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.


  1. that photo of the kids at the grave site is some powerful stuff. good on you all.

  2. I was so excited to find this. My husband is a great grandson of Frank Ambridge. We think he was born about 1867 and died about 1943. Through DNA links we think he must be related to Francis John Ambridge(1851-1901) who was a minister in Barbados for many years. I think Frank was born in Canada, then moved to Chicago before going to Rarotonga. I knew nothing about him having a brother there too. We would love to know all you can tell us about his brother and where he came from.

  3. Hello!
    It's great to hear of possible relatives!
    We really do not have much information on Frank Ambridge as we were really searching for Marie Ambridge,which was my husband's great great grandmother. We understand that Allen Frank Ambridge was Marie's uncle. Her father and Frank came to the Cook Islands from New Zealand, which is what we were told. Then Marie married Jack Ashton and moved to San Francisco.
    We don't know much more than that, but it would be interesting to hear if there really is more to the connection!