Frances Cook meets an aquatic beauty in the waters of Rarotonga
"Turtles - or your money back."
We heard it as we were walking through the Saturday markets in Rarotonga.
I'd been there with my mum for just under a week, a girls' bonding trip and we were going back to New Zealand the next day. But it was right at the top of her bucket list, to see a turtle in the wild or, even better, to swim with them.
There had been no shortage of adventure so far but certainly no turtles either.
Just days earlier, we'd both gone scuba diving for the first time.
At Big Fish Dive we'd been lucky enough to get instructor Amy, who was patient with us falling over in the water in fits of giggles, pulled backwards by 21kg of air tanks, dive weights and our inexperience.
She showed us how to balance ourselves in the water, how to use the weights and air to control ourselves, then led us around a lagoon on the edge of the ocean.
If you've never been to Rarotonga, the water is its most spectacular feature. So clear it's hard to tell how deep it is, as you can see the bottom for miles. Brilliant turquoise near the shore, a deep bright blue as you get further out.
The bright, clear water proved its worth as soon as we were under the surface in our scuba gear.
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After only 10 minutes we started to get the hang of it and Amy led us through a stunning display of the wildlife. Ghost coral, lionfish, sunset wrasse, threadfin butterfly fish.
The threadfin are known as the Romeo and Juliet of the sea, Amy told us. They mate for life and, if one of them dies, the other will starve itself to death.
At one point, Amy pointed to our left, motioning like jaws with her other hand. For one silly moment, I thought she was re-enacting that awful Baby Shark song.
Then I saw the moray eel, too close to Mum's hand for comfort. Moray eels are a stunning predator, with backwards-facing teeth. If your finger goes in there, it's probably not coming back out.
I pulled on Mum's elbow, dragging her to the right, she was still confused.
Then she looked down, and saw the moray eyeballing her. As it turns out, you can screech underwater. As Amy then demonstrated, you can also laugh.
By the time the scuba lesson had ended, we two rookies had figured out the basics, spotted more wildlife than we could identify and collected a bunch of stories to brag about back home.
As we compared notes over cocktails that night, we giggled again about the moray encounter.
"The only thing that could have made it better would have been a turtle," Mum said.
The next day we were booked to go snorkelling with Koka Lagoon tours. Snorkelling is one of my favourite things to do, because you can lazily float on the water and watch the show below.
It's hard to go wrong with Rarotongan reefs. With so many fish in the water below us, I made sure to swim carefully, worried I would kick one.
Some were as long as my arm, others as small as the first knuckle of my little finger. But they were all pretty curious about the snorkellers swimming through their home.
If you're wanting a broad introduction to Cook Islands culture, Koka Lagoon does a great job of it. After the snorkeling you're taken to a nearby island, where a feast of local foods is waiting for you.
There's a demonstration of how to climb a coconut tree, how to husk the coconut, then on to flax weaving and even the best ways to tie your sarong.
All led by friendly local staff, who sing a mix of local and international songs on the boat rides between locations.
It was a happy, tiring day. The best way to recover was, once again, to pick an oceanfront restaurant and share our favourite parts over seafood and a cocktail.
"I knew there wouldn't be any," Mum said eventually. "But I was still hoping that a turtle would just pop along."
We were running out of days in Rarotonga by then and a packed schedule hadn't left much wriggle-room.
But on our way through Punanga Nui markets that Saturday morning, we heard the call.
"Turtle tours. See them how the locals do. Turtles - or your money back."
Mum was drawn to the Snorkel Cook Islands tour stand as if she was caught in a rip tide.
It turned out to be run by a couple of young locals, who had started only the business six months earlier. The idea is to show you the secret spots where turtles rest underwater, to be cleaned by local fish.
That's how they know they can guarantee turtles; this is where the turtles live and, as long as you keep a respectful distance to make sure they don't feel harassed, they're not going anywhere else.
We dithered over whether we could fit the turtles in. The tour was the next morning, and we were supposed to be at the airport by 1pm.
But Joshua promised we would make it; if it was getting tight for time, he promised he would take us to the airport himself. Sold.
When we met him the next morning, he walked us through the safety features.
A trained lifeguard, he would make sure we stuck to the parts of the reef where the current was weak. We would be followed by his co-worker, also a lifeguard, who would make sure our small group didn't get separated.
Apart from that, they wanted to show us nature the way it was meant to be enjoyed; using only a snorkel and fins and taking only pictures.
They take only six people per tour, to make sure a big crowd doesn't frighten away the wildlife. They say they only need enough money to pay their bills and let them surf the rest of the time.
That approach paid off big time as soon as we were in the water. Only five minutes into swimming along the reef, Mum grabbed my upper arm in a vice-like grip.
Pacific green turtle.
It was rising through the water, surprisingly slow and elegant for such a big creature. Sunlight shot through the clear water in rays, lighting the patterns on its shell, illuminating every slow blink of its eyes.
Mum had stopped moving. At first I worried I'd finally worn the old girl out, giving her a heart attack. Turns out, she was having something of a spiritual experience instead.
We stopped counting how many turtles we saw when it got past five or six, but when we compared notes afterwards, we thought it was maybe somewhere around 10. Some were swimming, some resting on the coral underwater, others getting their shells cleaned by the fish.
We were also lucky enough for a rare sighting of eagle rays, as well as lots of tropical reef fish darting through the fire coral.
Hot tip: don't touch fire coral. Not unless you want to experience the burning sting it's named after.
As we walked out of the water towards the refreshments of coconut and mango that Joshua had ready for us, Mum turned to me, eyes shining.
"I saw one turtle that none of the rest of you did," she said.
"You all floated past him while he was hiding under the reef but he came up for a breath between you and me. He floated there for a while, parts of his shell almost glowing in the sunshine.
"He was so beautiful."