Early Saturday morning, after staying a few nights in Auckland, I packed up and hopped on a shuttle towards the airport. After reuniting with the entire IES gang, we told all of our great stories about the previous two weeks and boarded the airplane.
Stepping off the plane in Rarotonga (on Friday, due to crossing the International Date Line) was like going into a sauna after experiencing the declining temperatures of the South Island.
The following morning the group went down to the Saturday market where there was food and souvenirs for sale. Afterwards, we checked out the Waka’s in the harbor. Waka’s are traditional Maori canoes that are used for trans-oceanic trips. It was interesting to see that there is still quite a bit of traditional Maori culture still in practice in the Cook Islands and elsewhere in the pacific. Fun fact: It takes over 40 days to get from New Zealand to Rarotonga.
Then, the group, led by one of our bus drivers nau’o (pronounced “nuah-uah” I think) went to the local community center to practice making plates from coconut leaves, tie-dye sarongs, and learning Maori dances which we would perform that night in front of the locals. That afternoon, before a rain drenched the island, nau’o took us to where he plants taro (similar to a potato) and picks coconuts. One of his nephews climbed a 40 foot tall coconut tree while we craned our necks and watched nervously as he picked coconuts and dropped them to the ground.
The next morning we went to a church on the south part of the island. It amazed me just how big Christianity is on the island and on the nation as a whole. There is very little religious activity having to do with any native traditions. Afterwards we went snorkeling! I took a bunch of pictures until about halfway through the dive when my “waterproof” camera’s screen decided to cut out. With my camera on the fritz, I resorted to blindly pointing and shooting the rest of the trip.
Monday, we paid a visit to a local school. There we were taught the words to the Cook Islands National Anthem and also the fundamentals of their language. This was probably the highlight to the trip for me. I’ve never seen so many happy-looking, energetic kids. During one of their many recess periods, we got absolutely mobbed by dozens of kids looking to see which of the big people could give the best piggy-back rides. By the end of it, we were drained.
On Tuesday we started out with a lecture on Destination Marketing. Carmela, our lecturer, spent some time evaluating the tourism industry in the Cook Islands, which takes up 75% of the country’s GDP. Then, we took a hike across the island, which was incredibly pretty. We lounged on a local beach the entire afternoon, with the friendly dogs that roam the area.
Wednesday was fantastic as we started off the day with some interesting lectures about climate change and biodiversity in the Cooks. We also visited a local brewery, the only one in the Cook’s.
On Thursday, a group of us took our free time to go snorkeling again. After a long bike ride, which took us more than halfway around the island, we found a way cooler reef than the one we swam in on Sunday. That night, we had a progressive dinner, where we were serenaded while and ate a feast of many local foods.
It was the best vacation—er, field trip—that I’ve ever been on.
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<div><span style="color: rgb(29, 29, 29); font-family: Arial, Verdana, sans-serif; font-size: 12px; line-height: normal; background-color: rgb(237, 237, 237);">My name is Robbie Latta and I am a junior studying civil engineering at Purdue University in lovely West Lafayette, Indiana. I am also a member of the Alpha Tau Omega Fraternity on campus. I like to spend time outside, bike, play hockey when I am home in Minnesota, write, and spend time with my friends. I am coming to New Zealand to explore the Kiwi lifestyle and have some fun!</span></div>