Sunday, May 27

Pacific Voyagers at Punanga Nui market

The fleet of seven state-of-the-art voyaging vaka reached Rarotonga on Thursday (17 May – see previous video). Crewmembers spent Friday relaxing, catching up with family and friends and getting ready for a couple of days ashore, then on Friday evening the public had the chance to catch up with the sailors and listen to their stories.
The voyagers paraded through Avarua to Punanga Nui where a night market had been set up with plenty of food vendors on hand to feed the hungry hordes.
The string band from Rau Maire culture group entertained while everyone ate and then local environment groups briefly explained their activities here in the Cook Islands
Various vaka crew performed haka and talked about their experiences and the sights they’d seen that made them realise, for all its size, how fragile an environment our Pacific Ocean is.
The evening was fine which was fortunate because cold, wet, windy conditions on Saturday meant the vaka weren’t able to take wannabee sailors for short excursions into the waters around Avatiu.
The fleet departed on Tuesday morning, heading for Samoa and setting course to avoid an area of low pressure producing strong winds and heavy rain.
I hope they all managed to skirt the disturbances but here on Rarotonga we’ve had to wrap up and endure it. It’s OK for locals but unfortunate for the visitors who have been here for the past week. It’s not been much of a tropical island paradise for them.

Saturday, May 19

Pacific Voyagers arrive on Rarotonga

There was a rousing welcome on Thursday when The Cook Islands vaka Marumaru Atua led four of a fleet of seven traditional voyaging canoes into Avatiu Harbour.
Beginning in 2010 the fleet has travelled the Pacific Ocean from New Zealand, where the vaka were built, to the Cook Islands, French Polynesia, Hawaii, across to the California coast of the USA, down the coasts of Mexico and Costa Rica, to the Galapagos Islands, back to Tahiti and most recently making landfall in Aitutaki before coming to Rarotonga.
Aitutaki turned on the sun for the voyagers but the weather on Rarotonga was dull with occasional showers. More problematic though was the lack of wind. Three of the vaka were becalmed en route and the original hoped for time of arrival of 12 noon passed as four canoes waited on the horizon for their fleet-mates to appear. These boats are powered by the wind and sun. Each has eight solar panels that charge batteries used to power electric motors if needed for safe entry into harbours. On the high seas they rely on sails so if there’s no wind they don’t go anywhere.
The welcoming crowds drifted away until, around 5 o’clock, the word went out that the four were on the way in and then people returned in full force.
With Marumaru Atua in the lead, the vaka sailed into the harbour entrance, furled their sails and came gently to rest against the wharf to the sound of conch shell, nose flute and the cheers and applause of the spectators.
 Marumaru Atua (Cook Islands), Faafaire (Tahiti), Hine Moana (Pan Pacific) and Te Matau a Maui (Aotearoa) arrived on Thursday.
Gaualofa (Samoa), Uto Ni Yalo (Fiji) and Haunui (Pan Pacific) arrived overnight.
The guiding light of the Pacific Voyagers project is Dieter Paulmann, a German philanthropist and founder of the Okeanos Foundation for the Sea. He is a passionate environmentalist and after seeing the Cook Islands vaka Te Au O Tonga at the 2008 Festival of the Pacific Arts in American Samoa he realised that these canoes using traditional navigation techniques would be an ideal way to spread a message of sustainability and respect for the ocean; to move your paddle silently through the water.
It’s an awe-inspiring project and you can read more about it on the two websites of the Pacific Voyagers and the Okeanos Foundation.
The seven vaka are due to leave Rarotonga on Tuesday morning – weather permitting – heading for the July 2012 Pacific Arts Festival in the Solomon Islands via Samoa, Fiji and Vanuatu.

Sunday, May 13

State funeral of Sir Geoffrey Henry

Sir Geoffrey Henry died at his home in Takamoa in the early hours of Wednesday morning surrounded by family and friends.
Sir Geoff’s colourful political career spanned some fifty years beginning in 1965 when he entered parliament as an MP for Aitutaki. He later moved to Rarotonga and served the Takuvaine electorate for many years until his retirement in 2006.
During that time he was twice prime minister, first for a short time in 1983 and then for ten years between 1989 and 1999.
Tributes at the funeral by prime minister Henry Puna, opposition leader Wilkie Rasmussen and master of ceremonies JJ Browne detailed Sir Geoffrey’s career and the huge impact he had on the Cook Islands and the Pacific region. On the lighter side they also recounted parties where he could enjoy playing the ukulele playing and singing.
But the tribute from his eldest son Walter was the most moving. He talked about his mum and dad, brothers and sisters, family life.
While the others spoke about the statesman and politician, Walter showed that behind the public persona Sir Geoff was a down-to-earth human being, a much loved father and husband who will be sadly missed.
Cook Islands News has full coverage of Sir Geoffrey’s life and the state funeral, with articles, odes and tributes. There is also the opportunity to add your own thoughts, tributes and condolences to Louisa Lady Henry and the family.

Sunday, May 6

Jerome Kaino and the Web Ellis Trophy on Rarotonga

The Web Ellis Cup, won by the All Blacks in the 2011 Rugby World Cup, is on a tour of the Pacific accompanied by All Black flanker Jerome Kaino. The first stop was Rarotonga.
Kaino played in all six of the All Blacks’ cup games and should be playing for the Auckland Blues right now but he has a shoulder injury. The poor old Blues are having a dreadful season and must be sorely missing Kaino but their loss (and there have been lots of them) is our gain.
This visit was organised around the FORU (Federation of Oceania Rugby Unions) annual general meeting, held in the Cook Islands for the first time. And while he was on the island, Kaino also presented the trophies at the annual sports awards.
But the main event for most of us was the parade through town and the photo opp and poster signing at the Avarua market area. There was a festive atmosphere as hundreds of people – young, old, visitors and locals - gathered, with cameras at the ready.
The event included a turou, dances by local troupe Rau Maire and hakas by youngsters from Takitumu and Rutaki primary schools. Are there any future All Blacks amongst them?
It finished with the local rugby union receiving  gear used in the rugby world cup
This video shows some of the highlights of the stopover.