I know without a doubt that my time in the Cook Islands will span more than one post because there’s so much that I did. Some background, first though.
The Cook Islands is more-or-less New Zealand’s version of Hawaii only a lot smaller, less tourists, and less urbanization. The Maori language and culture seemed to be more prevalent here in the Cooks than in New Zealand, though much of it (in my own opinion) felt geared towards tourism. I can completely understand that though, seeing as how tourism counts as over 90% of the Cook Island’s GDP. Made up of 15 small islands, many of which are atolls, but covering over 1.8 million square kilometers (the majority of which is ocean), the Cook Islands is roughly the same area as Alaska and Oregon combined.
When I first arrived with my IES group, we were quickly taken to our inn and then driven around the island. The perimeter of Rarotonga is only 32 kilometers - really small. We then had dinner at a place solely run on solar power and talked to the owner about it. I learned that because of the Cook’s location, energy is a large overhead, and although there is a large initial cost to run solar power, it pays for itself in roughly six years.
Our second day was much more packed and we learned more about the Cook Island culture. We started off going to the Saturday morning market, which is a large event on Rarotonga, and then headed off to weave necklaces and dinner plates from tree leaves. Immediately afterwards, the guys were shown a Cook Island haka (described in an earlier post, or can be found here ) while the girls were shown a typical dance. From there we were shuffled off to spray paint a cloth to be used as what I can only describe as a sarong. I wasn’t quite sure what all of this had to do with what our dinner later that night, as we were told it would, but I went with the flow. And just before this important dinner we had, our group was then shown how to husk, split, and gather coconuts. One person in our group even managed to climb a coconut tree and knock one off – finding out later from our wonderful coordinator Eunice that he was the first one to do so in her time with IES! Shortly afterward, the final and most important part of our day arrived, dinner! We used our plates that we made as, you guessed it, plates to eat our traditional Cook Island Maori food, saw a lot of dances, hakas, and listened to a lot of music. We then used our necklaces and sarongs to perform our haka / dance, which was a delight to perform (and even more fun to see other Maori people’s reactions as we did our best to replicate them).
All in all, my first few days of Rarotonga were a blast, but it can’t compare to the rest of it!