Sunday, December 4, 2016

Rarotonga and Niue August 2016

Rarotonga, Cook Islands
We were so happy to discover some family history.  Geoff and the boy's great great great uncle was buried in Rarotonga.  Their great great great great grandmother was also buried in Rarotonga, but we could not find her gravestone, it is probably one where the print was already worn away.   The National Archives was so helpful and provided us with lots of family information that we still have not had time to review, as we need good wifi to do it.   They said they would even send old newspaper articles and clippings that made it into their archives.  It was very exciting that we were able to come to the one of 15 islands and find that it was the one island where the family had lived. 
We finished our stay by hiking to the Needle, an old lava shaft, which is a pretty high point on the island. We started from the harbor and walked into the local neighborhood and past the local power plant.  It was very lush with lots of plantations and farms.  We saw lots of pigs that we just so happy eating and sleeping. 
Overall, we have to say that we were so pleasantly surprised with how much we enjoyed Rarotonga.  Incredibly nice people, beautiful scenery and very laid back.

Beginning of the walk to the Needle

Different terrain

Geoff giving the pig a coconut

Papaya trees
more pigs, everywhere

Noah and Horatio on the Needle hike

Local school boys jumping into the harbor after winning their soccer game

Goodbye Rarotonga

We caught a HUGE mahi mahi on the way to Niue

Niue – The Rock
Niue is about 200 or so miles east of the northern Tongan island group of Vavau.  Niue is one of the world’s smallest states, but is the largest block of coral.  Because of its unusual geological formation, Niue is riddled with underground caves and tunnels.  Niue is also a self-governing country with free association with New Zealand.  Unlike the Cooks that use NZ dollars and Cook coins, Niue’s currency is all in NZ dollars.  They speak Nuiean, a Polynesian language, but also English.

Upon arriving to Niue, you really do understand why they call it the Rock, it looks like one giant rock coming out of the ocean.  It is not like the Cooks or French Polynesia where there is an island with an atoll around it, so there is not a nice lagoon to cruise around or swim in and there is no lagoon protection from waves.   There is no harbor to come into, just some mooring balls to tie to on the west side of the island in the capital of Alofi.   So, staying here can be very dangerous during wind shifts from the west and high swell. The swell in the mooring field was significant enough that the cake for Geoff’s birthday was considerably lopsided.  I think we were all just happy to have had a safe passage and now moored to celebrate with birthday cake!

Happy Birthday to Geoff

Mooring field in Niue

Boat launch - getting our dinghy out of the water

Enough anchored in Niue - view from local mini golf cafe

The Niue Yacht Club, NYC, is the biggest little yacht club in the world.  We have decided we will become members as it only costs $20!  They manage the moorings and provide free wifi and hot showers-woohoo!    Checking in was very easy as customs will meet you at the dock.  The only very precarious thing to worry about is the dock landing.  As there is no harbor, the swell/waves usually come right into the dock landing.  So, it can be very dangerous and sometimes not tenable at all.  You have to lift your dinghy out with a crane for fear of your dinghy being bashed to bits against the dock with high surges of waves and wind.  We managed to get to the dock and get very wet getting out of the dinghy and then able to hoist it out of the water. 

The town itself is very quiet and everyone is super friendly.  Since we arrived on a Saturday, not a lot was open, but we did walk around the main town and grab a roti at Gill’s, the local Indian restaurant.  It was very good!  They also have a Bond liquor store where on the day of arrival and day of departure, you can purchase duty free alcohol.  We found it interesting that you could buy on the day of arrival.  As most countries only allow for duty free alcohol on day of departure.  So, we made a stop at the Bond! 

We were very excited about touring this little island country.  Niue is a limestone cap on an extinct volcano.  It is an elevated island on 65 feet high cliffs.  It is only 100 square miles with the highest point being 223 feet.  The highlight of Niue is to explore the caves and sea tracks.  The natural wonder of the island is spectacular.  So colorful and beautiful.  Fresh and saltwater coming together in the pools that are amazing to swim in.It has unsurpassed water clarity with lots of swimming coves, caves, chasms and lots of sea tracks for exploration.  They also have good mountain biking!  Also, during high season, what we would call summer months, is whale watching.  Lots of whales swim around in the moorings!  You can also work with the local whale exploration team and take your boat out to learn about and record the whales and take pictures of them.

Niue Yacht Club located in the Backpackers lodge 
since the past cyclone destroyed its previous location

Miriam, Horatio and Noah at the Mini Golf Cafe
 with Enough in the background

One of the many Sea Tracks

Noah with a crab

Geoff is inspired by the craftsmanship of the local vaka boat builders

Horatio at Matapa Chasm 

One of the Limu pools

Another Sea Track

Horatio and Noah on the way down to a freshwater cave

View of the stairs on cave walk

Spectacular ocean view on eastern side of island

Colorful caves

One of many abandoned homes due to cyclone damage

We found that Niue was one of our biggest surprises so far in cruising the South Pacific.  It is incredibly beautiful with so many caves and natural pools to swim in.  We had to admit that we enjoyed it more than a lot of French Polynesia.  Not only for the natural wonders, but for the kindness and helpfulness of the local people and also for provisioning and good restaurants.  Two ships come per month and they get lots of products from New Zealand, so the food items are very good.  We really wished we would have provisioned a lot more here as we were to discover that Tonga is not as good for food products.

There is a local vaka (canoe) builder in town that has turned vaka building into an art form.  His name is Fai (Taumafai) Fuhiniu.  We saw one of his vakas in the Visitor’s Center in Niue and asked if the builder was in town.  Niue having such a small population, his daughter actually works at the Visitor’s Center.  She said she would take us to his house to meet him the next day.  We went to rent a car that day so we could tour the island and the lady that was helping us at the Niue Car Rental was Fai’s wife!  Very small town!  We spent a few hours the next day at their house and saw his workshop and discussed his work ethic and process on vaka building.  He builds some of the fastest vakas in all of the South Pacific.   Lots of his vakas are gifted to important dignitaries and have been given as gifts or bought as artwork for many famous people.  He has also had National Geographic articles printed about him.  It was a great time.  Noah and Horatio made friends with his granddaughter and we ended up leaving with, it seemed like, an entire banana tree!  Lots of banana bread to be made!

Like most places in the South Pacific, Niue has been hit by a cyclone and the damage could be seen all over the island.  It was very apparent as there were so many houses that have been abandoned and left to rot.  So sad.
On a positive note, almost every night we could hear the whales talking to each other in the mooring field.  They really swim right next to your boat and swim underneath them.  You could see them coming up to breath just 100 feet from the boat.  It was a little scary as it was night, because you couldn’t really see them when they were about to surface, but it was so exciting when they did.  Hearing them talk all night was so melodic. 

We knew the weather was going to change soon with a shifting of the winds to come from the North, so we decided we would leave for Tonga after spending a beautiful week in Niue.  We really wished we could have spent two weeks here!

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Cook Islands – August 2016

Now the question was where we should go in the Cook Islands!  The Cooks are made up of 15 islands spread across 2 million square miles of the South Pacific Ocean.  There are only a few of the islands that can actually be reached and have ability to anchor/moor by boat and that was either one or two islands in the Northern Cook Islands or two in the Southern Cook Islands.  Lots of people we know chose the Northern Cooks and went to the nature reserve island of Suwarrow (Suvarov).  Only a caretaker and no real town, but amazing snorkeling/scuba diving,  or go to the Southern Cooks and head to Rarotonga, which holds the capital city of Avarua.  As Geoff and the boys have a great great grandmother that was born and raised in the Cooks, we decided to go to the largest and capital city to see if we could get information on the family line that is from the Cooks.

Avarua harbor - Enough med moored
Enough med moored in Avarua  Harbor

Kids watching the local boys jumping into the harbor

Peer pressure - had to do the same

Never try to convert the "deluded natives" or  you end up here 

Lawn bowling

Rarotonga sailing club
Palace Burger

Feeding chips(french fries) to the chickens
CITC Liquor Store
 (Cook Island Trading Company) 

We have been collecting coins from all of the countries we have visited
$1, $2, $5  Cook Island coins

We also happened to be showing up the week of the Cooks Independence celebration.  This is their 51st year of self-government with free association with New Zealand.  Talk about a great time to be here!  They call their celebration week, Te Maeva Nui.  Similar to Tahiti’s Heiva, it brings folks from all of the Cook Islands for competition in dance, singing and drumming, but they also have guests from the Marquesas, Tonga, Fiji, Samoa, and Papua to join in the dance, singing and drumming presentations.  The theme for this year is “Honour the Thrones of our Royalties”.  So each team has a song, dance, drum performance dedicated to this theme.  We thought the performances at Heiva were good, but the Cook Islanders make the French Polynesians look like beginners!  Seriously, they were so good.  The performances we so coordinated and so much more lively. We could not believe the difference!  And trust us, when we say the French Polynesian performers were great.  But the Cook Islanders were amazing!  Again, no photos or videos!   So sad, because it will make you smile the entire time! 
The Cook Islands are famous for their woven hats 
These cost anywhere from $100-$500 per hat!
Walking around the fair
More woven hats

Local school kids decided to start their own dance group

make your own Tivaivai - quilting

At the Te Maeva Nui auditorium

Fireworks on Independence Day

View from Trader Jack's bar

We rented a car and had to remember how to drive on the left hand side of the road!  Also remembering which way to look when crossing the road took a little getting used to.  We toured the island and were told to visit the local prison!  So, we went, because they said it was a joke.  We saw that is was basically a farm with a little wire fence around it.  They farm and tend their own vegetables, which makes lots of sense.  The actual prison has a gate, but no real security to talk about.  The prisoners have a craft shop and make Ukuleles.   You can go and buy a ukulele made by a prisoner!  What an enterprising business.  We saw that they were making one of the Thones/Royalty chairs for the Te Maeva Nui festival.  The prisoners actually made the throne for the celebration.  Day one of the festival showed just the raw wood, Day two showed it carved, Day three, adding embellishments, etc.  When we saw it, it was for the closing ceremony and they were going to add some final embellishments and then varnish it.  We thought that was pretty fantastic that the prisoners actually made a piece of furniture for the festival and would be placed in a museum afterwards.
View of the Prison from the road
Prison gate
Prisoner made Ukeleles

Wood shop with plantation in background

Throne/Chair carved for the festival

They recycle and have it shipped back to New Zealand

Ready for shipment
Fobbed - Fresh of the Boat 
Moorings Cafe for FOB sandwich

Goat using a pig as a step stool

Taro fields

View from recycling center
Coco Putt - mini golf and lunch

Tamarind Restaurant

Beach at Tamaring Restaurant

There are 5 local chiefs for the island of Rarotonga.  We toured one of the Chief’s homes which was turned into a palace museum.  It was fun to actually dress up in her actual clothes and accessories that she actually wears for formal events!  She of course was not in town at the time! 

Dressed in Pa Ariki's ceremony clothes

There were lots of activities as this was a holiday for the Cook Islanders.  The main tourists come from New Zealand and Australia.   The main language is English with Cook Islands Maori.  It is similar to Tahitian, but just a little different.  An example would be “Ia Orana” in Tahitian for Hello.  It is “Kia Orana” in Cook Maori.  The kids were so excited that English is spoken and we were thrilled as to not have to learn another language so quickly!
So, far we are enjoying the abundance of fresh groceries, no getting up at 4 am to get the only 6 heads of lettuce in town.  Lots of choices and availability!  Good food and lots of incredibly friendly people. 
Entrance to Sunday Market
(they have 4 rows of stalls)

fresh vegetables - rows and rows of these stands

fresh baked goods

delicious pastries

We understand why cruisers don’t make it here very often.  The locals seem to believe it is the cost and also the formalities that seem excessive, but putting in notice that you are coming was easy and check in was very efficient and fast. The cost was average, I would say it wasn’t much more that French Polynesia, but getting to a harbor with a good anchorage/mooring is the main issue.  The harbor in Avarua is very rolly and not convenient.  You have to med moor to a dock that is hard to tie up to without help and it is consistently rolly.  They recently did an expansion of the harbor, but it really only helped the fishing boats.  They created a new breakwater and dredged out the harbor for their fleet of fishing/tour boats.  The harbor for sailboats is where the big ships/tankers/fishing boats come in, so busy and small. 

But overall, we have to say, we are incredibly happy we have come here.  We really like it here and are enjoying our stay.  The island is beautiful, like Moorea, surrounded by a big lagoon, but has all the local amenities that a big city would have.  Like a real Cinema!  We went to see the new Jason Bourne move already and Suicide Squad.  Ok, not the best movies, but seriously good to see a new release since Tahiti was still only showing Kung Fu Panda 3 and everything is in French, with no subtitles. 

We came to do some research on Geoff and the children's great great and great great great grandmother.  Her name was Marie Ambridge and she was born and raised in the Cook Islands.  We thought we could find out about the family lineage and history of the family in the Cooks.  We went to the National Archives and they were able to give us information on her and her father and uncle.  We were able to find Marie's uncle's grave site and learned that her father was a printer for the local paper and her uncle was a fruit plantation manager for the European Fruit Company.  Marie married John Geoffrey Ashton and moved to San Francisco and gave birth to Geoff's grandfather, Jack Ashton.  It was great to learn a little bit about the family history from the Cooks.

Horatio and Noah at Allen Frank Ambridge's gravesite
Their great great great uncle

We will stay for another week or so and try to make it to Aitutake, but not sure the weather will permit us to anchor outside the harbor, as it is too shallow for our boat to make it into the pass, some places are only 4-5 feet deep, our boat draws closer to 7 feet.  So, if the weather is good, we will stay, if not, we will make our way to Niue and then to Tonga.