There has been a running joke between my partner and me this year. I’ve travelled frequently over the last 12 months – both to places where rain is expected and others where one would presume the opposite – and without fail, on every trip, it has rained. As a result, he has started calling me the ‘rain princess’. The day I land at Robert L. Bradshaw airport on St Kitts, the larger of the two main islands that make up the country of St Kitts and Nevis, it hasn’t rained for months. As my taxi driver weaves along precipitous roads that seem to climb and plummet with exact frequency, he tells me that the surrounding rainforest, which looks pretty lush to a newcomer, is not nearly as beautiful as usual. “The colours are all muted,” he says. “We need rain.” I look out over an uninterrupted blue sky and wonder if this is finally the trip that will break the curse.

As we pull up to the jetty to meet the boat that will take us across The Narrows to Nevis, I begin to feel concerned. In the intervening 15 minutes, a suspicious-looking cloud has formed over the island’s stratovolcanic heights, shrouding the summit in a thick veil of gloomy squall. Later in the trip, I learn that it’s deemed good luck even to catch a glimpse of the island’s peak, so rare is it that it’s not wrapped in a vaporous bow of lenticular clouds. In this early moment, though, I’m more concerned that I’m once again about to live up to my meteorological reputation. And, lo and behold, as soon as I step onto the ferry, the heavens open, swooping in with such speed and vigour that it almost feels like it’s arrived for my benefit. I assume we’ll wait at the dock until it passes, but – no. As soon as the ferry fills, we head into the chop, the bow pointed firmly towards Nevis.

At just 36 square miles, Nevis is the smaller of the two islands that make up this Caribbean country. It maintains an intimate feel with much of the island commanded by the uninhabitable peak. This could be because the population sits at just 12,000; maybe it’s the absence of many of the main hallmarks of mass tourism such as cruise ship ports and sprawling mega-hotels; or perhaps it’s the mandate that no building can be taller than a coconut tree. It’s amazing how peaceful it is to spend a week away from towering structures – the direct antithesis of the concrete jungle. Sitting at the junction between the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, this is also an island of two halves. The west is characterised by the postcard-perfect features you expect from the Caribbean – white sand beaches, tranquil bath-warm waters, endless, impossible blues – while the east is wilder, more exposed to the elements, where warm winds gust and waves crest onto the shore. Looping around the island and transitioning between the two is a fascinating case study of the power of Mother Nature and her tools.

It seems almost metaphorical of Nevis’s turbulent history, one characterised by multiple attempts at colonisation by different European nations. St Kitts was the first nation in the Caribbean to be colonised by the British in 1623, with Nevis following in 1628. It quickly became one of the world’s most prolific sugar-producing nations, responsible for over 20% of England’s yield, a fortune built almost entirely on the back of slave labour. The residue of this is on display across the island, in the ruins of sugar mills that dot the landscape, some repurposed into hotels or restaurants, others turned into outdoor museums, while many are left subject to the might of the elements, slowly returning to nature.

After a bumpy crossing, we finally pull up to the shores of Oualie Beach on the north shore of Nevis. The rain is coming down so hard that it obscures much of the island from view, so we all sit there quietly, watching sheets of water fall from the sky. As the downpour eases from torrential to heavy, I make a dash for it, bounding down the soaked jetty to meet my host, Julie. Taking shelter under a marquee hemmed in by puddles, she and our driver, the assiduous Bernel, echo what I’d been told on St Kitts earlier. “This is not how we’d want you to get a first impression of Nevis,” Julie says, as I shake droplets of water from my head. “But we’ve really needed this rain. It’s been dry for months.” I attempt a garbled explanation of the rain princess story. “Ah, thank god you’ve arrived then,” she laughs.

The storm abates as we begin our drive to Montpelier Plantation and Beach, my home for the next few days, and I finally get my initial glimpse of Nevis. The first thing I’m struck by is the green. Endless stretches of it meander from the elusive peak down to the water. Much of the island’s development is in the hills rather than on the waterfront, taking advantage of the immense beauty of this rich greenery, while the volcanic soils and unique climate make Nevis a fertile landscape, from the sugarcane that laid the ground for its tumultuous colonial past to the reason for my trip – mangoes.

it’s good luck even to catch a glimpse of the island’s peak, so rare is it that it’s not wrapped in a bow of lenticular clouds

I am visiting Nevis for the annual mango festival, a three-day celebration of the island’s abundant fruit. Officially, there are 44 mango varieties on Nevis – although locals argue there are probably more. They grow everywhere, from the highway verges to the abundant rainforest and even the arid moonscape of the Indian Castle Estate, an expanse of windswept land punctuated only by fledgling fruit trees. The orchard here grows fruit and vegetables from all around the world and, of course, a multitude of mangoes, making it the perfect spot for the festival’s opening event. Stalls sell mango-inspired wares, there’s a cocktail competition, and a game in which festival-goers attempt to lob a hacky sack at a mango strung high up in the air and successfully release it from its rig; it is higher and harder than it looks. Only two revellers manage to get a hit. When they do, the crowds are euphoric, akin to those at a World Cup final.

The myriad ways in which mangoes can be co-opted for entertainment are all very well and good, but I’m more interested in how they can be manipulated for consumption. We get a taste of it at the Indian Castle, where bartenders squeeze soft, gelatinous mango pulp into cups and mix them with a dash of water and a glug of rum, to create a rocket-fuel cocktail where the heat of the alcohol is well-tempered by the mellow sweetness of the fruit, but it’s not until that evening that we’re fully immersed in mango mixology on a bar crawl along Pinneys Beach. We try it in all possible iterations, from frozen daiquiris and mango rum punches to the iconic Killer Bee cocktail from Sunshine’s. The bar itself seems to personify Nevis’s convivial nature; the kind of barefoot boîte where you’re just as likely to see Beyoncé and Jay-Z (there’s photographic evidence on the walls) as you are to cross paths with salty sailors fresh off their boats.

The following day is dedicated to the fruit’s culinary uses. Bustling into an air-conditioned van – a necessary reprieve from mid-summer humidity – we set out on a circumnavigation of the island, our compass set for some of its best restaurants and casual roadside eateries. At the Cherry Tree (for all intents and purposes a convenience store), shopkeeper Patrick serves up stewed pork with mango sauce. The meat slips off the bone, its salty umami notes tempered by the sweet and sour hit of the mango. It’s all washed down with a shot of questionably legal bush tea – a fluorescent green moonshine rum infused with stems from marijuana plants. Suitably buzzed – for midday, at least – we head onto our next stop, Carbo’s, where we get to try the infamous goat water, a gravy-like meat soup with a pared-back, subtle pepper spice.

Our whistle-stop tour continues, past cows grazing by the road, looping along the craggy Atlantic coastline and swerving around herds of sheep, which have evolved to develop such thin coats that they resemble goats. We alight at our final stop, the Heritage Village, a series of replicated structures exhibiting the history of Nevisian homes and buildings. It’s here I discover the pure sweetness of Polly Mangoes – a favourite among many locals – in everything from a gargantuan rum cocktail to a mango-infused clam chowder. And then, of course, there’s our meal the following day at the aptly named Mango restaurant at the Four Seasons Resort on the island’s west coast.

Occupying a rocky outcrop on the border of the Four Seasons grounds and the powder sands of Pinneys Beach beyond, the dining room at Mango seems to hover above the placid Caribbean Sea below. Or, at least, it was placid upon arrival. Over the course of our meal, much like my first day, the clouds roll in and the heavens open, a downpour of biblical proportions turning the previously crystalline waters a steely grey. And yet, at our table underneath the sail-like awning that extends beyond the dinky yellow clapboard building, it’s only a minor disruption – the food is so arresting.

Here, Nevisian cuisine is given the high-end treatment. Far from the roadside stalls we had toured the day before, Mango takes things a level up. Milder than many of its Caribbean counterparts, with less of a focus on burning spice and more on the surrounding sea, the food of Nevis is anchored in the island’s rich soils and daily catch. Flavours are a touchpoint for the island’s history and the vast array of places that were home to the enslaved people forcibly brought here: Indian curries, caramelised plantains, creole spices. Whether it’s crab meat mixed into cakes topped with papaya slaw, a whole fish baked until crisp with a tangle of escabeche on top, goat water slurped up in the baking heat of the day and washed down with fiery shots of rum, or simply a sweet Polly mango – sipped in a cocktail, diced into a salsa or mixed into a sprightly prawn ceviche – to eat on Nevis is to distil the history and geography of this magical place.

At Sunshine’s, you’re just as likely to see Beyonce and Jay Z as you are salty sailors fresh off their boats

It’s not just about the food, of course. This is an island where time seems to go fast and slow, where you leave feeling like you’ve been there forever and no time at all. On my second day on the island, Bernel tells me I need to focus on taking my time. “You hurry too much, Molly. What are you hurrying for? We have all day!” He was right, too. It turns out it doesn’t take all that long to drive the entire periphery of an island this size.

On the few days when Bernel was otherwise engaged (on the Sunday afternoon he was hosting a lunch for the women at the church he attends. “They work so hard,” he said. “They deserve it”), the lyrical Hollywood would step in to drive. Named for his penchant for belting out show tunes at the top of his lungs (and once, in our case, showing us the rap song he’d written about an ex-girlfriend who had gone through his phone), he too picked up that I needed to chill out. “Life on Nevis is unhurried,” he told me. “Time is just time.”

Against all the odds, I feel like I have chilled by the time I leave. Perhaps it’s the medicative quality of copious amounts of rum, or maybe it’s something in the air. All I know is that I arrived a harried mess, and I depart feeling relatively untroubled by the stresses of everyday life. Just as the weather has cleared over my time on the island, so too has the mental fog that developed over a hectic six months. In some kind of metaphor that, if I were that way inclined, I’d maybe take it more seriously than I did, the weather seems to improve with each day I am on the island, rumbling clouds replaced by cornflower-blue skies. And yet, even then, a glimpse of the Nevis peak has evaded me. As I stand on the dock at the Four Seasons, awaiting the boat that will take me back to St Kitts and reality, I chance one last look at its volcanic heights. As I do, as if by magic, the wispy clouds that had shrouded it from view quickly dissipate, revealing an uneven duo of mounds not dissimilar to the iconic Rangitoto, a dormant volcano that dominates the harbour in my hometown of Auckland. I choose to take it as what I’d been promised: an omen of good luck.