Cook Islands and Niue
10 October 2016 | Cook Islands and Niue
Jane, warm and sunny
We had some wonderful sailing from the Society Islands to Tonga, about 1,500 nm. As we average about 150 miles per day it took us, yes easy math, about ten days with four stops enroute our best day was 215 nm. We even managed to fly our parasail for a few days. We had a bit of everything, but managed to avoid some nasty squalls and lightening and made some terrific mileage, however our last day out of Tonga was dead calm. The sea was like glass, with no horizon to be seen at night, the stars were reflected into the water and with all the phosphorescence it was magical. However the iron donkey (motor) was put on to get us into Vava'u, as no wind was forecast for five days. Although we were having fun we were impatient to finish the trip.
The Cook Islands are affiliated with New Zealand. The islanders are very proud of their Kiwi passports and many have family living in Auckland, which is only 3.5 hours away from Rarotonga. Russell loved the down-under banter, which he misses, as most people speak English with a strong Kiwi accent although their first language is Cook Island Maori.
New Zealand handles the Cook's foreign affairs and defense, and subsidizes finances. Their flag has 15 white stars in a circle on a blue background. Each star represents one of the islands scattered over a vast area of 750,000 miles. We visited three, although most cruisers only manage to visit one on their way west.
The Cooks are fun-loving people who are very proud of their islands and they make a lot of effort to make sure visitors are well looked after. Like most Polynesians the girls all have long dark hair. They are attractive with a ready smile. We did not notice as many tattoos, although being Maori they are still often seen mainly on the males.
The people are very religious and Sundays are looked upon as a day of rest. Nothing, absolutely nothing, happens on Sundays. It would be highly frowned upon to arrive or depart by boat on the Sabbath. When we were in Aitutaki we went to the oldest church in the Cooks dated 1821 it was a Sunday. The town band with different uniformed groups (including very small children) marched up the main street and accompanied the singing at the beginning of the service, spectacular, especially as the church is known to have the best acoustics in the Cooks. The singing often went back and forth between males and females, young and then old. It was a wonderful experience.
All graves are covered in cement (so bodies can't escape we were told). Although flooding in the rainy season might be more of a reason. We saw a lot of graves in the front yards of homes. Some had flowers, often plastic, and some even had lights on at night. They say they do not need to cremate their dead as they have plenty of land in which they can spend their eternal rest.
The first island we visited was Rarotonga. We had a spectacular display of whales on our arrival at the pass, but sadly were so busy sorting out the boat we did not take pictures. There were a few more off the reef while we were there making their annual migration. Stunning creatures. Rarotonga is the main island of the Cooks and a friend of ours, who we had not seen for 35 years, lives there. It was terrific to link up with Trish after so long, she was great and helped us with a boat part that we had ordered, never an easy job we have found over the years. We had a fun, traditional, down-under BBQ at her delightful beach property and met a lot of Kiwis there who have retired to the island.
Rarotonga is smaller than Salt Spring, but with its Saturday market, music, arts, crafts and laid back feel it felt very similar. Obviously it is a tad warmer than Salt Spring and also has a shallow reef all the way around, giving stunning surf on windy days. We loved the way so many people wore crowns of flowers in their hair, or flowers behind their ears.
Sadly the harbour is not so great. There are plans to build a marina, but we cannot see it happening soon. Getting on and off the boat was a challenge and when we arrived it was pretty rolly, even for a Catamaran. We can understand why it is not visited by many yachties. However we had a great time and are very glad we got to visit such a delightful island.
We went a couple of times to a fantastic curry restaurant near the harbour. In England we used to go once a week and it is something we miss, so we were happy bunnies and ordered enough for left overs. We also enjoyed the local hang out Trader Jacks close by, where they have music at weekends. A highlight was a terrific educational and cultural evening we had at 'Highlands Paradise'. The old lost village is up in the hills. We were picked up, got a tour around the area, had a traditional umu feast and authentic entertainment; which included drumming and dancing as it has changed through the years. If you ever get to Rarotonga we would highly recommend going.
One thing we learnt was how Warriors were rewarded land as appreciation for winning battles and how to this day the land is handed down from one generation to another. No foreigner can buy land in the Cook Islands. What a great idea, it would certainly help the housing market in Vancouver. We were also informed that many of the cook islanders still use every fauna on the islands for medical use. Very effective apparently, we are all for it. Evidently a huge amount of Polynesians left the islands in Vevas (they look like old fashioned Catamarans) in the 13 hundreds. It is thought this was due to fish poisoning. They then came back in the 16 hundreds. The Vevas sailed from all the islands in the Pacific at up to 18 knots, so were very efficient. Sadly fish poisoning is coming back, in fact there are huge problems in the Oceans with worldwide warming. It is a real concern especially for the people who live on these islands.
We hired a bike to explore Rarotonga and ended up buying some wonderful pieces of art and for Russ a hand made Ukulele. One artist was Kay George, her work is online and we hope to buy more. Trish our friend has her work all over her home. We lucked out one night as Laura Collins and the Back Porch Blues Band were on the island. They are from Wellington, but play worldwide. They were fantastic, it was such a treat to find them in the Pacific.
The next island we were fortunate to be able to visit was Aitutaki. Not many boats are able to get through the narrow, shallow pass. We had an interesting entrance as not only is the pass very shallow, but for a Cat it is also very narrow. I was at the helm with only four feet either side of Ta-b with beautiful, but deadly coral ready to potentially do us serious damage. Luckily it was calm, but it made the passes in the Tuamotus seem a doddle in comparison. We were the only boat anchored in the wee harbour and the local kids thought we were their new playground, until they were told to give us a bit more privacy.
The people were super friendly with the health official inviting us to his house for the evening to watch the All Blacks against Argentina. It was a great game, especially the first half.
It is a gorgeous small island with a huge shallow lagoon with lots of beautiful Motus. We went to Honeymoon Motu a couple of times to learn kite boarding, a perfect place for the sport, we learnt a lot and look forward to practicing more in Tonga.
One thing we noticed was that there are no dogs on the island. Apparently the story goes that the Princess was bitten many years ago and so they are now banned.
Our next stop was Palmerston Atoll with its six sandy islets scattered along the coral reef surrounding the large lagoon. It has a unique history. The 60 inhabitants are all descendants of a patriarchal figure, William Marsters, a Lancashire sea captain who settled there with three women in 1862. He fathered 26 children and divided the islands and reefs into sections for each of the three "families" and established strict rules on intermarriage. English is the first language spoken and we heard very little Maori. There is a school for the 23 children with five staff; two who were from the US and are housed in the beautiful schools buildings. There is a clinic, an admin building, and a telecom building, all of which are run and used by one family. Amazing.
Bill's family hosted us. They are descendants of number one wife and own the middle part of the island. A truly beautiful family with delightful kids and a grandmother called Grammy who captured my heart. We spent every day with the family who shared their lives with us and made us delicious lunches. We had a very emotional departure. Grammy cried as she gave us leis of flowers to wear around our necks that she had made. It was hard to give her a final kiss goodbye. Bill was overly generous and we left with enough food to last us a couple of weeks, our numerous gifts to everyone in return could never thank them enough. We would love for Bill to host friends following us; he has one very well maintained mooring buoy only, which he will not accept payment for. He suggests emailing his wife, Metua at email@example.com as they have no VHF radio, but they will come out to greet you if they know an approximate arrival time.
We also saw whales on our arrival, and our first night one came alongside our boat and made a massive noise, yikes, it was amazing as they huge. Humpback whales visit the islands from June to September to calve and can often be seen with their young. There are strict rules about interaction and to be honest we made sure we never went close to any, as when they breach they could sink Ta-b.
We stopped at Niue, known as "The Rock" as it is composed of coral limestone, which rises from the sea in two tiers at 100' and 200' with no surrounding lagoon. It is deep and 20 mooring buoys have been laid for passing yachts, all well maintained by the Niue Yacht Club. The only Yacht Club in the world to have no yachts apparently ☺ A unique way of getting onto land was to hoist your tender, via a crane onto the hard, had its pluses and minuses as the crane was a bit temperamental. However once on terra firma there are many caves, caverns and arches to visit, but no streams or rivers. Therefore the seawater has no sediment and is crystal often with a visibility of 230 feet. It is a small island with only 1,100 inhabitants although at one time apparently there were 45,000 people. The last to leave was after Cyclone Heta in 2004, which caused a lot of damage to the island with waves destroying buildings on top of the cliffs a 100' from the sea.
We hired a motorbike one day (there is no local transport) and explored the southern part of the island. We noted that every five hundred yards or so there would be a grave or group of graves, then there were the abandoned buildings everywhere, an interesting history. Another day we went off in a van with friends and checked out the northern part of the island. There is only one resort, which caters mainly to divers, conferences and hikers. The hikes down to the caverns, caves, chasms, pools, etc. were spectacular; it really is a gorgeous island. Moving on was a problem as there was no wind in the forecast for about ten days, so we grabbed a very small window of wind knowing that it would not last long, although it did stay with us most of the way to Tonga and we had an excellent trip just having to motor the last day.
We have put up two gallery postings, as we have so many pictures we wanted to share. Thanks go to fellow cruisers Sonrisa and Echo Echo for their contributions and also Russ as my camera is not working well and my go pro has its limitations. Enjoy