We arrived off Avarua, the only real town on Rarotonga, on the morning of January 26. This is a tender port that often has to be skipped because of rough seas. The day before had been pretty rough so we fully expected to miss this port, as the world cruise had done last year. To our surprise, we were told to meet in the Queen’s Lounge for our excursion as the crew began to put out the tender boats. Four boats were in the water, but the sea swells turned out to be too high to enable boarding, so the Captain announced we would sail around to the northwest side of the island where a narrow channel had been constructed in the reef that our tenders might be able to navigate. So the ship set off with the tenders following along like ducklings following their mother.
Rarotonga is the largest of the Cook Islands, with a population of about 20,000. While Captain Cook visited the Cook Islands (named for him in the 19th century), he never reached Rarotonga. The Cook Islands voluntarily came under British control in 1888 to avoid the threat of French possession, and in 1901 were annexed by New Zealand, later achieving autonomy “in association” with New Zealand. They are citizens of New Zealand with NZ passports. Today more Cook Islanders live in Australia & New Zealand than in the islands. According to some sources, the Maori who first settled New Zealand came from the Cook Islands.
The ship finally anchored off the coast at Arorangi, where the channel had been cut through the coral reef that surrounds Rarotonga. We were on the 3rd tender in, to catch the excursion we had booked. This beach looked like a nice Polynesian location.
Our excursion was called “Pa’s Eco-tour.” Pa Teuraa is a colorful local shaman in his 70’s & his tours get good ratings. But this one was really a dud. It included none of the features described in the brochure, but only a tour of Pa’s back yard and a half mile walk down an unpaved automobile road. To be sure, Pa’s back yard was filled with wonders, like a tree that is 10 million years old (or maybe just 10,000) – authenticated as such by NASA — and a stone he obtained in Hawaii that tells him when there is going to be an earthquake. He invited those from California to leave him their phone numbers so he could call and warn them before an earthquake. He is apparently a medicine man & told us that many people come to him when their doctors give up on them. It seems he is the only person in the world who knows how to cure cancer and lupus. He warned us that coffee kills your brain cells & pork is full of worms that will crawl out if you soak it in vinegar for an hour. But his yard did have a lot of beautiful flowers and majestic views.
After about an hour at Pa’s place, including about half an hour while he sold books inside his house, we set out on our walk. We thought, finally we are going to do some of the things described in the brochure! But no. One of the buses was leaving & about half the visitors decided to go back with it to the pier. The rest of us proceeded to walk. . . not through the jungle as advertised but down a nice country road. We saw some nice views of the mountains & some pigs & chickens, and Pa showed us a taro plant and a palm tree he said Eleanor Roosevelt planted near the top of the mountain in 1944. Soon Pa proposed that we have some watermelon, which was back at his house, but before we got there the other bus arrived & we drove back to the pier. We did drive through Avarua, but anyone who wanted to stop there had to make their own way back to the pier (there was a shuttle bus, but it seemed a little iffy).
Back at the tender pier we found an unusually large crowd of passengers lined up. It turned out that one of the tenders had been blown onto the reef while trying to get through the channel & it was stuck there, unable to move off. Some police in a zodiac were taking tender passengers to shore a few at a time & a number of passengers swam & walked ashore in the shallow waters of the lagoon inside the beach. It was quite a scene (some of the pictures below were given to us by our tablemate Bob and occurred before we reached the pier).
As we stood in line one of the other passengers was telling everybody that they might as well sit in the shade because the tender had been stuck there for 2 hours already & wasn’t likely to move soon. A number of folks followed his advice, but not 5 minutes later the line began to move. They were loading another tender to sail past the stranded one and take folks on shore back to the ship. We made it onto that tender & arrived back safely (applause when we got through the channel in the reef). Eventually, after lightening the tender by a couple of tons of passengers, it was towed off the reef & was back on board when we sailed, somewhat the worse for wear. The Captain went to the scene to give encouragement & was heard to mutter “I’m never bringing the ship here again.” We found out later that two of our other tablemates, Bill and Robert, had been on the stranded tender & Robert needed 3 stitches in his finger after cutting it on the coral while walking into shore. Everyone was given unlimited wine at dinner the next night as compensation & those who were on the stricken tender were each given 3 bottles of wine & $250. I told Robert that the headline on his Facebook post of the incident should read, “Shipwrecked on a coral reef in the Pacific Ocean.”
A few days later we were walking past the stricken tender & noticed the damage the reef had done to the temder’s hull and propeller. As I write, they have had it out on the dock in two ports for repairs & have been sanding & painting while it hangs in its usual place above the deck where we walk. If the coral can do this much damage to fiberglass & metal, imagine what it can do to your feet if you don’t have them covered.
And so, after an eventful if not entirely fulfilling day, we headed out to sea toward New Zealand, our last Pacific islands.