Will Our Plane get off the Ground?

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Oceania » Cook Islands » Aitutaki
July 16th 1993
Published: September 24th 2020
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Scott was eighteen months old when we finally summoned up the courage to attempt a full blown overseas holiday with a toddler in tow. I'm not quite sure why we were so scared. We'd carted him off to the wilds of Borneo when he was only four months old after I'd been enlisted to work in the thriving Sarawakian capital of Kuching for a few weeks the previous year. We survived that. Well sort of. It seems that the residents of Kuching weren't all that used to seeing blue-eyed fairish-haired western babies, so we were mobbed by besotted locals wherever we went. Once we'd got used to the idea that he wasn't all that likely to be kidnapped, we relaxed a bit, and even managed to turn their fascination into a benefit. The standard routine when we turned up at a restaurant was for goggle-eyed waitresses to ask us if they could entertain Scott while we ate, and we generally didn't then see him again until we were about to walk out the door. If we could survive that surely a tropical resort paradise would be a breeze by comparison. I'd always wanted to revisit Samoa and the Cook Islands with Issy after having gone there alone as a twenty-something year old a decade earlier. What could be better than three weeks in the sun in the midst of Melbourne winter. And lots of warmth and sun was a reasonable expectation, after all it was the middle of the dry season throughout the South Pacific.

Issy had heard an interview on the radio with two sisters-in-law who ran a Melbourne travel agency specialising in family holidays, so we sought them out to see what they had to offer. This turned out to be a masterstroke, not only for this trip but also for our many subsequent ventures when we had even more young offspring in tow. The agency would ring the resorts they'd booked for us a day or so before we arrived and ask them to get in whatever food our fussy eaters happened to be fixated on at the time. We didn't need them on this trip, but interconnecting rooms were also an issue later on. Most resorts said that they couldn't guarantee these even if we'd requested them, so our agents always rang ahead to make sure that all was in order on that front. The thought of sharing a bed with a screaming toddler whilst my beloved did likewise in a room at the other end of the hotel wasn't quite our idea of a romantic tropical getaway.

We landed in Rarotonga en route to Aitutaki, and headed for the Rarotongan Resort Hotel. This was the island's most prestigious establishment when I'd stayed there back in 1983. Unfortunately it now looked like all the maintenance staff had walked off the job about a decade earlier and never come back - broken tiles, torn fly screens, peeling paintwork. I remember us going for a walk along the island's ring road carrying a valuable carton of Scott's favourite chocolate milk that the resort had ordered in for us. I thought I'd try to entertain him by swinging my arms wildly while I walked. This seemed like a good idea until the carton went flying and splattered all over the road. Issy wasn't overly pleased that this left us short of what was at the time one of life's very real necessities.

We headed off to Aitutaki the next day. We were told that in the early days of intercontinental air travel, seaplanes used to stop in its massive spectacular lagoon on their way from New Zealand to the USA, as it was apparently the safest available landing ground along the route. It was cool, overcast and drizzling when we landed. Oh well, we thought, even in the dry season it was probably unreasonable to expect balmy temperatures and clear blue skies a hundred percent of the time.

We stayed at a resort on tiny Akitua Island, which seemed to be very close to the end of the island's runway. The service was terrible and none of the staff looked particularly interested. We found out later that the resort had just gone into administration, so in hindsight maybe the disinterest wasn't all that surprising. We woke up each day expecting warmer temperatures and for the drizzle to have cleared, but things didn't improve too much on that front for the five days we were there. Oh well, we thought, it will be better in Rarotonga and Samoa. We took the obligatory boat trip to the legendary One Foot Island near the south end of the lagoon where we were treated to a barbecue lunch on the beach.

Half the island seemed to be at the airport when we went to leave, with most of them formally dressed in suits and ties, uniforms and their best Sunday dresses. They were apparently there to greet the New Zealand Governor General. We found out that we'd be sharing our flight with the island's rugby team, which was flying out to play in a tournament. They take their rugby very seriously in these parts. Whilst the crowd might have said they were there to welcome the GG, we had half a suspicion that a lot of those present were a lot more interested in sending off their beloved rugby heroes than welcoming a colonial dignitary. The players were all seriously big guys - I doubt that any of them would have weighed in at less than a hundred kilos. The flight was full and we were just about the only other passengers on board, so we had some serious concerns about our small plane's ability to get itself airborne. I've always wondered why airlines go to great pains to weigh your luggage and charge you a small ransom if you're a few grams over your limit, but then take no notice at all of the weight of the passengers. If ever there was a case in point this was it.


24th September 2020

I see you have many more gaps in your travels to fill in...
and am looking forward to reading them all!
24th September 2020

What to do in lockdown
Thanks Bob, much appreciated. As a resident of the only Australian city in COVID lockdown I was starting to run out of painting and garden jobs, so thought I'd revert to scanning old photos and trying to remember what we did on all these adventures! Lots of work still in front of me!
30th September 2020

Cook Islands
I haven't been there since 1980. Loved your story. Thanks for sharing.
1st October 2020

Cook Islands
Many thanks. As residents of Australia's only locked down metropolis, we've got plenty of time to fill in some gaps!

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