Before leaving Aitutaki we decided to participate in a lagoon cruise and yes the sun was out so we could admire the different shades of blue of the lagoon and it’s motus. We visited Akaiami motu, once a refueling stop on the famous Coral Route in the 1950’s-60’s for waterplanes on their route from New Zealand to Tahiti. We had a barbecue lunch on One Foot Island, awarded one of the leading beaches in Australasia region. We did some snorkeling but were disappointed after being spoiled in the Tuamotus. The lagoon cruise is definitely a must if you want to see all aspects of Aitutaki.
June 25, Sunday , we checked the weather and the wind was good so it was time to leave for Palmerston. Bill’s wife (whom we met in the visitor centre) asked if we could take “something” for her family to Palmerston which we gladly accepted. This “something” turned out to be 16 cartons with bananas and papayas and 4 more bags with watermelons, a suitcase, and a bag of candy … a good thing we have a catamaran and lots of hull space! Two days and 236NM later we arrived at lunch time in Palmerston and took one of the moorings guided by Bob Marsters.
The history of Palmerston is unique. In 1862 William Marsters from Lancashire settled here with his 3 wives and 26 children. He divided the island and motus into sections for each of the 3 families with strict rules of intermarriage. Today 58 people are living on the island all connected somehow to William Marsters, except for some people employed by the Cooks Government (nurse and teachers). The island has no airport and the supply ship only comes when it is profitable to come by, so once every 2-3 months. Since 2015 they have 24hr electricity supplied by a solar power station sponsored by the Cooks government. Before that they only had a generator who supplied 6hrs electricity in the morning and 6hrs in the evening. There is internet and one TV channel since 2014, so life is changing….
The welcome was incredible. We were invited into Bill’s house for lunch and after saying a blessing we had rice, fish, lamb, corn and tarrot root. For dessert there was ice cream. Not only the first day but every day we were invited for lunch prepared by Bill because his wife was in Aitutaki with one of their daughters, Caroline. The other children, Juliana (16), Ngariki (14) and the youngest son (10) ate after returning from school around 2-3PM. Ngariki gave us a tour of the island, showed us the school (15 children between 6-18 years old), the infirmary with an enthousiastic nurse from Fiji, the wreck from the Riri and the old cemetary. There are no paved roads on Palmerston but the sand roads are raked clean on a daily basis. No cars but at Bill’s house they had 2 motorcycles and we did see one quad…times are changing. There are no stores on Palmerston and thus everything has to be ordered from Rarotonga to come with the supply ship. Every house has serveral huge freezers to make sure they have enough food till the next ship arrives. Most of the families live from fishing. They sell their fish (mostly parrotfish) to hotels and cooperations in Rarotonga for about 15NZD a kilo. But they remarked that there is less and less fish to be caught…is this temporary or a trend? They are aware of the climate change and see more and more coral bleaching because of the warm water. The population of Palmerston is aging. A family with 9 children had just left the island a couple weeks before. Although Palmerston is for some a paradise I can fully understand that for others (especially youngsters) this is too limited and they move to NZ, Australia or Rarotonga in search of a “better” life. A lot of them do come back for visits or to grow old.
The unconditional generosity and “do good” attitude of the Marsters (In Flemish we say “doe wel en zie niet om”) is so remarkable that this short stop of 4 days will be fondly remembered.