The best place, in my humble opinion, to start uncovering the real spirit of a new destination is via its local markets and we’re lucky to have arrived in Rarotonga early enough on a Saturday morning that we can join the locals for a stroll around Raro’s weekly Punanga Nui Markets.
It is here that Sugarpuff thirstily slurps her way through the first of many of her favourite fresh drinking coconuts and kids, dogs and dozens of chirpy chickens run randomly between stalls laden with brightly coloured pareo (sarongs), black pearls, woven goods, floral garlands and fresh fruit.
Raffles is not quite as taken by the consumption of coconuts as his sibling but does experience love at first sight when he spots a garish ukulele that’s been cunningly fashioned out of a hollowed coconut shell and decorated in the style of a gaudy Hawaiian shirt. It. Is. Hideous. And, of course, he demands that it come home with us.
One day he’ll spot something tasteful and declare it must be his. But, in what can only be declared a tragedy for my decor, today is not that day.
It’s still a little early to check into our hotel, so ukulele in hand, we scoot around the tiny island to take in the sights and get a feel for this impossibly pretty patch in the Pacific. And it feels good.
We’re in the Cook Islands for a week of sun drenched relaxation Pacific Island style. I know, I know. But someone has to do it! And so, the rest of our post flight day is spent playing on the beach. More specifically, snorkelling in the clear blue water that’s literally metres from the door of our beachfront hotel suite at The Rarotongan Beach Resort & Spa, where we feed the hundreds of friendly fish of every size and colour that come to greet us. Raffles is in fishy heaven.
That is until one flesh-hungry fish decides to bite the hand that feeds. I didn’t think they had piranhas in these parts but this bastard fish has taken a suspiciously large chunk out of my son’s finger. The result of which is a lot of blood and a small boy howling, in an Oscar worthy performance, that he will “never ever go in the water again.”
I spend an hour convincing my dramatic offspring that the other fish are friendly and promise him we’ll eat the pesky pesce that bit him for dinner.
“Can I bite him in the face?” he asks, bottom lip still quivering. Of course, I answer and my vengeful boy is smiling once again.
Sure enough that evening we dine on delicious fresh fish by the water’s edge. We manage to persuade Raffles that he has devoured his slippery nemesis and that the seas are once more safe for swimming.
In reality he is eating a lovely yellow fin tuna, served in traditional British fish and chip style, and it is so good we can’t help nicking chunks off his plate.
He gets his revenge as he digs into my dinner, the local specialty, Ike Mata, delicious raw tuna, lemon juice and coconut that I’ve fallen for hook, line and sinker. Yum.
In fact so surprisingly good is the food that we dine at the same resort restaurant each night, something we normally avoid in preference for street food and experimentation. It also makes sticking to our little one’s night time routines so much easier.
But Raffles favourite thing about the restaurant isn’t eating his nemesis or stealing my dinner, it’s the bizarre appearance at the exact same time each evening of a metre long black and white snake-eel that swims purposefully by as we scoff. Either it’s the most OCD snake in Rarotonga, and it needs help from an aquatic therapist that resides in these parts or we’re sitting alongside a snake-eel superhighway at peak hour.