Cook Islands, November 25-27, 2014
Pictures include people on these islands who welcomed us. There was great ceremony with a priest who blessed us and village elders who welcome us. Always the children greeted us and we visited their schools. Pigs are a part of their diet in most of these villages.
Nassau to Manihiki Atoll to Penrhyn Atoll
First of all we learned that atolls are created because the volcanoes have risen and then eroded while the coral around them kept growing up. So there is now a lagoon inside an entire reef island—like necklaces these atolls are scattered throughout the South Pacific.
After a day at sea we stop at Nassau Island in the Northern Cook Islands. However, on the day crossing a tired tern landed on the ship. The villagers on Nassau are currently constructing solar panels for electricity for the island of 70+ people who greeted us with warm welcomes. We walked through their village where most homes now have metal roofs and cisterns for water collection. Pigs were tied under trees to root. Chickens also scratched around the pigs for pieces of grain. We were all offered coconut milk to drink and to pull out the meat. The highlight for me was visiting the school where the children and the chief sang several songs for us. I had a wonderful visit with the primary teacher who talked about teaching the children to read first in their native Maori tongue and then in English. She desperately needs books and specifically mentioned Big Books for the children. Only a few books are written in their native tongue. A rusted supply shipwreck from 1984 whose captain was purportedly drunk when he made landfall rested on the beach. Islanders told us we were the first ship to land on their shores in memory.
On Manihiki Atoll, the villagers were ready for us. This atoll is one of the most productive black pearl farming areas in the South Pacific. After a long welcome with a priest praying for us to welcome the day that the Lord has given us, we listened to other village elders welcome us, and then children danced and sang to us. I’m sure they were glad for the day off of school. Visiting a pearl seeding barn showed us the meticulous work that is done in very sterile circumstances with two Japanese brothers who live here nearly year around to seed the oysters. The seeds are from river clams on the Mississippi river and sent to Japan to carve out bits of mother-of-pearl then coated with antibiotics and shipped to Manihiki Atoll where they are placed in oysters along with additional mother of pearl for coloring then strung on ropes and placed in their lagoon for 18 months to grow into beautiful black pearls. We watched as divers pulled the ropes up and opened the oysters to reveal pearls that had been growing. From over 200 farms to 23 currently, the owners all must be island descendants. A Chinese man wanted to become a partner with one of the locals and that was allowed as long as he was only a partner. That afternoon we snorkeled in beautiful clear warm coral waters teaming with fish. The coral has been very healthy and the only indications from destruction come from storm damage. Now the healthy coral is rebuilding.
That evening right before sunset as we headed to Penrhyn Atoll, a large dark object was sighted—not an overturned boat—but rather a dead sperm whale. Despite the horrible smell, divers headed to investigate and photograph. They tried to take the whale teeth with a value of $100,000 but were unable to detach the jaw from the whale that had been eaten by sharks, fish, birds, and other marine animals.
Penrhyn Atoll was much like Manihiki but there were no pearl farms. The ladies were experts at weaving beautiful hats and fans called rito weavings from the coconut fiber. The hats cost in the range of $150 to $200. Again, we had an elaborate welcome from the Priest, the city fathers, and the children with song and dance. Again we visited the school—supported by New Zealand, several of their homes, and saw evidence of the 2012 hurricane (cyclone). Like the other islands, many homes have vacated because of lack of jobs. Most have immigrated to New Zealand.
The interesting history of this atoll is the long runway where B 17’s and larger bombers landed during WWII as a stopping from Hawaii to New Zealand. There is even the wreckage of a B24 off the runway. From the story we learned that although the landing crash caused total wreckage, all occupants escaped alive. Today a plane comes in once a week stays the night and then heads to Raratonga, the capitol of the Cook Islands. They say the one-way ticket is $1200. Like the other islands mopeds were the favored transportation. And, most young people held I phones with ear buds listening to music.
The Cook Islands were settled by Polynesians thousands of years ago, but the Europeans discovered them in the late 1700s. Sadly, slavers came to these islands in the late 1800’s taking many to work in the mines of Peru.
As with the other Atolls, we had a wonderful swim outside the reef with good looks at abundant fish including three types of sharks who swam lazily among the coral below us but never threatening us.