Tuesday, December 30

The fat of the land

In 2007 the Forbes Organisation published a list of the world’s fattest countries. The Cook Islands weighed in at number three with 90.9% of the population overweight, just below Nauru (94.5%) and the Federated States of Micronesia (91.1%)..
Eight of the top ten countries were Pacific islands with only Kuwait and the United States, at 8 and 9 respectively, pushing their way in.
According to Forbes, “Almost 13,000 of the Cook Islands’ 14,000 people over 15 years old are overweight. Despite diets that include coconut, fish and tropical fruits--the islands have a strong agricultural industry--many of those living on the country’s remote outer islands seek cheaper and less nutritious food options.”
Not just on the outer islands!
It’s a growing problem. Twenty or so years ago there were plenty of portly adults but most of the kids were skinny. They tended to bulk up once they left school. Nowadays, though, there are podgy youngsters everywhere you look. Even cultural dance team members are beefier than they used to be. Still great movers but a few more shakers than in the past.
As in the rest of the world the problem stems from poor diet and a sedentary lifestyle. The public health department in Rarotonga runs a more or less continuous programme aimed at getting people to eat sensibly and exercise more. Their ‘vaevae challenge’ is always well-supported with teams of up to six people vying for points by exercising regularly. In fact even without the challenge you can see people of all sizes and ages walking the roads of Rarotonga in the mornings and evenings.
Overeating is the main problem and this holiday season won’t have helped. In spite of the boat not arriving until after Christmas, shops were still full of cakes, biscuits, puddings and chocolates.
Fish, coconuts and tropical fruit are still on the menu but I don’t think everybody realises that you’re supposed to eat sensible food INSTEAD of - not as well as – junk!
The video shows a very well supported Olympic fun run-walk-whatever last year. Heaps of individuals and teams turned out and it was a way of earning extra points for the vaevae challenge.

Sunday, December 28

Mongoose and mud

The controversial indoor stadium at Nikao, to be built using a Chinese soft loan mainly by Chinese workers, was in the poo again in early December after heavy rain caused a deluge of mud to run downhill from the construction site. The mud blocked drains, flowed into waterways (and eventually the lagoon), covered the back road and had Tepuka store owners worried that it might get into the shop. You can see in the video that a huge amount of soil has been excavated from the site, surrounded by a ditch. It looks rather like a squared-off Neolithic ring fort but all that’s stopping the soil being washed away is a low, somewhat insubstantial cloth fence. It’s surprising that more wasn’t washed away given how heavy the rain was but even more surprising is that nothing has been done to stop it happening again!
The National Environment Service (NES) director says that the Cook Islands Investment Corporation (CIIC) had promised to put measures in place to prevent run-off but clearly haven’t done so. NES say they could halt the project if CIIC don’t get their act together but it won’t happen. The government and CIIC have been ignoring public opinion since the indoor stadium was proposed and they’re not going to stop now.
A lot of people think the indoor stadium is an unnecessary waste of money but even those who want one say it should have been locally designed, and built using local companies and suppliers. In fact the earthworks were done by a local construction company but CIIC weren’t able keep tabs on them properly, hence the mudslide. They’ve got no show of controlling the Chinese builders (70 to 100 of them are expected) so Rarotonga is going to end up with another shoddy, leaking, ugly, unsuitable building.
On top of that, the original landowners are annoyed that the Nikao CICC leased the land to government – it was originally gifted to the church in 1864 for missionary purposes. And the sewage problem has yet to be addressed. The Enviroflo system at Tereora College is notorious for its smell when the weather gets warm. Maybe it should be called the enviroverflo. It has trouble handling the resident population so something major needs to be done before several thousand athletes descend on the area.
Well, the Mongoose golden oldies rugby players weren’t worried about controversy when they assembled at the Nikao sports field below the Chinese stadium for their final game of the year. The most important part of any GO meeting is the after match function of course but the boys (and girl – Ake is the sole female GO rugby player) ran, walked and hobbled around what they renamed ‘Neehow Park’. Nihao is Chinese for ‘hello’ (but you knew that, didn’t you?)
The Mongoose might be a little slower on their feet these days but there’s nothing wrong with their wits.

Friday, December 19

Esther Honey Christmas fun on Rarotonga

The Esther Honey animal clinic opened its doors (and cages) on Wednesday this week for some pre-Christmas fun for kids and their parents.
All the kids were given goody bags stuffed with lollies and toys, and spent time making tree decorations, having their faces and arms painted and of course playing with the orphaned puppies and kittens. Santa Claus rolled up on a scooter with his sidekick Santa Paws, a cute little puppy with a collar of Christmas bells, and the children played games like ‘pass the parcel’ egged on by Santa.
The first Esther Honey animal clinic opened its doors in 1995 in a small rented house in Vaimaanga. It was founded by American tourist Cathy Sue Ragan-Anunsen and since then hundreds of volunteer vets, students and assistants have made their way to Rarotonga and provided a much needed service for our local animals. In the old days the Agriculture Department sometimes had a vet on the staff but not very often and naturally enough farmers and their stock were the primary focus. Esther Honey later moved to the Totokoitu agriculture research station in Titikaveka but the landowners later reclaimed the area and now the clinic is firmly established at Nikao in premises it rents from the government. It’s just over the road from Nikao beach and you can often see the clinic’s current family of dogs going for runs on the sand or swims (usually accompanied by vets). Now the clinic has more room, volunteers have built several large, airy cages to house the animals in comfortable surroundings.
The main focus of the clinic is spaying and neutering cats and dogs to try to decrease the problem of unwanted animals but they also provide a hospital service for sick and injured animals – far too many are hit by cars – and once nursed back to health they find homes for the homeless.
The vets and volunteers do a wonderful job and pet owners (me included) are truly grateful to have them here.
The foundation has now spread to other Pacific islands. (Check out the organisation at
And who is Esther Honey? According to the website, Esther is the name of Cathy-Sue’s grandmother and Honey was the dog at the accommodation on Raro on her first holiday here.

Wednesday, December 17

Rotaract’s Christmas in the Park

Christmas in the Park is a now-annual event organised by Rotaract, a sort of junior Rotary club. It’s a king-size Christmas party for kids but plenty of parents, relatives and big brothers and sisters come along to join in the fun.
The ‘park’ this year was the national auditorium and it’s fortunate the organisers went with the indoor venue because the windy, wet weather we’ve been subject to recently continued on Monday - overcast skies, the occasional torrential downpour, mud-slides at Nikao (again! The new indoor stadium is going to end up at the bottom of the road in Rose and Ria’s Tepuka store at this rate.)
Down at the auditorium it was muddy underfoot but the food stalls were under cover and there’s not much that will stop a Cook Islander eating on a holiday occasion! Santa put in a brief appearance but flew off just as the party was getting going. Still there was plenty to keep the kids entertained including lolly scrambles, whacking each other with the night’s most popular toy – glowing Jedi warrior light sabres, and local singers and dancers. The men from the Philipines community had everyone laughing with a hilarious jig involving coconut shells attached to knees, shoulders and hips.
The theme for the night was ‘Colours of da world’ and some of the kids (and their parents) put together great costumes with the best winning prizes.
Congratulations to the hard-working Rotaract members, and also the parent Rotary organisation, for getting the Christmas season off to a great start.

Friday, December 12

Vaka Eiva Round Raro Relay

Vaka Eiva is well and truly over for this year and the local paddlers are taking a rest after their exertions. Next year will be a competitive time for those wanting to be in the South Pacific Mini Games teams in September as well as the 2009 Vaka Eiva.
The video is from the final race of the series, the Pacific Cup which, in spite of the less than gripping name, is regarded as the grand prix of the festival.
The vaka gathered at the boiler for the start and then paddled clockwise around the island for two to three hours until they reached Avarua harbour and the Trader Jack’s finish line. Every now and again on the way, crewmen (and women) jump out of the boat which slows a trifle while new, fresh paddlers climb aboard. Each vaka has its own support boat carrying the spare crew members. In fact the number of available support vessels is the limiting factor on how many canoes can take part in the festival.
This year the women’s race was won by a crew from Tahiti, regular visitors Tahiti RuaHine, who blitzed the opposition and finished in 2 hours 51 minutes 54 seconds, smashing the previous fastest time of 2:59:50.
Local boys Ngakau Toa Vaka 1 pulled off a surprise win over favourites Moana O Kiva (CI/Australia) also in a new course record of 2:34:19.
The weather wasn’t the greatest for spectators, squally showers, but it doesn’t seem to have been a problem for the paddlers.
For some really awesome photos and video of Vaka Eiva 2008 check out Harvey Allison’s website (
http://www.harvpix.com/cookcat.asp) and Ian (Rambo) Newland’s blog (http://rambos-locker.blogspot.com/2008/12/vaka-eiva-teaser-video1.html).

Monday, December 8

The Tiare Festival

At the end of November – beginning of December the Tiare Festival takes place on Rarotonga. ‘Tiare’ means flower and this is the time of year when gardens, trees and bushes are usually in full bloom.
I went to New Zealand for a short holiday so I wasn’t around for most of the festival but I get the impression that there wasn’t a great deal of participation in things like the decorated buildings and flower arranging events. Usually shops, banks and government offices are decorated with flowers and foliage and everything looks very colourful for a week or so, but there are very few signs of anything like that. Mind you, there aren’t many flowers around either. The weather was dry for a long time which knocked back flowering plants. Then we had high winds to blow blossoms off the branches followed by torrential rain that flattened anything that had survived. I definitely picked the right time to head to Auckland. The forecast was dismal but it turned out to be pretty good weather, especially last Sunday (30 November) for the Farmer’s Santa Parade. It was sunny, probably too hot if anything. Thousands of people, four or five deep in places, lined the parade route – Mayoral Drive, Queen Street, Custom Quay and Albert Street, and there were so many floats the first ones were coming up Albert Street when the tail-enders hadn’t even got onto Mayoral Drive. Some of the little kids looked exhausted by the time they’d finished.
Back home on Raro, the Tiare Parade took place on Saturday (6 December).
In years gone by this used to be a big occasion. There would be twenty or more floats, all covered with a mass of flowers with some really neat themes. People packed the main road to watch it all go by. (The photograph is of a Tiare parade in the mid 1980s.)
Well, things have changed. For a start there are fewer people in the Cook Islands and this year there were fewer flowers too. The ‘parade’ is now simply the last opportunity to see the Miss Tiare contestants as they drive through town and back again to the National Auditorium where prize winners are announced. ‘Miss Tiare’ is a junior beauty pageant for senior secondary school girls involving giving a speech thanking the sponsor, wearing pareu and a talent section. The organisers arrange for the girls to have lessons on deportment and things like that and they seem to enjoy it and get a lot of confidence from the event.
The video shows the contestants getting ready for the parade and driving along the main road.
One thing hasn’t changed over the years – it was over an hour late starting!

Wednesday, November 26

Rarotonga International Food Festival

The International Food Festival has been a regular on the events calendar for many years and for the past few seasons it has been held on the Thursdsay of Vaka Eiva week so the visiting paddlers as well as locals can sample all the fancy food on offer.

At one stage it looked as though it might be a washout as there were several heavy downpours of rain during the day. The rain was actually welcome as we've had a bit of a drought recently and fortunately things brightened up around mid afternoon. It was muddy underfoot at Te Atakura grounds but that didn't stop hundreds of people turining out to watch the entertainment while they tucked in.

Sunday, November 23

Vaka Eiva Muri sprints day

Vaka sprint day at Muri lagoon is a bit of light relief after the heavy-duty, long distance paddling that precedes and follows it.
It gives paddlers and supporters the chance to relax and enjoy the best beach on the island in between the all-out effort of racing. And as well as heats and finals in nine divisions there were novelty games and races to keep everyone entertained.
These included the best local dance contest for first time visitors and a relay race with a difference in which one person ran out to their partner standing in the lagoon, retrieved a piece of underwear (yes! those are pants and bras you can see being thrown at the end of the video) and splashed back to present it to the MC. It’s amazing how many people wearing swim trunks and bikinis have a piece of underwear to spare – as far as I can tell nobody risked arrest for indecent exposure!
The torrential rain around midday did nothing to dampen spirits. As the report in Cook Islands News said, “After all, the paddlers were going to get wet anyway and even the rain couldn’t dampen the party atmosphere at Muri which carried on late into the night.”

Saturday, November 22

Vaka Eiva Boiler charity swim

The boiler swim is a regular event on the Vaka Eiva calendar (and also the international triathlon in April or May each year). Contestants pay a gold coin entry fee for the privilege of swimming 750 or so metres through choppy water to the boiler of the SS Maitai which was wrecked on the reef of Rarotonga in 1916. The boiler is all that remains of the cargo vessel after nearly 90 years of wind, tides and cyclones.
Just over a hundred swimmers took part raising $428 for the Hospital Comforts Committee, this year’s charity. On top of that, one of the oe vaka teams, the Australian Whitecap Wallabies, donated $3000 along with hundreds of dollars worth of equipment including crutches, a wheelchair and boxes of children’s clothes and soft toys. Hospital Comforts president Betty Bailey was over the moon!
The first swimmer home was Australian Team Xylo paddler Kylie Muldoon who completed the swim in 10 minutes. Quite a few swimmers took time out to use the boiler as a diving platform – Vaka Eiva is about fun as much as competition!

Friday, November 21

Vaka Eiva V6 iron races

The six-man outrigger canoe races are the main event at Vaka Eiva. Monday saw generally flat conditions for the 12km masters and 18km open events but rogue waves caused a couple of wipeouts, among them Nappy Napoleon’s Anuenue masters team from Hawaii. There were no injuries and they paddled back to base at Avarua harbour, still smiling, some time later. The video shows the end of the masters V6 and the start of the open men’s race.

Wednesday, November 19

Vaka Eiva – first races

Great weather for Saturday’s OC1 races. The OC1s are one-man outrigger canoes and the events are classed as ‘iron’ races because there is no change of paddlers during the race as happens with the round Rarotonga relay later this week.
The masters women got underway at 7.30am but that was way too early for me! The video has footage of the masters women finishing, the masters men starting and the open men finishing.
The results are now on the Vaka Eiva website .

Sunday, November 16

Vaka Eiva 2008 – blessing the canoes

Vaka Eiva is now in its fifth year and has grown to become the Cook Islands’ biggest annual international sporting event with about 600 paddlers, eight countries and seventy teams taking part. That’s according to the publicity blurb. The teams include men, women, masters, mixed and juniors so there are around thirty different canoe clubs represented and that’s a whole lot of people paddling by day and partying by night.
The weather last year was dreadful – wet and windy. Not that it makes much difference to the guys on the water but for spectators standing on the shore peering out to sea trying to spot outrigger canoes through the driving rain it wasn’t a whole lot of fun. It promises to be different this time around. Sunburn and heat stroke could be more of a problem than hypothermia!
The traditional blessing of a selected few canoes took place on Friday evening and hundreds of people came along to witness the occasion. Noo Tuiravakai performed the blessing, sprinkling each vaka with seawater. Anona Napoleon, wife of Hawaiian outrigger canoeing legend Nappy Napoleon, sang a powerful chant at the end of the ceremony (it's the backing soundtrack on the video).
Another regular at Vaka Eiva is Harvie Allison who has been picturing things since the first one. Anyone who wants to see fantastic action outrigger canoeing and surf life saving photographs should check www.harvpix.com.
Racing started on Saturday with OC1 (one-man) 12km and 15km and continues on Monday with the V6 (six-man) 12km and 15km races. Results should be available at www.vakaeiva.com but were not yet there at the time of this post.

Saturday, November 15

Summing up – the Cook Islands mathematics competition

The annual Cook Islands maths competition took place on Thursday. Some people might find it hard to imagine maths as a competitor sport but check out the video if you don’t believe it.
Teams of up to four students from grades 6 (primary school) and forms 1 to 4 (secondary) have twenty minutes to answer twenty questions. Sounds easy but the questions are handed out one at a time; you get 5 points if you answer it correctly first time, 4 for a second try and so on. You can pass on a question if it’s too hard so as well as mathematical ability there’s the question of strategy – when to give up and go on to the next one. And all the time you’ve got the noise of supporters and the sight of your competitors scoring points. Southern group schools from Aitutaki, Mangaia and Mauke took part as well as the Rarotonga schools. The atmosphere in the national auditorium was electric and it just goes to show that people here can get excited about more than sports and cultural dancing!
The first maths competition took place in the mid 1980s but then there was a break of several years before it got going again under the guidance of Strickland Upu of the Ministry of Education. It must be very encouraging for the ministry that the outer islands and some of the smaller Rarotonga schools are becoming so competitive.
The results were as follows:
Grade 6: 1 Avarua; 2 Rutaki; 3 Papaaroa.
Form 1: 1 Avarua; 2 Mangaia; 3 Te Uki Ou.
Form 2: 1 Te Uki Ou 1; 2 Te Uki ou 2; 3 Avatea.
Form 3: 1 Tereora 1; 2 Tereora 2; 3 Titikaveka.
Form 4; 1 Tereora; 2 Nukutere; 3 Papaaroa.
The video is from the grade 6 and form 1 sections.
But now it’s back to sport with the Vaka Eiva outrigger canoeing festival underway with hundreds of paddlers from New Zealand, Australia, California, Hawaii, Guam and Tahiti as well as Rarotonga.
The first races, the OC1 Ironman (and woman) events took place today (Saturday) in hot, sunny conditions.

Monday, November 10

Sevens in heaven

The annual international rugby sevens tournament began in Rarotonga in 1991 although there had been an event featuring overseas players in 1989.
Over the years we’ve had some rugby greats taking part including New Zealand’s Eric Rush and Jonah Lomu as well as Fiji’s Waisale Serevi.
The new organisers (Destination Management Cook Islands) have been making a push to expand on the fun side of the tournament. They’ve been encouraging people to get together to dress up in weird clothes and crazy hats, with cash prizes on offer.
Well, they certainly had a hit on their hands this year. The weather was fine from Thursday, when the team march through town took place, until the end of play on Saturday evening, in spite of forecasts promising showers. We had two overseas teams from NZ, the Bombay Hawks and Te Ara Wheke, as well as several overseas sevens players including Koiatu Koiatu, Zar Lawrance, Renee Ranger, Nathan Robinson and Rangi Vallance. With 12 men’s teams in four pools of three, and four women’s teams there was plenty of action on the field and the spectators also had a ball.
Sevens can be monotonous if one side outclasses the opposition but on Friday and Saturday there was end to end action and some surprising results to keep the punters interested and the women’s games usually have everyone laughing!
Eventual winners were the Tauae Bulls, repeating their successes in 2004 and 2006.
For more information check out the Cook Islands News website – it should be updated with sevens info on Wednesday (12 November).
The organisers are promising even greater things for next year’s Sevens in Heaven.

Sunday, November 9

Where have all the people gone?

The CIA has recently updated its handbook, including the pages referring to the Cook Islands. (https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/cw.html)
It contains some interesting information. It’s not all correct and some of it is out of date but it still makes for a good read.
Take the population figures.
The CIA estimated there were 12,271 people in the Cook Islands in July 2008.
The Cook Islands Statistics Department has a selection of population tables on its website (
www.stats.gov.ck). These give a 2007 (provisional) population of 21,100. Huh? Well, OK they say there is a resident population of 12,500 but they don’t really explain what they mean by this – except that it’s people who are resident in the Cook Islands, Duh!
Cook Islanders obviously and permanent residents. But does it include workers and their families here on short term contracts? The thing is, the non-residents are classed as visitors and most people would assume this means tourists but 8600 is an awful lot of tourists to have on Rarotonga (and to a lesser extent Aitutaki and other southern group islands) at one time, especially with the number of rooms available in hotels and motels being in the region of 1000 with an occupancy rate of about 80% in June 2006 (the most recent figures available on the website).
I wonder where the CIA got the 12,271 figure. It’s understandable that it is less than the Stats Department number because there is a net outflow every year as people head for the bright lights of Auckland and Sydney, but after juggling the numbers the CIA has 229 fewer bodies than Stats.
Does the CIA know something about us that we don’t know?
And does anybody know how many people actually live here?
The Cook Islands International Sevens tournament took place on Friday and Saturday. It was very successful, great fun. A video is on the way…

Tuesday, November 4

Stormy weather

The cyclone season in the South Pacific runs from November to April so it is now underway.
Generally the Cook Islands don’t suffer as much from them as countries to the west of us like Vanuatu, New Caledonia, Fiji and Tonga so 2005 was an anomaly when we had five cyclones within five weeks. The video shows some of the effects from then. (About 11Mb.)

The cyclones caused a lot of damage, particularly in Pukapuka, but there was fortunately no loss of life. The Cooks’ worst cyclone in recent years was Martin in November 1997 when 11 people died.
According to New Zealand’s National Institute of Water & Atmospheric Research, there is an average risk of Southwest Pacific cyclones this season. Last season there were only four, five less than expected. This is a weak La Nina season which means there is a slightly lower than average risk of cyclones. (See the NIWA website.)
The Emergency Management team have leapt into action with a series of ads using footage of the 2005 cyclones (impressive) with school kids urging people not to go out to sightsee when a cyclone passes by (not). One thing you can guarantee is that in the aftermath of a cyclone folk will be out rubbernecking, probably long before the rain has ended and the wind dropped.
And it’s long past time to stop groups of children grinning and doing a thumbs-up when being filmed.

The man who mows the grass in our garden (I hesitate to call it a lawn) thinks there will be a cyclone this season. Tere down at the office thinks there won’t be one because the mango and breadfruit trees haven’t produced a huge amount. And NIWA thinks there’s an average risk.
It looks as though we’ve got all the options covered!

Sunday, November 2

Turama – All Saints Day

The Catholic community in the Cook Islands celebrates Turama, on the eve of All Souls Day, on 1 November each year.
It’s a bit more wholesome than Halloween and its ghosts, ghouls, bonfires and horror movies even though ‘Halloween’ is simply the eve of All Hallows Day which is another name for All Saints Day. The gruesome side of Halloween relates to its origins in the ancient Celtic festival of samhain which marked the end of the harvest. The early church appropriated the date as they did with many other pagan celebrations.
In the Cooks nobody takes much notice of Halloween. Unlike in America, it is not a major shopping occasion.
On Turama families remember their departed loved ones. The graves are spruced up and often repainted then during the morning and afternoon people decorate them with masses of flowers and candles. Up to a few years ago most of the flowers were fresh and very often beautifully scented but nowadays the shops do a roaring trade in artificial blooms, candles and solar-powered lanterns in the weeks leading up to the festival.
In the evening the church holds a requiem mass at the cathedral in Avarua then the priest blesses holy water and takes it to the nearby cemetery at Panama, close to the airport. He sprinkles it on the graves, there is a short prayer service and as the sun sets people light the candles. These are supposed to burn through the night and into All Souls Day, 2 November.
In various parts of Europe there are similar customs where people light candles and visit the graves of deceased relatives, but the flowers at Turama add a particularly Cook Islands flavour to the event.

Wednesday, October 29

Gospel Day 2008

Christianity arrived in the Cook Islands, Aitutaki in fact, on 26 October 1821 and the country has a public holiday to celebrate the event. This year it fell on a Sunday so the Gospel Day holiday was observed on Monday 27 October. Avarua Ekalesia (church) was host for the Gospel Day dramas known as nuku which took place in the Takamoa theological college grounds. The video shows excerpts from the first three nuku, Avarua, Nikao and Arorangi. There were no explosions or fires this year but Nikao’s Adam and Eve drama was a lot of fun in spite of the pouring rain with Eve out for a night on the town, dancing with the mapu and being tempted by Malibu – coconut rather than apple but the end result was the same.
On the subject of drama, there’s a New Zealand film crew on Rarotonga at the moment shooting a new children’s television show called Paradise Café. The thirteen-part comedy mystery series is due to be shown on the BBC in January next year. The café of the title is at Betela beach and other locations include Highland Paradise, Black Rock, Crown Beach Resort and snorkelling scenes at The Fruits of Rarotonga beach in Titikaveka. We spotted some filming going on at Black Rock yesterday at dog-walking time. Well, the first thing we noticed was a Portaloo, and then a large number of cars parked nearby. Haven’t seen so much activity there since one of the cargo ships ran aground on the reef and was towed off by four or five tugs and fishing boats a few years ago.
Rarotonga isn’t actually named but the show will include some local cast members, extras and the use of a few Maori phrases so let’s hope we eventually get to see it all.

Sunday, October 26

Paddling and politics

There was frantic activity at the vaka site on Saturday morning as carvers added the finishing touches to their canoes in readiness for launching in the afternoon.
In fact only eight of the ten or twelve vaka were in a suitable state for the water but the launch had to take place so that the Treks in a Wild World film crew could get their footage. TIAWW is a British TV series ‘full of adventure as … intrepid trekkers travel to far flung regions to embark on journeys combining ecology and history with action sports and outdoor pursuits’ or so the publicity blurb assures as. The team’s had good weather and has been to Mitiaro and Aitutaki as well as Rarotonga so the final programme should be a good advert for the country. I hope we get to see it some time.
The carving will now continue until the other canoes are finished and the decorations have been completed.
The launch took place at Avarua harbour, alongside Trader Jacks. It was a lot of fun with some mercifully short speeches followed by a traditional blessing. Then the canoes were carried down the slipway, closely followed by the film crew. The canoes paddled out a couple of hundred metres while the film crew hopped aboard a boat and motored after them to film the race back. It wasn’t really a race because the vaka were different sizes and had different numbers of paddlers but that didn’t matter. It all helps take people’s minds off politics.
Recent events on the political front include the Demo party (the guys in power) announcing that they were abolishing one electorate on Mangaia and claiming that they were therefore champions of political reform. Mangaia has a population of about 600 (and dropping) and three electorates. Common sense would suggest that one seat is more than enough. A similar situation exists for Atiu with two seats. The 1998 report of the political review commission suggested major changes to the entire political system in the Cook Islands. Politicians at that time had a vote of no-confidence in the commissioners and have since ignored the report except at election time when both parties say they will reform the system if elected. Needless to say, neither makes any attempt to do so. The vice-president of the (opposition) Cook Islands Party reckons that it was just a ploy to distract attention from the Demos’ internal problems. There are certainly plenty of these with the PM Jim Marurai saying he’s having trouble holding the party together, followed by the PM and deputy PM, Sir Terepai Maoate issuing an unconvincing statement saying everything is sweetness and light and cabinet minister Wilkie Rasmussen saying both of them should go before the next election. Read all about it in Cook Islands News .

Saturday, October 25

Canoe carving continued

The grassy patch in front of the Banana Court remained a hive of activity as the vaka carvers continued their work. After the initial rough shaping with chainsaws there comes the long drawn out job of hollowing out the canoes with chainsaws, crowbars and adzes, followed by planing smooth both inside and outside.

Sunday, October 19

Ocean-going canoe sails for Atiu

The Cook Islands Voyaging Society’s vaka Te Au O Tonga left Avarua harbour at about 5.30pm on Saturday evening, headed for Atiu with a crew of nine on board. Captain Tua Pittman is joined by experienced crewmen Ian Karika, Nick Henry, Harry Goodwin, Peia Patai, Brown Apera-Makea and John Engu. Sarah Moreland and Patrick Arona are students of the society’s voyaging programme. The vaka should reach Atiu on Sunday. The plan is that on Monday it will transfer a National Geographic film crew to Mitiaro then head for Aitutaki where the Manea Games (sports competitions for the southern group islands excluding Rarotonga) are in progress. Te Au O Tonga should reach Aitutaki on Wednesday afternoon. To follow the voyage online go to www.voyaging.co.ck The vaka’s last trip was to American Samoa for the South Pacific Arts Festival in August this year.

Saturday, October 18

Vaka video

Rarotonga's traditional canoe carving project, ‘akateni i te vaka’, is proceeding well. For the past week the grassy area opposite the Banana Court has echoed to the sound of chainsaws, planes and a variety of hand tools as large albesia logs are shaped into sea-going vaka. Most of the carvers are men but there are a couple of women who are clearly experts and plenty of kids making themselves useful - it's school holiday time here. This video shows some of the early stages, sawing the logs into rough canoe shapes and then hollowing out the inside.
At the end of next week (23 October) a National Geographic adventure travel show ‘Treks in a Wild World’ team, will be on Rarotonga filming the carvers and their canoes.

Friday, October 17

Long haul visitors

Tourist fly into Rarotonga all year round, mostly travelling via New Zealand (and from next February they’ll ALL have to come via NZ) but every September we get a number of long-distance travellers who wing it here all the way from Alaska.
Most of the Pacific plovers (local name torea) travel the 9000 kilometres to Rarotonga non-stop, apparently taking about 5 days.
They are thin and scrawny-looking when they arrive here and spend the summer fattening up on insects before heading back to Alaska at the end of April to breed.
The airport is the residence of choice but you see the birds, widely separated, on large areas of short grass. You have to wonder how they coped in the days before lawn mowers.

We spotted a couple of much rarer avian visitors last week when taking the dog for a walk at Nikao beach. They were larger than the usual beach birds with speckled plumage and long curved beaks. A check on the
Cook Islands Biodiversity Database showed they were bristle-thighed curlews (teue) which also breed in Alaska and are a globally endangered species.

Tuesday, October 14

Canoes and court cases

The big court story here is the corruption case, Operation Slush, involving MP Norman George and two others. It involves alleged kickbacks and dodgy accounting when buying heavy machinery on behalf of government. (Details are on the Cook Islands News website).
Norman’s been in and out of just about every political party in the Cook Islands. As a matter of fact he’s formed most of them after being thrown out of the big two, the Democratic Party and the Cook Islands Party. He then coalesces with one or other after a general election in a bid to get a cabinet position. A lot of people breathed a sigh of relief when he lost his seat to Nandi Glassie at the last election; it was one of two on Atiu, an outer island with a population of about 600. You might wonder why Atiu requires two MPs and so do a lot of other people but that’s another story.
Well, Norman is a great survivor. The second Atiu MP resigned due to ill-health and Norman changed constituencies, won the by-election and now treats Glassie as a cross between a mouthpiece and a lapdog.
It remains to be seen whether he can survive what is thought to be the biggest trial in the history of the Cook Islands High Court.
The trial started on Monday and is expected to last about three weeks.

This albesia log will be turned into a canoe over thenext two weeks

Mike Tavioni (right) starting work

Also starting on Monday was ‘Akateni i te vaka’ a vaka (canoe) carving project organised by artist Mike Tavioni. Groups of carvers from Mauke, Atiu and Mitiaro as well as Rarotonga are turning albesia logs into beautifully decorated dugout canoes (although since modern tools are used perhaps they should be called chainsawed canoes). It’s fascinating watching the canoes take shape and the launch last year was a big occasion made even more memorable when one of the boats overturned dumping the prime minister and others into the harbour!

Sunday, October 12

Global finance and Gospel Day

The current world financial crisis is having a – so far – small effect on life in the Cook Islands although the offshore banking fraternity might not agree.
According to a story in Saturday’s Cook Islands News our two major trading banks, ANZ and Westpac, both Australian entities, are robust, well-capitalised and well regulated. There will probably be a change in interest rates down the line, they say, and if people overseas have to think twice about travelling it will cut the number of tourists. Bad news for hotels, motels, restaurants and many others in the hospitality industry.

It seems strange that US companies lent money to people who couldn't pay it back, causing a global money meltdown but resulting in the US dollar becoming stronger against other currencies (such as the kiwi dollar which is the one that concerns me!) If any Americans have some cash stashed away, under the matress or buried in the back garden perhaps, they should consider a holiday here. With the exchange rate the way it is they'll get a bargain, assuming they can get here since Air New Zealand is axing LA/Rarotonga direct flights.
And one of Cook Islanders’ favourite pastimes is travelling overseas so the sliding kiwi dollar is going to drag holidays down with it, at least for those of us who pay for them ourselves. Politicians and other government employees will no doubt continue to take wing at taxpayers’ expense regardless of exchange rates.

We had our mortgage sales and business meltdowns, some quite spectacular (think PDL and Tepaki), but they're home-grown failures. Can't blame the global situation or acts of God.
Now when it comes to acts of God, the six ekalesia (churches) on Rarotonga have started organising their Gospel Day nuku.

(For a run-down of Gospel Day check this video).

Twenty or so years ago the competition to win the trophy for the best nuku (biblical drama) was cut-throat but nowadays it’s theoretically a more laid back occasion with lots of singing, dancing and dressing up but no trophy at stake. Tell that to Arorangi and Avarua who in recent years have presented full scale Hollywood productions complete with special effects. Great fun.