An Aitutaki Feast
The Cook Islands is nearly the size of Western Europe. The only difference however is that this country is made up almost entirely of ocean. Fifteen tiny islands scattered across 2.2 million square kms of sea. Cook Islanders are as comfortable on the sea as they are on the land. The Real Pasifik team lined up a story on outer island Aitutaki, one of this country’s most breathtaking locations.
Our story revolves around its pristine lagoon best described as the local supermarket. Strict measures are in place to protect these rich fishing grounds and areas are set aside where there is a ban on the harvesting of resources. This rahui, as it’s called, is a system of making certain areas off limits so that the fish stocks can be restored. For the visitor to Aitutaki the only way you can take fish off the island is in your stomach.
We arrived early evening on the island and were whisked away to Pacific Resort where we are camping out. I say camping out but I should clarify. Beachfront luxury, artfully designed contemporary bure’s, step off your balcony onto a white sandy beach leading into an azure sea. It’s as if the resort has asked the question “what is the most romantic experience we could provide”, then gone and created it. A spectacular display of fire dancing at sunset connected us to the elemental experience ahead.
We set off early with fisherman Laughton Story and his partner chef Marie Story. They took us to their island just a few kilometres from downtown Aitutaki. Their set up is idyllic. They have an outdoor kitchen, a large marquee where everyone can camp out and long tables set out in the shade. Plates are woven from nearby palms, tin foil is replaced by leaves and fish are gutted and cleaned on the shore.
Laughton took us spear fishing and we managed to collect six different types of reef fish which, after a quick scale and gut, we threw straight on the pan. Perhaps the most unusual experience was collecting coral worms. This is a labour intensive job yet worth it to see Marie transform them into a light salad with tomatoes, coriander and fresh lime juce.
As we sat in the shade eating this beautiful meal Laughton shared stories of the lagoon. He explained there is an unspoken rule with the old people that you can visit and enjoy other people’s islands. He said that is the spirit of Aitutaki and encapsulates the freedom you feel when living here or visiting.
As Eleanor Roosevelt said “with great freedom comes great responsibility”. As a visitor you can’t spend time here without understanding that the reef is core to survival on this tiny island. To understand this and the environmental steps being taken to protect this unique environment only deepens your enjoyment of the place.
Special thanks to Marie, Laughton, Misepa and the whole Cook Islands team for supporting our trip to this amazing place.
Written by Anna Marbrook
Photos by Mark Summerville