COOK IS­LANDS

Go Travel The Pacific - - Contents - By Gaynor Stan­ley

It’s not un­til it ar­rives that I re­alise it’s been ab­sent. Bliss­fully. The am­bi­ent noise ever present in in­ner city life mo­men­tar­ily shocks the is­land’s seren­ity when three utes start re­vers­ing all at once. And then the wind gen­tly car­ries that rau­cous in­tru­sion out into the vast Pacific

Ocean and the nat­u­ral state of calm re­sumes.

I ’ m vis­it­ing the tiny Cook Is­land of Atiu, pro­nounced Ah- tee- you, with a bunch of very well trav­elled pro­fes­sion­als from Lon­don, Los An­ge­les, Mu­nich, Syd­ney and Auck­land. De­spite, or be­cause of, the lack of ur­ban trap­pings on this is­land of just 500 in­hab­i­tants, we all just love this haven from the ev­ery­day.

Atiu is one of the few places left on our planet that is pretty much the same slice of par­adise as it’s always been. ( You can get in­ter­net if you re­ally must. But for­get the mo­bile phone.)

Atiu is a lit­tle sis­ter to glam­orous Ai­tu­taki and lovely Raro­tonga. This coral is­land is not such a looker, but Atiu’s got per­son­al­ity in spades. I’m in­fat­u­ated from the mo­ment we dis­em­bark our 16- seater Air Raro­tonga plane into an open air ‘ ar­rivals lounge’ and the high wattage en­ergy of smil­ing, ex­cited lo­cals greet­ing us or see­ing off loved ones. And you gotta love the way the Air Raro boys load up the ute to get the bags off and on the plane. Or the sign that re­spect­fully

re­quests you hand in any AK47s be­fore board­ing.

Over the next few days we ad­ven­ture via ma­jes­tic beaches, rain­for­est as tan­gled as jun­gle, coral plateaux and lime­stone caves. Bring sturdy shoes and a rea­son­able de­gree of fit­ness to go coral hop­ping deep into the lush hin­ter­land and down into the Anatak­i­taki Cave with Mar­shall Humphries to find shim­mer­ing sta­lag­mites and the teensy Kopeka bird, a clever lit­tle swal­low unique to Atiu, that nav­i­gates into pitch black cav­erns like a bat.

On an­other tour, I meet an amaz­ing man named Bird­man Ge­orge, hum­ble, in­for­ma­tive with­out ever be­ing dull and wor­thy. Pas­sion­ate about con­serv­ing his home, this guy’s ex­per­tise in bring­ing species back from the brink of ex­tinc­tion has been recog­nised by the World Wide Fund for Na­ture.

You know what else Atiu’s also got to please a city slicker like me? Acres of high qual­ity Ara­bica cof­fee plan­ta­tions. And an amaz­ingly so­phis­ti­cated gallery called Atiu Fibre Arts Stu­dio, where world class tex­tile artist An­drea Eimke ex­hibits her ex­quis­ite work ( 35 of An­drea’s pieces fea­tured in Syd­ney’s Pow­er­house Mu­seum’s Love Lace ex­hi­bi­tion). We have a cof­fee tast­ing here at the end of a con­nois­seurs tour with An­drea’s hus­band, Juer­gen Manske, having learnt why the beans are so good cus­tomers have stand­ing or­ders from as far away as Sacra­mento, USA.

But don’t ex­pect a café. There is one friendly lit­tle western style bar at Aitu Vil­las. Stay in one of the six vil­las here and you’ll find cof­fee in what is hands- down the best stocked ‘ mini bar’ I’ve ever seen, see pic. They also host a won­der­ful cul­tural night of Cook Is­lands song and dance.

I’ve saved my best tip for last. While there’s only one bar in the sense we know it, there are no

less than nine of Atiu’s

leg­endary tu­munu or homebrew clubs that date back to mis­sion­ary times ( when they banned kava drink­ing the lo­cals turned to homebrew). This is a must- do Atiu ex­pe­ri­ence that all visi­tors are en­cour­aged to par­tic­i­pate in. It is best to go with a lo­cal who can ex­plain the pro­to­col and rit­u­als of this drink­ing cer­e­mony ( take some cash along to con­trib­ute to the brew’s costs too).

The tu­munu is the name for both the sim­ple, grass roofed and open­sided shack that is the ‘ bar’ and the bar­rel carved from the trunk of the co­conut tree in which the fruit flavoured beers are brewed ( th­ese

days it’s more likely the bar­rel will be a plas­tic bucket). You sit down in a cir­cle around the bar­man seated at the bar­rel hold­ing a small cup carved a from co­conut shell. Ev­ery­one drinks from this sin­gle cup. The bar­man dips the cup into the bar­rel and presents it one by one to those gath­ered in the cir­cle. Look him in the eye and, if you de­cide to ac­cept the drink, down it in one gulp. Round and round the cup goes. More con­vivial and con­vivial the night gets. Un­til the bar­man taps the bar­rel and sig­nals it’s time for a prayer to close the ses­sion and bid good­bye to some very happy campers.

One Foot Is­land, Ai­tu­taki

Cook Is­lands, Ai­tu­taki

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