On a family holiday in Rarotonga, Winston Aldworth masters the art of taking it easy.
Captain Awesome is halfway up a coconut tree. "See!" He calls to the watching crowd. "It's easy!"
My daughter looks at Captain Awesome, then she looks at me. "Is it really easy, Dad?"
By the time the words "It's probably harder to climb a coconut tree than he makes it look" have left my mouth, Captain Awesome has got to the top of the tree, plucked a coconut and descended to the ground. Mrs Awesome's boy did real good.
"Could you do it?"
"He's had a lot of practise, sweetheart."
It's true. The Koka Lagoon Cruises crew are a pretty slick operation. A couple of dozen tourists gather beachside at Muri Lagoon before slipping into the glass-bottomed boats and heading out on the water for a day of snorkelling, eating a barbecued lunch and raw fish salad and hearing — firsthand from Captain Awesome himself — just how awesome Captain Awesome is. (Spoiler: very.)
It's the banter I like best. As soon as the boats are underway, the hosts are singing, winding up various guests — and each other — and generally tapping into the chilled spirit of the islands.
The gags are deadpan, and after half an hour of snorkelling and fish spotting — the highlight of which for my kids is watching from the top as their dad swims under the glass-bottom boat — we head for the island stop where, in the manner in which these tours are done throughout the Pacific Islands, that raw-fish salad is served, the tree is climbed, and the coconut duly husked.
The Rarotongan difference is the hard-case, near-Kiwiness of the presentation.
I suspect that — like Peter Parker in the movies, the Australian Prime Minister and the Flight Centre captain — Captain Awesome could swiftly be replaced at management's whim. And doubtless the next one would be just as fizzing, just as quick up the tree and just as quick with the punchline to his own jokes.
But it's Captain Awesome, and the people like him, that make Rarotonga so great.
Here's an incredibly unadventurous thing to say: The thing that puts Rarotonga top of my pile for a sunshine break is that it's like a suburb of Auckland that's been picked up and planted in the islands. You pay Kiwi dollars, you drink Kiwi beer, and everyone talks in a Kiwi accent. If the locals all seem Kiwi, it's probably because they pretty much are. The Cook Islands are self-governing in 'free association' with New Zealand, and all Cook Islanders are New Zealand citizens.
So, welcome home, Kiwis.
This is the easiest place New Zealanders will find for a family holiday in the tropics.
The easiness is infectious. At home, our kids — five and seven — argue with great passion about the injustice of having to put on sunscreen. In Rarotonga, no problemo!
Children are at their best on holiday. Removed from the day-to-day churn of getting them and ourselves out the door and off to school or work, we connect in a different timezone. With time to kill, I make a half-arsed attempt at teaching the older one how to play chess. In the end, we conclude draughts is better for a spot of lazy competitiveness.
Like an illicit two-up session, the guys running Pacific Resort's beach gear hut spend their days gathering and racing crabs. The kids put a great deal of thought into choosing which crab to back. I go for the Jonah Lomu theory: a good big crab will always beat a good little crab.
The competitive embers sizzle briefly at Cocoputt, a tidy minigolf set up dealing in silly holes, cold beers and bragging rights which can stretch out to fill idle days.
But it's at the breakfast buffet that holidaying kids really find their place. A spread of all-you-can eat cereal is their Turangawaewae. Things that seem mundane to adult eyes are the stuff of wonder for a holidaying kid. Bottomless bowls of Ricies! Half a dozen flavours of juice from which to choose! Trays full of pastries. One of those big communal toasters! When breakfast is this much of an adventure, it sets the tone for a buzzy day.
With days to fill beneath the Rarotongan sun, it's little wonder that food and burning off the kids' energy dominates our thinking.
"The good thing about the night market, is you'll get to eat the food the Cook Islanders really eat," one local in the restaurant trade tells us. "The bad thing is, you'll get to eat the food the Cook Islanders really eat."
He's right on both fronts. At the Muri Night Market, the busy mass of stalls tout carb-dense seafood curries, pasta dishes, delicious dumplings and mango smoothies alongside heart-stopping desserts. It's a fantastic slice of everyday living. (It's also — hot tip — pretty much the cheapest place to eat out on the island.)
We eat well in Rarotonga. Big, beautiful yellowfin tuna had been running in nearby waters in the days before we arrived, so the resorts and restaurants — and the fabulous Charlie's sandwich shack — are all serving meaty slabs of the red goodness.
But there's more than just kaimoana for foodies to celebrate. At Beluga cafe, we find coffee that would hold its own on Ponsonby Rd and Nautilus restautant — in the resort that bears the same name — serves delicious modern, fusion cuisine.
All around the island, we find sheltered spots for the kids to swim, burning off their energy. When the ocean gets too cold, we hit the resort pool.
But the best family activity of all, is no activity at all.
Stretched out, poolside, with a cold beer. Now this is my kind of easy.
I could teach Captain Awesome a thing or two about this.
Air New Zealand flies daily from Auckland to Avarua. One-way fares start from $326.
Pacific Resort at Muri Beach has a range of great family-focused accommodation