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!