Thinking of summer

Image by QFSE Media via CC

My office window frames a damp Monday with snow forecast further south on the Desert Road. A stay-at-home sort of day. Given that the country (in parts) has been experiencing record rainfall we need some cheering up. And what better than to turn one’s thoughts towards holidays in the sun.

Currently the holiday-du-jour appears to be the Cook Islands where, round about 1965, Albert Henry took up Robert Muldoon’s generous offer which gave the Cook Islands shelter and support in perpetuity. This was at a time when the Chinese and Libyan governments were indicating money-laden largesse for these (and other) pearls of the South Pacific.

Part of my shipping related responsibilities 40 years ago was the regular, freight service to Niue, Cook Islands and Tahiti. The maritime lifeline brought with it the need to visit the customers and government officials in these countries twice a year. Rarotonga in the Cooks was the main recipient of imports and the islands of Mangaia and Aitutaki were the source for New Zealand destined fruit.

Aitutaki – in itself a tourism jewel – is famous for possibly the most beautiful lagoon in the world and a huge (or rather two) aircraft runway completions placed there, by the USA, during World War II as a staging point for pan-Pacific warplanes. Usually, every few years a raging cyclone would attempt to wipe out the banana trees. The people there had infinite patience and were, to some degree, sheltered economically by the fact that Albert Henry was born there.

The main island which boasts a ‘proper’ runway has a definite charm of its own. My wife, who accompanied me on one of those trips, objected very strongly to being presented with a low power scooter to enable her to tour the island. The objection was not directly traffic related but linked with the distinctive possibility of encountering wandering pigs (wild or family owned) or a flock of chickens. Both of these groups, meandering, loosely unchecked, on the road that encircles the island.

One of the aforementioned cyclones made a strong and gusty sweep across the main island during 1986 this time necessitating my joining a RNZAF Hercules on a rescue mission. Ninety per cent of the island’s power was ‘out’ and the huge ocean wave accompanying the enormous winds had swept through the port, thundered through the cargo shed and depositing the cargo into the harbour. It was adjudged by the Cooks government to be my problem …sigh.

Sleeping in the mosquito- ridden aircraft hangar (the only place with emergency power generation) on air force provided camp stretchers – and cooking bully beef breakfast on gas bottle camping stoves – was an accompanying experience. Meeting with the port authority by candlelight to discuss their freight problem was another. We did find the cargo – it was declared as a total loss.

These remote through very picturesque islands have a charm all of their own. Far from the heady USA-dominated tourism picture of the Caribbean but, nevertheless, just as attractive to tourists.

But always there was need to depend on a larger nation to prop them up from time to time due to the lack of ability to hold and maintain sufficient depth of home-created exports.


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