitomised up by its people then Rarotonga is Jimmy. First impressions of Jimmy are misguided. A lumbering giant of a man – laboured, slovenly, slow of body and mind, with not much to say. Sat on the back of the yute with Jimmy it was not easy to see his hidden depths. With the exception of a knowing smile and a look that hinted that he was taking everything in, he hid those talents well. The experience was basically a bike tour – “managed” by the stereotypical expat Aussie who spotted a nice little earner – but the tour was on Jimmys patch and make no bones about it is was Jimmys tour. So at ease with himself and his family and friends, his surroundings, his new paying guests and most importantly attuned to the life he had chosen and the reasons he had chosen it. Jimmy has life nailed. By the end of the day I wanted to be him. And as the days wore on and the experience of this magical place unfurled, it became very clear that Jimmy was no one off.
New culinary experiences soon followed, all of them delicious and fresh. But one stood out. Rukau. Spinach with attitude. You can keep the burgers and steaks. You can keep the kumara wedges. You can even keep the fish – although the ika mata takes some beating. For me the undisputed star of the show is the bionic spinach. No need for stamina enhancing nocturnal stimulants in this neck of the woods. Yet another reason why the smiles of the people here are as broad as the sea.
Animals and humans live side by side here. Literally. Whether it’s stray dogs – although you’re never quite sure if they are stray – roaming the beaches, or goats shuffling against bus stops, the animals seem to believe they have as much right to be here as the humans. And who can argue with them? In particular who can argue with the chickens that seem to have taken up residence in the domestic airport terminal, seemingly angrily clucking away at the inevitable delays and loss of their luggage.
The final few days of the break and its full on for the paradise island of Aitutaki. Or even a paradise island off the paradise island of Aitutaki. Or just off the end of the airport runway to be precise. A ferry across the strait and the only thing missing is a small oriental man in a white dinner jacket to welcome us. We get shown to the overwater bungalow. The view is one that strikes at the heart the moment you first glimpse it. Crystal blue and turquoise waters intertwined with a backdrop of lush green undergrowth and golden sands from the uninhabited island opposite. The majestic sound of the ocean waves crashing rhythmically onto the reef just a few hundred metres away soothes the soul. And then the eyes and ears turn to the life in the lagoon. Just at the edge of the shaded platform, where hundreds of dazzling multicoloured fish swarm and nuzzle each other to grab the best piece of shade. Maybe fish try to share bodily warmth in reverse to keep each other cold? The waves are momentarily interrupted by the occasional startling splash of a big fish or eel. The dark blue starfish and the bright red crabs look on, unperturbed. Lying here looking at the bright blue sky – which looks dull when compared to the glowering shades of blue from the water – is as close to tranquility as it gets. Occasionally, almost on demand, a light gust of cooling breeze sweeps past the platform to freshen the senses. Water, land, sky and wind – at the end of the day that’s all there is – all provided free of charge by Mother Nature.
The truth is that the whole place just leaves you with a permanent smile on your face – that even exists for quite some time afterwards. A place to completely recharge, refocus and reflect and ultimately to remind yourself what is really important in life. And we all need that from time to time. Long may it continue.