Thursday, December 29

Christmas in the Park on Rarotonga

Once again the Rarotonga Rotaract club organised Christmas in the Park as a family event in the lead-up to Christmas.
They do this every year; it’s a fundraiser but also gives families the chance to enjoy themselves together.
There’s plenty of food, of course - no Cook Islands event is ever without that - and kids (and some adults) get the chance to dress up, have their faces painted and win some prizes.
After the sun goes down there’s entertainment and the evening ends with a firework display.
It’s a lot of fun and according to organisers over 2000people came along to take part with about $10,000 raised for the Rotaract community fund.
The weather was great. Good timing on Rotaract’s part because it seems to have been raining ever since! From Christmas Day until now we’ve had rain, strong winds and more rain. A broad band of cloud has been moving over us, and from the satellite images it looks as though there’s a bit more to come although the cloud could break up a little by the new year.
Still, at least it means the drought’s over!

Sunday, December 18

Another great outrigger canoe festival

Vaka Eiva, the annual oe vaka (va'a) festival on Rarotonga, was another big success. About six-hundred enthusiastic outrigger canoe paddlers took part this year with open, master, senior master and junior teams from Australia, New Zealand, Hawaii, Canada and (of course) the Cook Islands fighting it out in V6, V1 and OC1 vaka.
Cook Islands News has always been a strong supporter and sponsor of the festival and once again produced a supplement chock full of information about teams, the programme, personalities and the various extra events that keep everyone buzzing. The supplement, full results and plenty of great photos are on the CINews website here.
The official Vaka Eiva website has photos and videos from previous years.

Wednesday, November 30

Manihiki pe'e at Te Maeva Nui

I've recently been taking video of this year's Vaka Eiva (outrigger canoeing) Festival.
It was another big success with teams from Australia, New Zealand and this year for the first time Canada as well as the local paddlers.
Haven't had time to edit the video yet and I'm about to head to New Zealand for a week or so and I won't be able to get anything done until I get back.
So in the meantime here's a look at the Manihiki dance team performing their pe'e (traditional chant) at this year's Te Maeva Nui cultural competition.
By the way, Cook Islands News is once again being updated weekly and the archived papers from this year are now available so if you've been missing out on what's happening in the Cooks check it out now.

Monday, November 21

The Turama festival on Rarotonga

Turama takes place in the Cook Islands on 1 November each year when Catholic priests bless the graves of deceased loved ones and local parishioners take time to remember and pray for the souls of those who have passed on.
All Souls Day is actually 2 November but it is now customary for Turama to take place on the eve of All Souls Day.
The main focus is of the event is the Catholic cemetery in Panama and in the days leading up to Turama families clean and decorate the graves. In years gone by everyone used fresh flowers and plants but artificial flowers are becoming much more common. You don’t get the beautiful scents that were once part of the ceremony but on the other hand the decorations last much longer and don’t make such a mess later on.
Most people still put candles and tea-lights on the graves but even in this the twenty-first century is making its mark with fairy lights twinkling here and there.
Then as the sun goes down the graves are sprinkled with holy water and the choir sings.
In many places in the world cemeteries are gloomy, sombre places but here on Rarotonga at Turama people come together and remember the good times as well as the sadness of loss.

Wednesday, November 16

Cambodia Highlights - Phnom Penh

After we crossed the Cambodian border near Chu Doc (see this post) our river boat, the Mekong Pandaw, continued slowly upstream and reached the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh at about 6 the following morning.
The Mekong and Tonle Sap rivers meet here so the width of water was not (just) due to flooding.
The city’s had a chequered history; well the whole of Cambodia has come to that. It’s been invaded by Vietnamese and Thais on many occasions and the Vietnamese burnt Phnom Penh to the ground in 1772. The country only still exists because it became a French protectorate in the 1860s.
Because it was razed by the Vietnamese there are no really old buildings in Phnom Penh but there are certainly some very ornate and impressive ones thanks mainly to the French. The biggest and best of these is the Royal Palace which is actually a large area containing lots of pavilions, pagodas, stupas and memorials. The National Museum is another example.
The excursions organise by Pandaw included a cyclo tour of the city (cyclos are bicycle ricksahws) and also a visit to Choeung Ek Genocide Museum (The Killing Fields) and Tuol Sleng, Security Prison 21 (S-21). Choeung Ek was sad; over 15,000 men, women, children and babies were killed there, mostly bludgeoned to death to save bullets. Not all the bodies have been exhumed and to this day, after heavy rains, fragments of human bones and clothing come to the surface. These victims were trucked to the killing fields from Tuol Sleng torture centre, a place so grim and depressing that we couldn’t stay for long and didn’t take many photos. This wasn’t a pleasant excursion but these places are part of Cambodia’s recent history. Many of the people you see in the streets survived the Khmer Rouge years and most of them lost family members either worked to death in the fields or in places like that.
It’s not all palaces and temples.
We were supposed to spend one day in Phnom Penh but river levels were so high because of the floods that our boat was unable to get beneath some bridges. The itinerary changed and we had an extra day there; gave us a chance to get a bit of much needed exercise (the food on board the boat was very good!) walking around town and visiting markets.

Friday, November 11

Rarotonga’s Sevens in Heaven

It’s been going for over twenty years and Rarotonga’s international rugby sevens tournament, held every November, just keeps getting better.
This year we had 16 men’s teams and six women’s.
Some were overseas clubs while others were local with top notch imports and we also had a couple of outer island sides.
In the men’s competition College Rifles, Te Ara Wheka and Porirua Magic were all NZ club sides while imports included ex All Blacks and current Super Rugby players like Rene Ranger, Lima Sopoanga and Robbie Fruean.
The Titikaveka Titans women’s team was stacked with soon-to-be-capped Black Ferns players (the Black Ferns are the women’s equivalent of the All Blacks). College Rifles, last year’s cup winners, returned as did Hastings Rugby and Sports women while newcomers Ponsonby Fillies played here as the Rebels. Local sides Avatiu Motor Centre Eels and T&M Crushers also had some exciting imports including Kiwi league women stars.
One of the really nice things about this tournament is the way overseas stars play in local teams so our boys and girls get the chance of playing with, as well as against, top class players.
The standard of women’s sevens in particular has improved dramatically. It’s always been popular with spectators but this year the skills and athleticism were noticeably better.

After three days of exciting and sporting rugby the final results were:
Men’s Cup: College Rifles beat Tauae Bulls 26-5
Men’s Plate: General Transport Tabusoro beat Vonnia’s Viking 22-12
Men’s Bowl: Nga-Mat Flying Dragons beat Araura Enua 14-5
Men’s Shield: Te Ara Wheke beat Porirua Magic
Women’s Cup: Titikaveka Titans beat College Rifles 17-5
Women’s Plate: Rebels beat Hastings Rugby & Sport 19-5
Women’s Bowl: Avatiu Eels beat T&M Crushers 24-5

As usual, the off-field activities were as much fun as the on-field. The costume competition for groups and supporters saw some amazing outfits – people put a lot of effort into dressing up and having a good time.
This year’s theme was ‘Shuffle it at the Sevens’ so of course there was a shufflin’ competition for kids and others.
I have to confess that I didn't know shuffling was a sort of dance. Mind you, I’ve seen people doing it but didn’t realize it had a name.
Well, you’re never too old to learn something new.

Wednesday, November 2

Vietnam Highlights – the Mekong River

In October 2011 South East Asia suffered heavy monsoon rains and a couple of typhoons, Nalgae and Nesat. They brought even more wet weather to the north of Vietnam and caused considerable flooding in the south.
Thailand is still suffering the after-effects from the monsoon floods.
Along the Mekong in southern Vietnam, river levels were extra high and water covered vast areas, inundating rice paddies and destroying about 10% of Vietnam’s harvest.
On our journey on the RV Mekong Pandaw up the Mekong River from My Tho to Chau Doc and the border with Cambodia we saw flooded fields, semi submerged trees and stilt houses with water almost to floor level ( the week before we arrived the water level was even higher and houses had been flooded).
The river looked like liquid mud but maybe that colour is normal – the Mekong flows through many countries (Tibet, China, Burma, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam) and carries silt and debris from the Tibetan plateau to the delta in Vietnam.
Flooding is a regular occurrence although this year it was far worse than usual, but life revolves around boats and floating or stilt houses so life was going on as usual when we passed through.
Purist s may deride tourism but it does help the local economy. Villages we visited are regular stops and are reimbursed by Pandaw, and when local handicrafts were available we and our fellow passengers bought souvenirs (except in the case of homebrew rotgut whisky with snakes or scorpions in the bottles).
Yes, we bargained but I’m sure the local tradesmen had the better of us; they looked quite happy and so were we as we departed with our purchases and that’s what bargaining is all about.
Good fun.

Monday, October 31

Kura Happ at Club Raro

Kura Happ is a talented Cook Islands singer/songwriter. She performs regularly at various restaurants around Rarotonga – I’ve seen her at the Windjammer and Tang (the recently opened tapas bar at the Crown Beach Resort).
I don’t usually like live bands in restaurants because they’re nearly always far too loud – I think dining out is about talking to people and not just eating, however good (or otherwise) the food might be. In Kura’s case the music level is just right. Loud enough to hear clearly if you want to listen but not amplified so that you can’t hear yourself speak.
This video is part of a performance at Club Raro in Rarotonga at a recent 'Divas in Paradise' show.
‘Divas in Paradise’ was organised by Motone, the same people who brought ‘Opera in Paradise’ to Rarotonga earlier this year. Two local singers (Kura and Tara Kauvai) joined overseas artists Bella Kalolo, Julia Deans and Ladi6 for sets at Club Raro. There was an excellent turnout, both locals and visitors, of all ages and all intent on having a good time.
It’s great having a diverse range of overseas performers here in Rarotonga. Motone is doing a good job bringing them here.
I’m looking forward to the next show.

Wednesday, October 26

Vietnam highlights – Saigon

As I mentioned in previous posts, I’ve been off the rock on holiday in Vietnam and Cambodia.
Had a wonderful time; they’re both fascinating countries. Come to think of it, most countries in the world have plenty to recommend them.
We started with a few days in the capital of Vietnam before travelling up the Mekong River and into Cambodia.
The Vietnamese capital is variously known as Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City and HCMC. Before the Vietnam War (which the Vietnamese call the American War) it was Saigon and indeed it still seems to be for many older people not to mention tourists like me! Well, Ho Chi Minh City is a bit of a mouthful and while HCMC is quicker to write it’s just as long to enunciate. Still, youngsters and the (government-run) newspaper stick to the new name.
There’s plenty to see and do and the centre of the city is easy to walk around once you get the hang of crossing the street. Traffic is horrendous, particularly the motorbikes. The population of Saigon is about 7 million; the number of motorbikes is 3 to 4 million every one of which seems to be on the road at the same time. Main junctions have traffic lights but right-turning bikes (vehicles drive on the right - mostly) tend to drift around regardless of the colour of the lights. There are also zebra crossings but no rules governing their use. The trick to getting across a road is to wait for a window of opportunity, a small gap in the flow, then step off the pavement and walk slowly and steadily towards the other side. Make no sudden movements and do NOT try to dodge oncoming vehicles, let them take all the evasive action. Some people say to look left towards oncoming bikes until you reach the middle and then look right at bikes coming the other way. I think this is the macho male technique. I preferred to look down at the ground. There were two reasons for this: firstly it alerted riders to the fact that I wasn’t going to change direction, so it was up to them; secondly it meant I didn’t have to look at the hordes of bikes bearing down on me.
Now, if that sounds too negative think again. Traffic speeds are low, we saw no road rage or anything like it and drivers were considerate and good natured.
You can check out the traffic situation at the end of the video.
Once you’ve got the system off pat you can wander round and visit places of interest, shops and markets to your heart’s content.
We did plenty of this.
For tourists the markets, particularly Ben Thanh, are great for cheap clothes, shoes and souvenirs. For the locals it’s all about food.
We went to Ben Thanh market to get food for a Vietnamese cooking class. Apparently fresh fish and meat can only stay on display for 2 hours max and the market didn’t smell at all.
However, the fish section was gruesome – I gave serious thought to going vegetarian.
It doesn’t get much fresher though.

Monday, October 24

All Blacks fanzone on Rarotonga

The waiting’s over and the New Zealand All Blacks are rugby world champions after a nail-biting final.
Rarotonga has been showing its support of the team since the start of the cup with shops and businesses decked out in black and white, but once they made it through to the final somebody suggested a fan zone similar, to Auckland’s Cloud, where people could get together and see all the action on the big screen.
The idea just took off! The NZ High Comm, ANZ Bank and many other businesses got in behind it and in just a week our own All Blacks family-friendly fanzone, dubbed ‘Te Aorangi Black Out’, was up and running.
It was alcohol-free with plenty of food stalls, always popular at an event like this, and lots of activities for kids of all ages.
The All Blacks were overwhelming favourites to win but the local French community, although it isn’t large, made their presence felt with a popular face-painting stall.
Kids spent a most of the time running around, screaming, singing and chasing lollies until it was time for the main pre-game show – the haka competition. Large teams from St Joseph’s, Avatea and Avarua primary schools and a small group from Rutaki strutted their stuff on the stage at the National Auditorium then a bunch of older guys from the Tupapa Panthers joined in. The audience loved it.
By the time the big game started on a very big screen, I reckon most of the kids would have exhausted themselves and fallen asleep.
I have to confess I headed home at this point and watched it on a much smaller screen in the comfort of my living room.
It was tough going for the spectators. The French played their best game of the tournament and the ABs really had to fight for the win but thank goodness they made it in the end.
If they hadn't the air of national mourning over NZ and Rarotonga would have been hard to bear!

Thursday, October 20

Atiu drum dance at Te Maeva Nui

I’m back on Rarotonga after a fantastic visit to Vietnam and Cambodia. Working on some video from there but in the meantime here’s more footage from this year's Te Maeva Nui.
This ura pau (drum dance) from the dancers on the outer island of Atiu earned the team a B grade.

Tuesday, October 11

Tongareva action song at Te Maeva Nui

I'm still on holiday, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia at the moment having visited Siem Reap and the temples at Angkor Wat. It's a fantastic country but suffering from floods at the moment. Looking forward to editing video from Cambodia and Vietnam but in the meantime here's another video from Te Maeva Nui. It's the Tongareva (Penrhyn) action song and it earned this group a B grade

Thursday, September 29

Avarua drum dance at Te Maeva Nui

I'm in Vietnam at the moment so I didn't cover this year's week of running but I've still got some footage from Te Maeva Nui including this video.
Avarua was one of the two Rarotonga teams that took part in the 2011 Te Maeva Nui cultural dance competition (the other was Puaikura with most of the teams being from the outer islands),
This exciting drum dance (ura pau) earned them a B grade.

Sunday, September 18

Mangaia action song at Te Maeva Nui

More video footage from this year's Te Maeva Nui on Rarotonga.
This kapa rima (action song) from the dancers on the outer island of Mangaia earned the team a B grade.

Saturday, September 10

Avarua school kids help clean up the world

Here on Rarotonga we’ve just held our ‘Clean up the World’ campaign – Friday 9 and Saturday 10 September. Most of the action took place on Friday fortunately. It’s been warm and dry here for several weeks but Saturday was cold, wet and miserable (cold by local standards where anything less than 22C has people reaching for warm jackets).
The environment service encouraged schools, businesses, community groups and others to get together in groups to clean up a number of public areas. 2011 is the Year of Wetlands so they particularly wanted people to look at places like streams, coastal areas and taro patches. This video is about children from two classes at Avarua primary school; Form 2 wearing red for the occasion and Form 1 in green.
The red team tackled the drainage ditch between Tupapa rugby field and some taro patches. With mud, bottles, cans and paper it was an unsightly mess but the kids did a good job. The rugby (union) season is drawing to a close but let’s hope spectators at this weekend’s game put their rubbish in bins and not in the ditch.
The green team’s area wasn’t so muddy – the stream beds they cleaned were dry but the kids still had plenty to do. Some house-holds burn rubbish there and passers-by toss all manner of things down on an ‘out of sight out of mind’ principle. Unfortunately when the rainy season comes and the streams are full, all the rubbish will be washed down to the harbours and sea shore – not good for our ‘clean, green’ image.
The environment service says that more than 30 teams turned out and a huge amount of rubbish was collected, so congratulations to everyone concerned.
In most other countries the clean-up weekend is 16-18 September so I guess you could say that the Cook Islands is leading the world on this!

Saturday, September 3

Puaikura drum dance at Rarotonga’s Te Maeva Nui

Vaka Puaikura, which includes the village of Arorangi, was one of two Rarotonga teams in this year's Te Maeva Nui dance competition.
The drum dance, ura pau, with its fast beat and emphasis on hip and leg movement, usually features boys to a greater extent than girls. The judges commented that this year many of the male dancers were quite young boys but they certainly make up in enthusiasm for what they lack in maturity. Of course, anyone who’s seen the junior and intermediate dancer of the year contestants knows what a huge amount of talent is available here.
This video shows excerpts from Puaikura’s ura pau – it was actually the final item of the Maeva Nui competition was an exciting finale. The team got a B grade for the performance.
The ministry of culture’s DVD of the entire Te Maeva Nui celebration should be out soon. It will include the full length performances for each night as well as the float parade and tangi kaara (drumming competition).

Sunday, August 28

Waitakere United beat Cook Islands soccer team

Living in a tropical island paradise in the middle of the South Pacific Ocean has its advantages but it makes it difficult for our sports teams to get high quality international experience. It was good, therefore, to have a top New Zealand soccer team visit our shores a couple of weeks ago.
Waitakere United from West Auckland are NZ champions and they certainly showed their class in the one-off match at CIFA’s Matavera headquarters.
The local boys managed to contain the visitors for a while but after half an hour or so Waitakere hit their stride and by halftime they were four-nil ahead.
Campbell Best pulled one back for the home side early in the second half but Waitakere scored another four for a convincing 8-1 win.
The CI soccer teams (men’s and women’s) are now in New Caledonia at the 14th Pacific Games.
The Cooks men had a disappointing start when they lost their first match against Papua New Guinea 4-0.
Other teams in the soccer competition are Fiji, New Caledonia, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, Tahiti, Samoa, Tonga, Cook Islands, Guam and American Samoa (in descending FIFA rank order) plus Papua New Guinea, Kiribati and Tuvalu who don’t seem to be ranked at the moment, probably because they haven’t played any qualifying internationals recently. I expect that may change after the Pacific Games.
Well, we’ve had a bit of controversy on Rarotonga with the government having to bail out CISNOC, the local sporting organisation who should have been organising the games squad. They announced two weeks before the team was due to depart that they didn’t have enough money to pay for the airfares. The athletes all made it to New Caledonia but it was probably a bit upsetting for them. Might have slowed them down on the field.
Good luck to them for the rest of the games. There’s a Pacific Games website here to keep in touch with events.

Monday, August 22

Pukapuka kapa rima at Te Maeva Nui

I love the Pukapukan dance ream. They’re innovative and cheeky and they really enjoy what they’re doing. It’s a pleasure to watch them.
Pukapuka’s the most isolated of the northern Cook Islands. It’s actually closer to Samoa than it is to Rarotonga, a fact that was apparent after cyclone Percy trashed the atolls in 2005 when aid from Apia reached Pukapuka before aid from Rarotonga. It’s difficult to get there. Cargo boats and Air Rarotonga flights are irregular and expensive. If the government didn’t pay for Te Maeva Nui travel it’s very unlikely that northern group islanders would be able to come and that would be a loss for everyone.
The population is round about 500, though as with other outer islands it is decreasing as people, particularly youngsters and young families, head for a better life overseas.
For an insight into life on Pukapuka read an account by Paul Lynch on the Kia Orana website ,a story that was first published by Cook Islands News.
Back to Te Maeva Nui, where the dancers from Pukapuka are always crowd favourites. This video shows excerpts from the kapa rima (action song) section. It was awarded a B grade.

Friday, August 19

Stand up paddling on Muri lagoon

The latest sport to hit Rarotonga is stand up paddling (or paddleboarding) and according to Battle of the Paddle champ Travis Grant it’s the fastest growing water sport in the world.
Aussie Grant and Australia-based Cook Islander Charlotte Piho were on Rarotonga this week to run clinics and encourage everyone to get moving in the water.
The two organised a Week of Paddling and it started with a bang with a Beauty v Brawn celebrity challenge, a guys v gals relay race. Top local athletes joined in including Kevin Iro, Reuben Dearlove, Serena Hunter, Brendan Heath, Annie Fisher and Kelly Pick, but business people not necessarily associated with sport were there too – Pacific Resort CEO Greg Stanaway and Cook Islands News owner John Woods for example, although John Woods is a keen surfer.
The race took place in front of the Pacific Resort – sponsors of both the Week of Paddling and also Charlotte’s recent search for the perfect Cook Islands wave (see this Cook Islands News story).
Charlotte’s message is that SUP is for everyone and the shallow, clear, calm waters of Muri lagoon are a fantastic place to learn. Captain Tama’s pet paddle-surfing dogs are testament to that!
For fans of Te Maeva Nui, don't worry! I've got several more performances to share with you. Keep watching.

Tuesday, August 16

Tongareva drum dance at Rarotonga’s Te Maeva Nui

The drum dance (ura pau) section of the Maeva Nui cultural competition is highly competitive and always an audience favourite with its high-energy non-stop action mainly emphasising hip and leg movement.
The Tongareva (Penrhyn) drum dance was one of four to achieve an A grade; the others were Manihiki, Aitutaki and Mauke.
These extracts show just part of Tongareva’s stunning performance.
The northern group participants, about 220 in all, came to Rarotonga on the Lady Naomi, a ferry hired from Samoa. They are heading back home today (Tuesday) and the boat is going to be pretty heavily laden as several ministries are taking advantage of the boat to get supplies up north. However the number of passengers will be fewer. According to Penrhyn MP Wilkie Rasmussen, 63 people came to Rarotonga but twenty or so are not returning. They are probably going to New Zealand or Australia if they don’t stay on Rarotonga. The total permanent population of Penrhyn is about 200. And dropping.
Staff members at the Ministry of Cultural Development are working on a DVD of the whole of Te Maeva Nui. Should be available in a few weeks – Cook Islanders and dance lovers take note.

Thursday, August 11

Mauke action song at Rarotonga’s Te Maeva Nui

The excitement’s all over now but Rarotonga really hummed while the outer islanders were here for Te Maeva Nui.
The auditorium was packed for the four nights of competition and we were all treated to a magnificent show full of sound and colour, hypnotic drum beats and sensuous movement. And you can see from the video, the performers on stage had as much fun as the audience.
I mentioned the judging system in the last post. Each item was judged on costume, composition, choreography and interpretation of the theme – signs of my island. Many of the songs and dances were about environmental issues, others about historical aspects.
A grade performances were awarded $1000, B grade $750 and C grade $500.
This video is of the Mauke kapa rima (action song). The kapa rima is a story-telling dance and is usually very graceful with lots of hand and arm movements. Mauke earned an A for this one. Manihiki, Aitutaki and Avarua also got the top grade.

Monday, August 8

A brief look at Te Maeva Nui

The heart and soul of the Cook Islands constitution celebrations is the cultural dance competition, Te Maeva Nui, held on Rarotonga last week.
This year outer island teams from Aitutaki, Atiu, Mangaia, Mauke, Manihiki, Pukapuka, Rakahanga and Penrhyn entered all four culture categories (Ura Pau – drum dance; Kapa Rima – action song; Pe’e – chant; Ute – traditional song) as well as the choir and imene tuki sections. Mitiaro mamas who were here for the trade days took part in the ute and imene tuki sections. Two Rarotonga villages, Puaikura and Avarua, also entered full teams.
Large crowds flocked to the national auditorium each night to watch the exuberant, colourful performances and the enthusiastic audience added to the wonderful atmosphere inside.
The outer islands (actually ‘pa enua’ is the politically correct term we’re supposed to use these days) add a new dimension to the activities – different moves, different sounds, different stories.
Rather than one major prize, each team was judged on its performance in each section with cash awards for A, B and C grades ensuring that no one went away empty handed after the many hours of composing, choreography, costume making and practice that went into these stunning items.
The Dancer of the Year competition showcases wonderful individual skills but for the best Cook Islands dancing in the world you have to see Te Maeva Nui.
The Ministry of Cultural Development (MOCD) will have a DVD of the entire festival ready in about a month so you unfortunate people who weren’t able to be here should get a copy and see what you missed.
(Check the MOCD website here.)

Friday, August 5

Te Maeva Nui trade days

Te Maeva Nui, the Cook Islands’ constitution celebration, has been a resounding success so far with even the weather cooperating to add a sunny atmosphere to the festivities.
After last Friday’s float parade (see previous video) we had three trade days. These were markets especially to showcase outer island arts, crafts and food. They were held in the national auditorium grounds rather than at the Punanga Nui marketplace with a shuttle bus service connecting the two. This meant that the auditorium has been the focus of all activities with the evening cultural dance competitions on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, the Constitution Day commemoration on Thursday and the tangi kaara drumming contest (still to come on Saturday).
Trade days also featured entertainment from some of the visiting dance teams.
With fine weather and plenty of opportunity to shop for bargains, eat and have fun the trade days made for a really enjoyable Cook Islands occasion.

Sunday, July 31

Te Maeva Nui float parade kicks off constitution

2011 marks the 46th celebration of internal self-governance for the Cook Islands.
Te Maeva Nui celebrations got under way on Friday with a float parade. This always marked the start of the constitution festivities on Rarotonga but over the past few years it dwindled away and in fact last year the parade was cancelled.
This year, though, we had great weather and about forty floats from government departments, businesses, NGOs, schools and local and international communities. They started from the western harbour at Avatiu and snaked through town to Avarua where politicians, dignitaries and a large crowd watched the opening ceremony. Thousands of people were involved either as spectators or on the floats.
The parade started at midday and was scheduled to take about two hours but, as usual, things over-ran, probably because of the performances the floats put on when they got to the judging area, and there were very long hold ups. Must have been tough for the people taking part, especially some of the little kids, but they sang and danced while they waited and everyone had a good time.
It’s always nice to see the outer islanders because they’re so full of energy and good humour. The government chartered a Samoan ferry to transport the northern group islanders while those from the southern group flew in.
The winning entrant was from the Ministry of Infrastructure and Planning (MOIP) with a recycling theme of crushed cans and plastic bottles. TAV’s fashion float came second and Manihiki Enua third. Aitutaki’s bonefishing promotion was judged the best southern group entrant and Rakahanga the best from the north.
Other winners included primary school – Avarua; secondary school – Tereora; government – Ministry of Justice; NGO – Red Cross; local community – Puaikura; International community – Samoa; business – Budget; most entertaining – Pukapuka.
Te Maeva Nui will continue with choir, imene tuki and cultural dance competitions as well as trade days when outer islanders can raise money by selling crafts and food.

Monday, July 25

Rarotonga Careers Expo 2011

The Careers Expo is now an annual event organised by the Ministry of Education on Rarotonga to give local schoolchildren some ideas about what career and job opportunities are available.
About 600 kids visited over 30 local and overseas exhibitors during the day. That included all form 2 and higher students on Rarotonga and 60 or so from southern group outer islands. And there was also plenty of interest from people looking for a change in career, school leavers who don’t yet have a job and adults wanting to re-join the workforce, for example after raising a family. Everyone was welcome.
The outer islanders certainly took the event seriously and wore colourful pareu shirts and dresses adding a festive note to the Telecom Sports Arena.
Plenty of competitions and giveaways kept the kids busy as did interactive displays such as the flight simulator from Nelson Aviation College and 88FM’s DJ outpost.
But probably the happiest worker at the show was the Cook Islands police drug dog – the tail never stopped wagging!
If we’re all that happy in our jobs life will be great!

Thursday, July 7

Wetlands wildlife - the Aroko saltmarsh

The Aroko saltmarsh once stretched from Avana harbour to the Ngatangiia sports field on Muri lagoon but now all that‘s left is an area of just over two acres.
It’s the most endangered habitat on Rarotonga because of land-filling for development but it’s very important for the environmental health of the lagoon and the island.
Among the wildlife found in the saltmarsh is the koiti raukura – the red-clawed fiddler crab. This is a native crab that feeds on micro-organisms and decaying vegetation and animal matter, thus reducing the pollution of the lagoon. This small area is the only place on Rarotonga where the koiti raukura can still be found. It’s a fascinating little creature and we should treasure it. It’s doing more to protect the lagoon than most of the human inhabitants of the island!
The kuriri – wandering tattler – is a shore bird and the saltmarsh is a rich feeding ground for it. Tattlers actually breed in Alaska or Canada. Like the torea (Pacific plover) they fly south and spend the northern winter here from September to April then head back home for the breeding season from May to August. A few of the juvenile birds, such as this one, remain here as beachcombers and who can blame them. Beachcombing on Rarotonga is a very pleasant pastime!
Kotuku - Pacific reef herons - are common on Rarotonga. You’ll see them along the sea shore during the day all year round. At sundown they fly inland to roost. The dark grey or white birds are the same species. Nobody really knows why there are two different kinds (morphs). As you can see from the video, both colours use the Aroko saltmarsh.
This wetlands area serves as a nursery area for fish and the herons make full use of that.
2011 is the Year of Wetlands in the Cook Islands. Enua mou e vai ora – wetlands for healthy islands.

Thursday, June 30

Night market at Punanga Nui

Go Local!
It’s the latest catchphrase on Rarotonga; BTIB (the Business and Trade Investment Board) have been encouraging everyone to buy local food and products to help the economy.
And it’s more than just putting ads in the newspaper and on TV. Last week BTIB organised a Go Local Night Market for food vendors and stallholders to sell their wares.
It was a fabulous night in many ways. The weather was fine, the evening warm and a thousand or more people packed into Punanga Nui. (BTIB said between 3000 and 5000 but that’s a significant proportion, about a third, of the island’s population; I don’t think so.)
Nevertheless, the place was jumping and the food stalls worked overtime.
This is usually the way on big nights out for Cook Islanders. Steak and mushroom rolls, hot dogs, stir-fried chicken and crepes don’t use much in the way of home-grown ingredients but they were all prepared and cooked by locals so I suppose it counts.
The punters, tourists and locals, took advantage of what was on offer and then sat back to watch the entertainment. A dancing contest for little ones was followed by a fire dancing display and then local Nikao group Te Rau Maire put on a great display – local culture at its best.
BTIB have already said that this will be an annual event but it could well be held more often than that.
In Papeete the roulades (food caravans) set up shop every evening. Tahiti is considerably bigger than Rarotonga and has many more visitors but, if it were properly promoted, a regular monthly night market should be sustainable and in our high tourist season possibly even a weekly one.
I recall a few years ago something like this was tried, on a Friday night I think, but it was really more of a suggestion that people should come along and sell food rather than a real promotion and it sort of faded away, probably because the food vendors wanted to concentrate on the Saturday morning market.
Still, I hope we don’t have to wait a year for the next night market.

Monday, June 27

Rarotonga Sunset

In spite of living in a tropical island paradise, we don’t have glorious sunsets every night but we’ve had some nice colour in the sky on several occasions recently.
I was hoping that the Chilean ash cloud might produce something spectacular but it didn’t really affect us very much. A couple of Pacific Blue flights were cancelled although it was due to ash at the NZ end. Air New Zealand continued flying regardless.
Anyway one evening last week the sky looked promising with clouds – but not too many of them – in the sky and along the horizon, so I went down to Nikao Beach to try a time lapse video.
It’s peaceful at that time of day; a few herons (kotuku) flying inland to roost, a jogger, and some people who also came to watch the sunset. We adults sat on the concrete pad that once supported the Nikao Social Centre (long ago before cyclone Sally) while two children, Apii and Agnes, ran and played on the beach.
Once the sun had set I thought I was out of luck because there wasn’t a great deal of colour in the sky but after a few minutes the clouds began to glow red and there was some reflection in the lagoon. The whole thing lasted about half an hour.
The tide was low but not completely out which would have been better as the water would have been stiller and the reflections sharper.
Maybe next time.

Tuesday, June 21

Tereora's inter-house cultural competition

Tereora is Rarotonga’s national college, the only one in the Cook Islands with a seventh form.
Like most schools there are frequent inter-house sports competitions between the four houses – unimaginatively called House 1, House 2, House 3 and House 4.
Actually, back in the old days (when I taught there a long, long time ago) they went by names such as Ikorangi and Te Kou. Ah well, it’s a digital world now.
The most recent event, though, was a bit different; a cultural competition.
Princess Anne Hall was packed last Friday for the performance, the result of only ten hours of class time though judging by the results far more than that must have gone into writing songs, choreographing and practicing dancing and drumming and preparing costumes.
Some of the children perform in cultural dance troupes but from the numbers on stage it looked as though anyone who wanted to be involved had the opportunity.
The kids on stage were obviously enjoying themselves and their family and friends in the audience cheered them on and sometimes jumped up and joined in, in true Cook Islands style.
It was a fabulous show.
The judges chose House 1 (the final team in the video dressed in the red colours of their house) as the champions but the real winner is Cook Islands culture which is clearly alive and kicking thanks to these youngsters – and of course their teachers.

Sunday, June 12

Rarotonga Environment Week – Lagoon Day

Lagoon Day (actually two days) began in 2008. It was called Takitumu Lagoon Day back then and was funded by CIMRIS (Cook Islands Marine Institutional Strengthening project) and NZAid.
But this year it was a totally local affair organised by individuals, groups and local businesses. It was a huge success, even the weather cooperated. Schoolchildren were bussed from all around the island to the Ngatangiia sports field where they were given a questionnaire and moved around the exhibits to fill in answers.
Demonstrations included septic tank systems, climate change, foreshore protection, composting and waterless toilets, pig waste management and problems caused by chemicals – not just agricultural sprays but things like washing powders and cleansers used in the home.
The tourism corporation took part for the first time to emphasise that tourism operators don’t have to be bad for the environment. In fact when the kids completed their questionnaires and handed them in at the tourism booth they each received a green (literally) reusable shopping bag and a wristband. The band was plastic unfortunately so let’s hope they don’t end up in landfill, but the idea was a winner; all the kids were really keen to answer the questions and the finished papers were later judged with the best answers winning prizes.
Among the highlights of the day were a glass-bottom lagoon tour courtesy of Captain Tama, and a visit to the Aroko salt marsh, Rarotonga’s rarest native habitat, a short walk away from the sports field.
Staff from Marine Resources and the Environment Service told the kids why wetlands are so important and how little of them remain.
The marsh grass filters debris coming from the land, preventing mud from entering the lagoon and killing coral; the fiddler crab (ko’iti raukura) eats micro-organisms in the mud also helping to protect the lagoon; the area serves as a breeding ground for fish and a feeding ground for birds like the heron and tattler.
As one of the students wrote, “I have learned so much about wetlands and the importance of them, thank you!”

Sunday, June 5

Rarotonga Environment Week kids’ competition

This year is the UN International Year of Forests; it’s also the Pacific Year of the Dugong but there are no dugong in Cook Islands waters and, while Rarotonga’s mountains are tree-covered, the outer islands don’t have forests so the Cook Islands National Environment Service (NES) declared 2011 to be the Year of Wetlands – Enua mou e vai ora (wetlands for a healthy island).
Wetlands include taro patches, ponds, streams, lakes and salt marshes but due to human activity they are declining, particularly on Rarotonga.
Environment Week ran from Monday 30 May to Friday 3 June and NES organised a big campaign including television, radio and newspaper ads and stories as well as plenty of activities – contests, quizzes and Lagoon Day.
One of the events was the schools performing arts competition. Teams from four Rarotonga primary schools took part.
Takitumu produced a show about the effect of building on wetlands, destroying food sources like freshwater prawns.
Te Uki Ou’s traditional ute featured a large cast who obviously enjoyed presenting their message of conservation.
St Joseph’s kids sang up a storm with new words to popular songs telling everyone that we need to protect our wetlands.
The Avatea students’ play was about the impact of dumping rubbish in wetlands.
Creative Centre students also appeared showing some of their brilliantly coloured paintings and reciting poems and speeches in both Maori and English. The Creative Centre is a daycare facility for people with disabilities and they do a fantastic job nurturing their students and getting them out into the community.
All the participating schools received cash prizes and awards donated by the Sustainable Land Management Project and the National Environment Service as well as CITC.
It was great to see kids taking an interest in saving our wetlands – maybe the older generation will take heed before it’s too late.

Monday, May 30

Opera in Paradise - two tenors come to Rarotonga

And now for something completely different…
We get a fair number of entertainers passing through Rarotonga; many come for a quiet getaway but some are here to perform – mostly jazz, Polynesian pop or as DJs.
But it’s not often we have genuine opera singers on the rock and not just one but two of New Zealand’s top tenors.
Benjamin Makisi and Bonaventure Allan Moetaua were here last week for two dinner concerts organised by local company Motone Productions at the Crown Beach Resort and Spa.
Ben Makisi, often called the Pacific Pavarotti (he’s of Samoan/Tongan heritage) was here last December for a similar concert which was such a success that he came back again, this time with Bonaventure who is actually a Cook Islander. He was born and brought up in New Zealand and this is his first visit to Rarotonga but he’s got relatives here, in particular an aunt who is obviously very proud of her nephew.
It was a wonderful occasion and a great excuse for people to get dolled up. Glamour and glitz was the order of the night.
Ben and Bon are real showmen! They gave us a great variety of music – opera, musicals, island music and pop – and they were enjoying themselves so much that the audience was just carried along.
Bonaventure is only 26-years-old and already he sounds great but tenors apparently reach their peak in their late thirties or forties so he should have a wonderful future.
Let’s hope performing in Rarotonga is part of that future.

Monday, May 23

Rarotonga ANZAC Day parade 2011

ANZAC Day, 25 April, is a public holiday in the Cook Islands, as well as Australia and New Zealand, marking the anniversary of the first major military action fought by Australian and New Zealand forces during the First World War at Gallipoli in Turkey in 1915.
More than 300 Cook Islanders from every island in the country were involved in the war. The first contingent of 45 men left Rarotonga in September 1915.
Of these, nineteen-year-old Corporal Apu Tepuretu was killed in action at the Battle of the Somme on 30 September 1916 (and is buried in France), his brother Sergeant Araitia Tepuretu, was severely wounded. Private Vavia William from Mauke died of wounds. Many of the volunteers died of sickness.
Cook Islanders also fought in the 3rd Battle of Ypres (Passchendaele) but later contingents served in Egypt and Sinai working for the British in the campaign against the Turks because the cold northern winter caused so many casualties.
More information about Cook Islanders in the first world war can be found on the Cook Islands Library and Museum site; the New Zealand History online website has a section on the Rarotongan Company in the First World War; a list of the 317 who saw active service can be found on the Auckland Museum website here; the Cook Islands Roll of Honour of those who died is on the NZ History website.
This video includes some historic footage from World War 1 to give some idea of the horrors that soldiers faced.

Monday, May 16

Rarotonga triathlon week

There’s more to tri week in Rarotonga than the Olympic distance triathlon, held on a Saturday in early May. The week begins on Thursday with the Trader Jack’s round the boiler swim.
This year the weather was rough and high winds kicked up a big swell but around fifty brave souls took to the water. They had a hard slog with some being pushed towards the reef on the homeward leg but everybody made it - apparently the waves had been even higher earlier in the day. Winner was Jon Robinson of New Zealand. An invigorating start to the week!
The weather remained blustery and rainy for the Air New Zealand international triathlon (check the previous video for more of this).
On Monday it was still raining but Hash House runners put on a traditional umu after the regular run.
Tuesday remained wet and windy for the Turtle’s tour de Raro bike ride around the island – no climb up Hospital Hill for this race but the 51 cyclists had to battle the elements. Local rider Geoff Stoddart came home first.
On Wednesday the weather brightened up for a new event – the Matutu mile. This was sponsored by local brewery Matutu and was a fundraiser for charity Te Vaerua community rehabilitation service. About fifty athletes including runners, walkers, children and pram-pushers joined in the fun, many wearing fancy dress, and made their way to the brewery for a half-way beer or water stop then back to the Tikioki tri site for more of the sponsor’s product and a sausage sizzle.
It may not have been a race but it looks as though this event is a winner and will be a permanent fixture on the tri week calendar.

Tuesday, May 10

Seventeenth Rarotonga international triathlon

This year's Rarotonga International Triathlon, the seventeenth, was a wet and windy affair but the large field of over 150 athletes seemed to enjoy it all anyway.
Muri lagoon was choppy which made for slow swim times; first out of the water was Nathan Richmond (NZ) in 22.50min. Richmond was a former winner in 2005. He was followed by fellow kiwis Jon Robinson and Stephen Farrell.
Local girl Kelly Pick was first woman to emerge closely followed by another local Vanessa Palmer and Jo Saxton (NZ).
It began to rain as the cycle leg got underway but the gusty wind was more of a challenge for the cyclists on the 41km circuit of Rarotonga with an extra loop up hospital hill and around the airport. Fastest cycle time was local veteran Geoff Stoddart's 1.07.08. Kelly Pick had the fastest women's time of 1.12.23.
The cool conditions suited the runners, particularly those from overseas. Stephen Farrell did the 10km in 41.08 and was this year's champion (total time 2.11.37).
Second male home was local Roland Neururer (2.14.55 - a new local record).
First woman was Kelly Pick (2.17.31 - breaking her own women's record).

Thursday, May 5

Rarotonga golden oldies dancer of the year

The Golden Oldies dancer of the year competition was held at Hidie’s Bar, Cook’s Corner following the Papa’a contest (see previous video).
The dancers might not be as nimble as they once were but they can still teach the youngsters a thing or two when it comes to showmanship. There were some great performances - the dancers were obviously having a wonderful time and carried the audience along with them.
Three contestants took part in the rauti para section (for the older mamas and papas) with seven in the rauti pi.
Mau Raina retained the rauti para male golden oldie title with an energetic performance; graceful Tekura Benioni became the female champion and regular golden oldie dancer Mama Tutu Pita was second.
Tanya Savage, appearing as a Golden Oldie for the first time, produced a stunning performance in both slow and fast beats to take the female rauti pi section. Last year’s winner Merle Pukerua came second this time while third placed Joane Manuela had plenty of fans in the audience singing along with her slow beat number. Newcomer local policewoman Rebecca Hosking was another crowd-pleaser.
Noo Ngametua successfully defended his male rauti pi title with the ever-cheerful Mongoose Casper Mateariki second and community constable Allan Rua third.
All in all it was another successful competition for the Ministry of Cultural Development and their DVD of the entire Dancer of the Year competition will be available in a few weeks. That includes the juniors, intermediates and seniors as well as the golden oldies and papa’as.
Anyone who wants to see Cook Islands dancing at its best should keep an eye on the ministry website.

Thursday, April 28

Rarotonga papa’a dancer of the year

Every year the Cook Islands Ministry of Cultural Development holds a Dancer of the Year competition. One of the sections is for expats and visitors (papa'a) as shown in this video.
The competition for papa’a and golden oldies usually takes place in a local watering hole – this year it was Hidie’s Bar in Cook’s Corner. That’s no doubt because expats, tourists and golden oldies are a sociable bunch and like to indulge in a glass or two of jungle juice as they cheer those talented enough to enter the contest. The more serious, less social events (Junior, Intermediate and Senior DOTYs) take place at the national auditorium which is dry.
Hidie’s was packed and the audience was happy and good natured – it was a fun occasion.
Only three people entered the papa’a section (two female, one male) but they were awesome! They had all obviously put in a huge amount of practice and it showed.
As Cook Islands News said, “Greg Young from the Esther Honey Foundation animal clinic … blew the socks off the the ecstatic audience to win the male papa'a dancer of the year title.
Tracey O’Brien and local based Japanese national Nana Hirata were equally stunning on stage.”
Greg is now the papa’a dancer of the year. Tracey won the female DOTY title.
(Next video will show the golden oldies – watch this spot for a whole lot of fun!)

Monday, April 25

Rarotonga Catholics celebrate Easter

Easter is the most important feast in the Catholic Church and commemorates the crucifixion (on Good Friday) and resurrection (on Easter Sunday) of Jesus.
Every Good Friday morning the Catholic community on Rarotonga remembers the final hours of Jesus with prayers and hymns at the Stations of the Cross.
Fourteen stations, each marked by a small white cross, were set out between the courthouse in Avarua and St Joseph’s Cathedral. At each cross the congregation of about 250 people stopped to sing and pray while a young male member of the community acted out the events from the trial to the crucifixion.
This most impressive re-enactment gives Catholics the opportunity to think about their religion and beliefs.

Monday, April 18

Rarotonga’s 29th Tinman Triathlon

Rarotonga’s Tinman triathlon was started by a small group of enthusiasts in 1982 as a baby brother version of the Hawaii Ironman (1200m swim, 31km round the island cycle and 10km run).
Back then it used to be held on ANZAC Day, a public holiday in the Cook Islands.
The venue was the sailing club on Muri beach, nice place for a swim but it’s rather more crowded nowadays.
Since the international triathlon became the big one for Rarotonga, the date of the Tinman has varied so people can use it as part of their build-up.
I think the fellow lying on the ground in the video was the winner in 1984. He was a doctor at the hospital and set a very fast time then collapsed after the run (he recovered Ok though).
The Cook Islands Triathlon Association has records from all the international triathlons but it wasn’t formed until 1994 so I don’t know if it’s got details of the early Tinmans (Tinmen?).
The weather on Saturday was good for the athletes although a bit damp for spectators. We had rain in the morning and the afternoon was cloudy with rain towards the end of the race. That would have kept the runner cool.
Twenty individuals and eleven teams made up the field and there must have been a lot of jockeying for position during the race because Vanessa Palmer (4th) was first out of the water followed by Kelly Pick (2nd) one second later. They were a long way ahead of the next bunch which included eventual winner Roland Neururer with Geoff Stoddart (3rd) further back again.
All our triathletes can now get ready for the big one on 7 May. And according to CITA it really will be big with the second largest ever number of entrants.

Friday, April 15

A long way from Rarotonga

Tunisia is a long way from Rarotonga but that's where I've been recently and that's why it's been over a month since my last video.
Here is a short film of some of the highlights - more details to follow.

Friday, March 11

Rarotonga's mini-tsunami after Japanese quake

The terrible Japanese earthquake and tsunami caused a tsunami alert here in Rarotonga.
The first wave from the huge 8.9 magnitude quake reached Rarotonga at about 8am local time but Rarotonga's small size, shape and surrounding reef means that usually tsunamis pass around us without generating big waves.
As this video shows, we had fairly low, non-dangerous rises and falls in sea level that continued for some time - this video was taken at about 10.30am.
Our little paradise is truly blessed.

Thursday, March 10

Zumba at the Rarotonga auditorium

The two gyms on Rarotonga are now under the same management with the brand name ‘Fitness Revolution’. Fitness Cook Islands, near Rarotonga airport, is concentrating on various machines, Top Shape in Avarua township specialises in weights while fitness classes have increased in number, type and venues.
Some classes are still held in the Top Shape studio but you can find others in spots as widely different as the national auditorium, Trader Jack’s, Tupapa social centre, Turangi and Avatea school hall.
The aim is to get as many people as possible taking fitness seriously. Cook Islanders (and other Pacific islanders) are amongst the most obese in the world and this is not a record to be proud of.
Fitness classes include yoga, stretch, Zumba (based on Latin American dance), Hupa (local CI dance based), FightDo (martial arts themed) and Power (combo cardio and toning).
The Fitness Revolution instructors are also keen to help our local sports teams when they need to fundraise.
A recent session at the national auditorium featured Zumba, FightDo and Hupa to raise money to send our local rugby players to the Adelaide Sevens tournament.
Holding it at the national auditorium meant that more people could fit in and still have plenty of room to move.
This video shows some of the Zumba and, as you can see, it was all a lot of fun.

Saturday, March 5

Rarotonga rallies for Christchurch quake

The special relationship between the Cook Islands and New Zealand is genuine.
Cook Islanders have many friends and relatives living in New Zealand and Cookies are NZ citizens but it’s not just their own family they care about when disaster strikes.
The New Zealand government and private citizens have been quick to help us in the past after cyclones and such. Now it’s our turn to show we care. And the call to do something has come from the community – from the heart.
Friday 4 March was 'red and black day' on Rarotonga and other islands and atolls in the Cooks. Shops, offices, banks, schools and many individuals wore red and black - Canterbury colours - and raised money to be given to the Red Cross to help the victims of the Christchurch earthquake.
Cook Islands News reported on Saturday that organisers of the appeal were overwhelmed by everyone’s generosity.
Counting is not yet finished but it will be a large amount.
And it’s not over yet. Some businesses asked to hang on to the collection boxes over the weekend to collect more donations and a big concert is planned by local artists next week with money to be shared by the Queensland flood and cyclone appeal as well as the Christchurch quake victims.

Monday, February 28

Rarotonga workshop looks at climate change

Workshops are a frequent occurrence on Rarotonga. At the moment the National Adaptation Planning Week is taking place.
Among others it involves the Environment Service and Emergency Management.
It’s looking at how climate change will affect this country and how we can plan to cope with it.
According to Cook Islands News, from this week’s workshop, an adaptation plan for the Cook Islands will start to be formed, which will in turn enable the country to apply for some of a $5 million fund that was established under the Kyoto Protocol.
One of those attending is Ulamila Kurai Wragg, a veteran journalist and climate activist. She’s also concerned about gender awareness and wants to make sure that people at the workshop realise that men and women will react differently to the effects of climate change.
Ula’s going to be speaking at the workshop and we put together this short video to act as an introduction.

Sunday, February 20

Snorkelling at Tikioki beach, Rarotonga

Opposite Fruits of Rarotonga on the south side of the island lies Tikioki beach.
This is reputed to be one of the best snorkelling beaches on Rarotonga. The lagoon is wide at this spot but remains shallow for some distance out from the shore and there are outcrops of coral starting close to the beach so it’s a safe area for all ages (although people should never snorkel without someone to keep an eye on them).
The lagoon has plenty of fish of all sizes, shapes and colours and there are some colourful spots of live coral although most of the large outcrops are dead. This doesn’t worry the fish who find plenty to feed on.
It could be that this is standard for lagoons – the sea-side of the reefs surrounding them are where all the spectacular live coral is found and the bits in the lagoon are sort of extra. Doe anybody out there know?
The first time I tried snorkelling was in Hikkaduwa, a small town south of Colombo in Sri Lanka. I can remember channels lined with many different types of live, colourful coral - I don’t think it was in a lagoon - but this was over 30 years ago and time does strange things to your memory. I also snorkelled once in Fiji – very shallow lagoon, strands of seaweed on the bottom and lots of fish but I can’t remember much in the way of coral. Then at Hanauma Bay in Oahu, Hawaii; the bay was quite spectacular on the surface but underwater everything was covered with a grey-brown sludge. It clearly showed the effects of pollution on marine life, but in fairness this problem is being tackled and people in charge of the bay are trying to educate the public and reverse the damage. Well, they’ve got an enormous job but at least they’re doing something positive.
It’s easy to understand why snorkelling and scuba diving are popular pastimes in the Cook Islands and elsewhere. It’s really very relaxing to drift along and watch the fishes and there’s enough room in our lagoons that you don’t have to worry about running into other drifters.

Sunday, February 13

The Aranui Experience – Tahuata

Tahuata is the smallest of the inhabited Marquesas Islands with a population of less than 700. It lies about three kilometres to the south of Hiva Oa.
It was the first of the Marquesas to be visited by Europeans. Mendana sailed into Vaitahu bay in 1595 (he called it Madre de Dios) and Captain Cook visited in 1774 and called it Resolution bay. In 1838 the French navy arrived, bringing Catholic missionary priests who built the first church and began the conversion of Marquesans to Christianity.
The Aranui 3 spends a couple of hours there unloading cargo, just enough time for passengers to go ashore and visit a craft market and the remarkable Eglise Sainte Mere de Dieu (Holy Mother of God church).
The craft market is set up near the post office and a small museum (which was closed while we were there – somebody had broken a window and there was glass all over the floor). Tahuata has the best bone carvers and tattooists in the group. Well, the bone carvers are still there and we all snapped up plenty of souvenirs, but many of the tattooists are now living in Tahiti or Borabora where there are more tourists looking for a permanent reminder of their visit. Marquesan tattoos are very impressive – geometric patterns that have traditional meanings.
The church is an amazing place. It was built in 1988 to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the first Catholic priest’s arrival in the Marquesas.
The walls are made from large beach stones, native wood carvings are used inside the church and there’s a beautiful stained glass window above the altar. It was largely financed by the Vatican and the architect designed it so that it looks like a lighthouse when illuminated at night.
We were only able to spend two hours ashore before heading back to Atuona on Hiva Oa – Gauguin territory!

Monday, February 7

Rarotonga's Punanga Nui market

Saturday morning is the big day at Rarotonga's Punanga Nui market.
From early in the morning until midday there are seasonal local fruits and vegetables for sale and plenty of stalls selling cooked food as well as pareu, pearls and much more.
The tarmac area near the road, which is used as a carpark during the week, is mainly given over to fresh produce. Nowadays that includes hydroponic herbs, homemade breads and baked goods. You can also pick up crepes and waffles.
Permanent huts surround the grassy area closer to the sea and on Saturdays the grass is covered with temporary stalls selling cooked food, drinks.
For tourists it's a great place to buy souvenirs – there’s a huge range with items to suit all budgets and tastes - and don’t forget to pick up a music CD by one of our local performers to remind you of your Rarotonga holiday.
By the way, the prices are fixed, we don’t go in for bargaining here.
And if you're lucky you'll be able to catch a performance by a local dance group - they often fundraise at the market on Saturday morning so be generous!
The music background on this video is by popular local performer Tara Kauvai from her CD Kia Tupu. Tara was at the market selling the CD (at a bargain price so I snapped it up) and appears at the end of the video. She has a website at

Sunday, January 30

Rarotonga's water - too much, too little, too late

It’s been longer than usual since I uploaded a new video but I’ve been busy working on an entry for an ADB (Asian Development Bank) Asia Pacific video competition with the help of a couple of friendsIt’s been an interesting experience – you learn a lot by talking things over with other people.
The competition is about water in the Asia-Pacific region.
Rarotonga’s really very lucky compared to many countries. We usually have enough water and the streams and springs are not polluted. Our main problems are wastage and lack of storage. Even in times of drought the rivers up in the mountains usually have water in them – it’s just harder to get it into the reticulation system. Climate change could make a difference however so it’s no good being complacent.
Many thanks go to Adrian Teotahi (Government Water Engineer) and Ulamila Wragg (Media, Gender and Climate Change). Ula basically organised everything with Adrian and all I had to do was tag along and video things.
And it was great getting off the beaten track when Adrian took us inland to the Takuvaine and Matavera intakes.
Most people, me included, just stick to the main road or back road in our daily travels but just a short way inland the hills, streams and forests are just so peaceful and beautiful. The roads are rugged though – 4 wheel drive a necessity although walking is a good option. Another necessity is insect repellent. Our Raro mountain mozzies are fearsome.
If you want to check out the ADB contest follow this link.

Monday, January 17

Orama performing at Te Maeva Nui 2010

Here’s a flash-back to Te Maeva Nui constitution celebrations last year.
As well as the island and village teams in the cultural dance competition, each night we had guest artists performing.
The Orama Dance Group put on a great display one night.
Orama is one of the biggest and best groups on Rarotonga.
The head of the culture ministry, Sonny Williams, and his wife Gina, a choreographer and former champion dancer, are in charge so Orama put on a top class show.
This video is of one of the men’s drum dances. It was action packed and exciting – those boys must be really fit!

Saturday, January 8

Around Rarotonga in 8 minutes

This video is longer than usual. The title says eight minutes but it’s actually a bit over eight and a half, however that’s still a fairly speedy trip around the rock!
The new year weather was wet and miserable for several days but Tuesday dawned fine and sunny so I got out the motorbike and drove the 30 or so kilometres around the main road in a clockwise direction.
I started at the junction of Pokoinu Road with the main road and headed along the sea wall to Panama, then Avatiu, Avarua, Tupapa, Matavera, Ngatangiia, Titikaveka, Papa’aroa, Aroa, Kavera, Arorangi, Nikao ending up at Pokoinu Road again.
With no stops (and sticking to the speed limit) it took 45 minutes (The bus takes 50 minutes). But nobody wants to watch three-quarters of an hour of road video however nice the scenery is so I speeded it up by 500%.
You can tell the state of the roads by all the jumping and juddering. Potholes are an ongoing source of complaint on Rarotonga. One of our growth industries. The authorities sometimes send road crews round to fill them in with dirt and gravel if there’s no tar on the island. Not surprisingly the holes don’t stay filled for long.
The music is a song from popular local singer Tara Kauva's new CD "Poe Manea". You can find out more about Tara on her website at

Saturday, January 1

The Aranui Experience – Picnic at Hanamenu

Happy New Year.
I hope everyone had a great Christmas and that 2011 will be peaceful and prosperous.
The weather on Raro around Christmas was good apart from a few showers but I can’t say the same for the New Year. We’ve had lots of heavy rain. There haven’t been as many campers on the beach as in previous years. The Nikao social centre area used to be full of families complete with tents, mattresses, barbecues and even TVs but this year people mostly seemed to come down for the day.
There’s a very large camp of SDA Pathfinders going on at the moment with over 900 campers from around the Pacific in a huge campsite at Papa’aroa school. The kids had fine weather for all their activities last week. The last couple of days have been wet but looking at the satellite photo for this area of the Pacific it looks as though sunny weather is on the way.
This video is another from the Marquesas trip on the Aranui 3, still on the island of Hiva Oa at a picnic in a very small settlement called Hanamenu.
I’ve almost finished one about Punanga Nui market but I’ve been busy slashing and burning recently – getting the garden into shape with weed-eater, chainsaw and hedge clippers as well as water-blasting the deck, so it’s all looking less like a jungle and more like a garden. The trick now will be to keep it that way but in a tropical island paradise things grow fast. Looks as though my New Year resolution is ready made!