05 March, 2024

Three Long Days at Sea to Raratonga

The vast emptiness of the Pacific Ocean, and the sheer magnitude of the Polynesian navigation effort, was brought home to us by the three full days at sea, at 12knots, that it took the NatGeo Orion to get from Samoa to Raratonga in the Cook Islands, crossing the international dateline, so that two of those three days were both Sundays!

Susan Siebert is the expedition's National Geographic photographer, here sporting a crown of native flowers. [4848]

Everyone was trained in the art of making flower crowns, and here they all are! [4854]

The Cook Islands are an independent nation but enjoy a "free association" with New Zealand. Cook Island citizens are automtically citizens of New Zealand, but not vice-versa. The currency is NZD, and having no armed forces, NZ provides defence services. The population is about 15,000 (80% Polynesians or Maori) but there (according to census data) are 80,000 Cook Islanders living in NZ, and 28,000 in Australia, presumably there for better job opportunities. Like other Polynesian island groups, the Cook Islands nation, some 15 islands, is mostly water, some 2 million km2 with a land area of only 240 km2. Rarotonga is the biggest island, and has a circumference of only about 40km, which can be driven around in about that many minutes. Tourism provides almost 70% of GDP and there is great foreign aid from New Zealand. China is getting involved, to the chagrin of the west.

A great view of tywo white terns on Rarotonga in a courtship ritual. [4830]

The Cook Islands were first settled around 1000AD by Polynesian people who are thought to have sailed in their magnificent voyaging canoes from Tahiti in the great Polynesian migration, 1100km to the northeast.

The NatGeo Orion anchored off Rarotonga, a police boat docked in the port. [4720]

View of Rarotonga's fringing reef, with two natural gates showing. A thinrd gate, to the left, is a popular viewing spot for turtles. [4776]

At what is said to be the best place to swim in Rarotonga. [0012]

According to legend, the Black Rock is where departed souls fly westward to a place unknown. [0005]

Our view of Raratonga is that it is a manicured tropical paradise (at least around the edges), much more so that our previous islands, and civilised, with all the trappings of being a tourism hotspot - cafes, car and bike rentals, dive shops etc, and varied accommodation options. We did a bus tour and a hike. The tour was confortable and pretty, and the hike was hard, being steep and a bit slippery. My GPS showed the highest elevation to be 180m. We finished the hike with a welcome swim in clear reef waters, and yet another feast of local fruits. Absolutely fresh fruit is so tasty! The doctor on board NatGeo Orion, Jill, certainly has no chance of having to treat malnutrition from among the 60 passengers.

Hike guides Iacomo (an Italian) and Kirra (a local) showing us a native fruit. We got to sample these all along the hike route. [4730]

Breadfruit, staple food of Polynesian islands. We heard that Europeans tried to grow these in the Caribbean to feed the plantation workers, but the slaves refused the unfamiliar tucker. [4734]

The mountainous interior of Rarotonga. [4778]

A sacred rocky outcrop, visible from almost all over Rarotonga. [4811]

This Sheraton Hotel, visible from our hike, was never completed and is now partly derelict. The cause apparently was land disputes between shared owners. [4820]

A taro plantation near the end of our hike. [4843]

In a one day visit to Rarotonga, we managed, between us, to do a complete lap of the island.

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