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.