AVATIU, RAROTONGA, COOK ISLANDS
Well we arrived here on Tuesday after one of the worst passages we have ever done, anywhere. The wind was pretty much as forecast but what we hadn’t bargained on was a vicious cross swell for much of the time. The first part from Bora Bora west to Maupiti was fine, indeed there was little wind and we motored for the first few hours. Once south of Maupiti we turned south west towards Rarotonga. Here is an extract from my log for Saturday evening…
“1800: An evening meal of corned beef hash and baked beans, Conditions are so bad I am still feeling sea sick on the third day, normally I’m fine after 24 hours. Incidentally the baked beans are a New Zealand brand, Watties, very similar to Heinz, they would have been much more enjoyable if I’d felt better.”
There are three clearance hoops for the Cook Islands; Public Health, Immigration and Customs and Bio-Security. You also have to submit an Advance Notice of Arrival by email at least 48 hours prior. The Public Health official appeared around 1145 the day we arrived. Of the other two, no sign. They turned up 24 hours later saying no one had told them we were here, so how did Public Health know? I filled in the normal mind bogglingly stupid forms (why do they need to know what type of engine you have? What happens to that information?). The Customs lady then came on board and sealed our spirit locker! Its true…
Rarotonga was a delight and surprisingly different from French Polynesia. The Cook Islands are self governing and enjoy a “free association” relationship with New Zealand. Only about 15,000 people live on the fifteen islands that make up the country and there are many more resident in New Zealand. Cook Islanders are New Zealand citizens and the ties between the two countries are close. Many of the local tourist businesses are run by Kiwis and there are a lot of Kiwi and Australian tourists, particular in the winter months, i.e. now. So how is it different from French Polynesia? One obvious one is the overlay of Kiwi and Australian culture rather than French. More subtle is the Cook Islanders love of their Kiwi friends rather than the antipathy many French Polynesians display to the French. Cook Islanders are friendly. welcoming people and very proud of their country.
Unfortunately Rarotonga only has one anchorage, Avatiu Harbour, and that’s wide open to the north. We’d timed our arrival perfectly as the wind had just settled into the east.
There is a good public bus service which runs both ways around the island’s perimeter road. We did an island tour with Craig and Aron (REAO) who had arrived here a day or so ahead of us. You can probably drive around the whole island in a couple of hours but we hopped on and off the bus to take in the sights and have an excellent lunch in a beach front restaurant. I’m not sure why but we didn’t take any photos so apologies for the lack thereof.
The major downside here is the cost. Clearance fees were about $250NZ and it cost an additional $2.60/m/day to keep Emma Louise in the harbour. That was another $250 for the eight nights we spent here.
Rarotonga disappeared behind us on Wednesday 7th as we headed north for Aitutaki. Originally we had though that we wouldn’t be able to get in there as the access channel is too shallow. However, I met a fisherman from there in Avatiu, Rarotonga and he assured me our draft would be ok. A Swede on another cruising boat t0ld me the same, they both lied! We arrived off Aitutaki in the early hours of Friday 9th June and with high tide at 0830 we slowly approached the west side of the island. Around 0800 we started up the short channel to the harbour, about ten minutes later we had run gently aground on sand and not even in the shallowest part of the approach, according to the chart. This was on the top of a high Spring tide (it being almost the equinox) and after backing off and trying a little to the right with the same result we decided to abort the attempt and reverse out of the narrow channel. Now normally this wouldn’t have been a big deal but the problem we had was that we hadn’t finished clearing out of the Cook Islands in Rarotonga as we had expected to do it here. Back in deep water we hove to and launched the dinghy. Sheryl stayed with EL and I went ashore in the dinghy to do our outward clearance from the Cooks and also to get New Zealand dollars from the ATM (we had been told you can’t get cash in Niue, more false information). I managed the clearance without any problems and then couldn’t get cash because the ATM was broken!
By around 1130 I was back on board and we were underway to Niue. I’ll spare you the details of another “inside the washing machine” type passage, suffice to say that apart from the first 24 hours it was pretty rough. We eventually picked up a mooring off the West coast of Niue around 1700 after a trip of 851 Nms and eight nights at sea from Rarotonga. We have now been here long enough to settle in and start to know our way around.
The mooring field here is run by the Niue Yacht Club. Going ashore is like nowhere we have been before. There is no beach to land on or pontoon to tie your dinghy to. There is only a large stone and concrete jetty with nowhere to leave your tender. So what do you do? This is the answer…
Known as the Rock, Niue is billed as the smallest country in the world. However, it isn’t a member of the United Nations although some UN agencies, such as the World Health Organisation, recognise it as a freely associated state. If you want to know more then Wikipedia has a good article. (As an aside I am in competition with my daughter, Rachel, to see who can visit the most countries, Apart from the obvious issue that I am likely to die first and she can keep going we haven’t properly agreed what constitutes a country. I reckon if you can get a stamp in your passport then that counts, but you can do that at Machu Picchu…). Anyway, country or not its lovely, the tiny population of about 1600 are very friendly and welcoming. There is a small Indian population and a very good Indian restaurant, Gill’s. Here are Craig, Aron and I having lunch outside…
The geography of Niue is quite different from the other islands we have so far been to in the South Pacific. It is a long, relatively low, limestone island nothing like the volcanic or coral constructions we have been used to over the last nine months or so…
There are some lovely rock pools around the coast that have been carved into the limestone by the sea…
One of the big attractions in Niue are the Humpback Whales which are allegedly here from June to November. Again we were miss-informed. They aren’t here until July so we didn’t see any, not even in the distance. There are, however, sea snakes…
This little critter is about the 20mm in diameter and maybe 500mm long. We were told that they don’t bite although they are curious and will swim up to you for an investigation.
Whilst here you can stock up your booze stores. You are allowed an unlimited amount of duty free as you check in and the same again when you check out. Unfortunately, like most duty free deals it isn’t especially cheap although the beer was a bargain at $10NZ for a case of 12. We bought lots.
Being such a small island and in the absence of any whales there isn’t that much to see so we are leaving tomorrow for Tonga. We’ve had a great time here and made some new friends, in particular the crew of DUENDE, Steve (skipper and owner), his Dad, Mark and their friend Rob together with Andrea a young supernumerary Peruvian who was travelling with them. Indeed we spent a great evening with them on Friday at Gill’s restaurant watching the All Blacks play the British and Irish Lions. The All Blacks won but there are still two matches to play.
The visit to Tonga starts here.