Tim Stead - Fantasy Writer

A Week in Paradise - May 31st 2014

Snorkel entry point The Road

The Beach Firstly this is about tuna. I'm not talking about the cat food that comes in tins. This is serious tuna, the pinkish red stuff that you can buy in a fishmonger if you're lucky - tuna steak. My idea of how to cook this is simple. You get a pan, put some oil in it, and heat it until you know it's hot - really hot. They you tease the pan with the tuna, holding it over the top. You accidentally drop it, and it lands in the hot oil with a hiss and a roar. Panicked, you snatch it back up again, but in your hurry you failed to get a good grip on it, and it falls back into the oil, but on the other side. Hiss. Roar. You take it out again, more carefully this time, and put it on a plate.

That's how much cooking tuna needs (if any).

I just came back from a week in Rarotonga, but more of that later. The point is that I ate pan seared tuna in two restaurants (it's really not that expensive there). One got it right (Le Bon Vivant) and the fish was melt in the mouth good and drizzled with a devine orange butter sauce. In the other place it tasted like cat food - way over cooked - and the sauce (nominally a lemon butter sauce) was acidic and thin. It just goes to show what a difference a couple of minutes can make...

For those of you that don't know, Rarotonga is the principle island of the Cook Islands. It is small, has a population of 10,000 and is more or less circular with a fringing reef and a road that goes all the way (32 km/20 miles) around the outside. The speed limit is 50kph (30mph) and the roads are inhabited by droves of scooters, dogs, chickens and the occasional goat. It has a mountainous interior and white sandy beaches somewhat punctuated by broken coral and decorated by coconut palms.

The people are very friendly and the whole place feels quite safe. I can't speak to the diving, because on day one I started developing a stinking cold that is still with me today. The snorkelling, however, was average and probaby best close to the burger bar called Fruits of Rarotonga. The main town is Avarua, which has the usual array of tourist shops, banks, restaurants (I liked the Indian restaurant), and a surprisingly lively market on saturdays.

This was their switch over to winter - the dry season - so temperatures were a modest mid to high twenties (C) and it was quite humid. It rained heavily on one day and showered a little on a couple of others.

One of the things that I enjoyed most, oddly, was driving around the island. It takes about an hour if you stop to look at things, and if you want a different perspective there are two busses, one clockwise and one anti-clockwise that run hourly round the island. The drive is relaxing (remember we're only doing 50kph) and you have the sea to one side almost constantly with the azure of the lagoon and the booming waves on the fringing reef beyond. There are a lot of resorts, and a lot of churches. It seems that every christian sect that could afford a missionary has set up here, and the Islanders are big-time church goers. The one thing that struck me as strange, though in retrospect it seems quite pleasing, is the practice of burying your relatives in the front garden. This is not ubiquitous, but from time to time you will see a quite ornate grave next to a front door, or out the back, roofed over with corrugated iron.

This was a quiet holiday, and Raro seems a good place to relax, but I'll probably try somewhere else if I manage to scrape together enough to travel again.