Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

October 25, 2021
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Swept Away

Alone -- at last -- on a tropical paradise in the Cook Islands

The hulls of the 10-metre passenger catamaran slipped from the shore as the sand released the boat into a turquoise lagoon. Maria was leaving after a three-day stay. She called out to us from the deck, "I know what you're thinking: hurry up and leave our island!"

Who hasn't dreamed of strolling naked down a deserted South Pacific beach, hand in hand with the one you love? And here we were, on One Foot Island, in the Aitutaki lagoon, living as if in a cliché.

The island's ample attributes had been singled out in a publicity campaign by Air New Zealand. They boasted that One Foot Island was the quintessential tropical paradise, with all the necessary ingredients: sandy beaches, impossibly clear blue-green water and, of course, the obligatory palm trees arching gracefully over the shore.

And it has one more very important feature. It has a cabin for rent. Just one cabin. We were going to become the only residents of One Foot Island.

The boat finally disappeared from sight. Jim and I looked at each other with vague uncertainty. Now that the island was completely ours, what were we to do with it?

We want to be alone
We raced each other along the beach back to the cabin, a two-storey cottage sided with plywood. Simple yet elegant. One faucet, a flush toilet and a cold-water shower -- sheer luxury in such a rustic setting. Cooking on a two-burner propane stove. No glass in the windows, only shutters. Candle light at night. I felt like Robinson Crusoe, with all the modern conveniences.

My favourite place in the cottage was the upper deck, which was open on three sides. We moved our bed out there for the night. We counted stars and listened to the water lapping at the shore below.

At dawn, the light crept in from the right. The stars slipped beneath the sun's blanket as a glow washed over the sapphire lagoon. Bands of pink stretched across the horizon. A gentle purr attracted my attention, indicating the resident kitten was no longer happy to be relegated to the foot of the bed. Smurf wandered casually up to snuggle into my shoulder.

Trouble in paradise
Smurf is not the only permanent resident of One Foot Island. Our plans to collect shells were stymied by the hermit crabs, who were already using all of them. Pick up any shell and two claws will dart out to greet and grab. Put them back on the beach and they scurry away indignantly.

A flock of chickens also live on the island. They were not much of a problem -- as long as we remembered that any food left unattended was potential chicken feed. The roosters were more intrusive. We were informed of the coming of dawn by a loud crowing, usually from the patio immediately below our bedroom. I admired more sunrises than I expected.

A honeymooner from Perth, Australia, developed a loathing for the island's roosters during his stay -- especially their early morning serenades. Day-tripper Giselle laughed as she told of a naked Max, wildly pursuing the roosters around the yard, hurling coconuts at them."I would have chased them into the bush if I had my sandals on," he said, unrepentant.

Captain John has heard all the stories from the island. He has been running the Kit Kat Day Cruise and taking vernight guests to One Foot Island since the cabin was built. I asked him if he had ever picked up someone who hadn't loved it.


"One couple only -- they were from Tokyo. It was too quiet for them. They thought there would be nightclubs here. They had to get off the island and back to the real world."

Who were his strangest guests?

"I remember one couple. They stayed for a week. They decided to kill and eat one of the chickens. They caught one -- that was a story in its own right. They killed it, cleaned it and cooked it. Then they didn't have the heart to eat it. Funny, they had done all the hard work."

Unwanted visitors
The island is ideal, if not actually perfect. Residents have to share their paradise during the day. The first tour boat arrives at an up-island beach at about 11am. As Maria had said to us, just before she left: "When you see the first boat, it's time to put your clothes back on."

The Kit Kat staff arrived noon-ish to prepare lunch. The day cruise guests strolled down the beach about half an hour later. The cabin surrendered its seclusion as the multitude arrived. Lunch was served for everyone -- including us. Smurf, who had been our best friend overnight, now pretended not to know us as she sauntered around smooching up to strangers. We found ourselves eating quickly and then disappearing upstairs to our private space or retreating to the isolation of the lagoon by snorkelling from the far end of the island. The only use we found for our wristwatch was to anticipate the time of departure for the last boat. 3:30pm and the place was ours again.

So flowed the rhythm of days spent on our tropical island. The white sand was soft underfoot. We would stop under a coconut palm, protected by its shade while always remembering the island rule: "Don't sleep under the brown coconuts," because they may fall. The days were warm. The water enveloped us like silk. As we floated in it we felt suspended in mid-air. This was reality -- not fantasy. But all things must end.

I felt very possessive about the place. The couple that took over the cabin from us were from Norway. They had two children, one of whom always seemed to be crying. I felt the need to give them a detailed handover. Smurf loved milk -- we left half a carton for her. It rained last night -- so the water tank should be full enough. Don't leave any food on the table for the chickens. We cleared the sharp coral shards away on a strip next to the giant clams. That should be a good spot for the kids to go in for a swim. A deep breath, a last look, and it was time to go.

John told us that it is not unusual for people who have stayed on One Foot Island to cry on the boat on the way back to the mainland. I asked him how Maria had fared on her trip out.

"I looked at her about halfway back and noticed the tears," he said, stroking two fingers from his eyes down his cheeks.

Now it was our turn. It was 3:30pm and the catamaran was leaving once again. This time we were on it.

The children played on the beach. Smurf was spotted curled up on the upper deck. The mom and dad waved. I'll bet they were thinking: "Would you hurry up, and leave our island already!"


This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm rates and details directly with the companies in question.