Wednesday, November 26

Rarotonga International Food Festival

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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


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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


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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


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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.)


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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

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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.