“Half the fun is getting there.” — Rarotonga, Cook Islands

“Rarotonga is my nemesis,” Captain Mercer said when he came down to the tender platform to see how things were going.   According to one of my cruise mates she could not book an independent diving tour in Rarotonga, the main island of the Cook Islands.  “Because” according to the dive company “this time of year 70% of the cruise ships don’t make it in.  I can’t block out a dive slot with those odds.”  My cruise mate said it was more like 60% but she took the point.  Why even put the islands on the itinerary with odds like that?  (Captain Mercer told me he is VERY happy that Sitka has a dock so he doesn’t have to worry about tendering problems.  He is very accessible.)

Regular world cruisers told stories about 2016, the last time The MS Amsterdam came to Rarotonga.   The seas off the capital, Avarua were too rough so the ship anchored off an alternative site on the west side of the island.  The government had cut a new channel through the reef for cruise tenders.  But one of Amsterdam’s tenders ran aground in the narrow channel and couldn’t get free without off-loading the passengers.  The Captain came out in shorts, got in the water and helped passengers off the tender into the shallow water and onto land.  In the end some of the passengers said they formed a human chain to get everyone off the tender.  The tender was damaged and needed repair.  Captain Mercer had to fly to the Netherlands to “Discuss the occurrence with our Flag State.”  Yesterday 2016 was the talk of the ship.  In retrospect it was a great adventure, and the number of people recounting it far exceeded the capacity of the tender.  Captain Mercer says he won’t try that alternative again.

Today was marginal.  But the Captain decided to give it a try.  He did not anchor but “hovered” in place using the joystick.  He used the stabilizers to cause the boat to heel slightly to port, lifting the tendering platform on the starboard, which folds out from the hull, so it would not be awash.  But still, the tenders kept bobbing up and down by several feet and slamming into the platform.

To load the tender we came one at a time. The crew watched the movement of the tender and gave us the precise time to move to board her.  Another crew member helped us to a seat.  The same process happened with each person.  Getting off the tender back onto the ship a crew member pointed to someone sitting, that person worked his or her way to the entrance and, again, on the signal from a crew member stepped onto the platform and into the arms another crew member.  One person at a time times 700 passengers (out of about 1150 on board) got off and back on the ship.  No one with a walker or wheel chair could to go ashore and many folks, after watching, decided not to try.   No one was hurt but the crew, taking shifts, was exhausted.  There was no shore liberty for the crew that day.  Fortunately many of them got a beach day in Bora Bora two days ago.

Let’s stop here and say a little about the Cook Islands.  They are 15 islands, settled by Polynesians from the Marquesas in about 1400.  The islands were divided among 6 tribes.  In 1814 they were “discovered” by an Englishman. In 1823 the English missionaries came.  It took them only a year to “convert” the islanders.  The French were interested in the islands but the islanders were not interested in the French, so in the 1880s they petitioned for protection to the British Crown.  They became a protectorate and then in 1900 a British Colony that the Brits did not really want.  So thy handed it over to New Zealand in 1901.  After the Second World War the islanders were granted New Zealand citizenship.  Now they are in independent state “In free association” with New Zealand.  This means they handle their own domestic affairs and New Zealand provides them with diplomatic representation and defense.  They use the New Zealand dollar, although they have their own coins and stamps.  Islanders carry New Zealand passports.  Only about a quarter of Cook Islanders live on the islands, the rest live in New Zealand.  Their main industries are tourism and tax evasion.  (OK, putting it politely, anonymous tax shelters.)

We had planned to take the municipal bus (At Denton Pearson’s suggestion) around the island and stop at a beach as well as some stone circles and an exhibit of old canoes.  But we didn’t get to shore until just before 11:30 so had 3 hours less than we anticipated.  We did take the bus around the island (The island has an excellent mass transit system) but made fewer stops.  We visited the Community Church (which has a stern warning for woman “Wear a proper dress to church”), an artist’s co-op in an old, historic beach house, and walked by some historic buildings.  It’s an attractive island and the heat was not nearly as oppressive as in Tahiti.  One curious thing, we saw many houses with a family cemetery in the front yard.  If you decide to sell your house what do you do with grandpa?

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