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.
On Tuesday June 13, we decided to leave Bora Bora and make our way to Maupiti as a possible stop on our way to Aitutaki. Only when we got there around 4PM the swell from the south was about 2M and breaking waves across the pass made it, in our opinion, too dangerous to enter. Once entered we also were not sure how easy it would be to leave Maupiti again and we wanted to get to the Cooks. So we continued sailing… The sea became very rollly during the night and with waves of about 3M, winds of 15KTS I was getting sea sick. My body was not used to this anymore. I had not taken anything because I was sure I would be able to do without. I guess not. After being really sick I decided to take one of the pills just before going for my 3HR sleep and sure enough I woke up feeling much better. I continued to take them every 12hours till we got to Aitutaki and felt fine. Hopefully I can get to Palmerston without one.
We arrived after 4 days of sailing on Saturday morning around 8AM but had to “heave to” twice during our trip so we would not arrive in the dark at the pass. We were not sure if we should enter right away since we knew it was low tide and the water was leaving the lagoon at a rapid pace. The Captain did not want to wait another couple hours so I went upfront ready to drop the anchor in case it was needed and we pushed Sanuk against the current of 5KTS into the lagoon. Our depth meter said “0”, a good thing Stefan did not mention this while going in or I would have flipped! We are now anchored in the little harbour of Arutanga in a depth of 2M and tied to 2 palm trees. We have been here a week and no other yacht has arrived here. This is definitely not an easy pass to navigate through.
Aitutaki is an “exclusive” tourist spot mainly for Australians and New Zealanders looking for a winter break. In June 2010 the island was nominated “the world’s most beautiful island” by the founder of the Lonely Planet Guides. Unfortunately this week the weather has been grey and rainy till thursday. Not fun when you are only here for the week in an expensive hotel.
Most of the Cook Islands (15) were discovered by Captain Cook, hence the name but the first European to set foot in Aitutaki was Captain Bligh in 1789 with the Bounty, just a couple weeks before the mutiny. The Cook Islanders are polynesian and the main language is Cook Island Maori but they all speak english with a heavy NZ accent. The Cooks islands are independent since 1965 but affiliated with New Zealand for defense, foreign affairs and finances. Cook Islanders are NZ citizens.
While the weather was not so great we enjoyed walking and bicycling around the island. We even had to wear a sweater during the evenings. Yesterday we took out Fiipper to tour the lagoon but the wind and cold water (only 22 degrees) made us turn around. Tomorrow we have booked a lagoon cruise with a barbecue on “One Foot Island”. It looks like it will be a sunny day.
We have checked out today (Friday) since there are no custom officials working during the WE. We paid 220NZD (about 140USD) departure tax and anchorage fee of 5NZD per day included. In French Polynesia, part of the EU, we did not pay anything…