First we met Ron McKenzie, who did some mechanical work on our engine and generously opened his home to us and introduced us to his family. Ron is from Australia but has lived in Rarotonga for nearly 25 years now. Michael spent a day at his home catching up on the internet and they generously gifted us dozens of passion fruit and paw-paw.
We rented scooters one day to tour the island, the highlight of which was stopping into the Maire Nui Gardens, an oasis of 7 acres of spectacular tropical gardens in Titikaveka on the south east corner of the island. There we met Hinano and John, who run the gardens and the cafe (where we had dinner one night - incredible food with the world's greatest cheesecake - lemon meringue - and not to be missed!). Hinano and John became our hosts for the remainder of our stay, loaning us their truck, and allowing us use of their home for beachfront access for a day of relaxing by the sea (the most spectacular beach on the island with amazing coral to snorkel - they rent out a home/haven right next door: check out heliconiahideaway.com).
The two of them are fascinating people. John breeds race horses and owns a winery back in his native Australia. He met Hinano 30 years ago on a visit to the island, and then came back 8 years ago when he married her (I'm always a sucker for great love stories!). Hinano is the 16th generation descendant of the original Cook Islands natives, the coming together of Samoan and Marquesan royal families who decided to rule the island together to maintain peace. Today, the 'ariki' or chiefs of the ruling families still maintain power and act as advisors to the elected government. The chiefdoms continue to be handed down to the first-born, whether male or female. Hinano's grandmother was the Big Chief, so to speak, and lived in the palace, which Hinano allowed us to tour. The palace is an unpretentious large two story home with a wraparound porch surrounded by acres of gorgeous land, a marae (ancient ceremonial grounds) in the back, and a cemetery where we visited her grandparents' graves. The palace is private property but while the house is locked up now, we visited the grounds, got to peak in the windows and see all the furniture as well which looks like it was closed up many years ago. There is currently a dispute as to who will take over from Hinano's grandmother: The grandmother's eldest daughter has been living in NZ since she was 12 when she went there for high school, while the people prefer the next daughter (Hinano's mother) since she has lived in Rarotonga her whole life and is more in touch with the people. If Hinano's mother does indeed legally get the authority, then Hinano could become Big Chief after her mom (Hinano's older sister has been in NZ since she was 12 as well). We were fascinated to learn first hand about the culture and politics of the Cook Islands from Hinano and John - and marvelled at the fact that we have become friends with real live royalty! Besides, they are great people and we spent some great times with them. And they surprised Michael and me for our birthdays when they brought their famous cheesecake as the birthday cake for our potluck dinner to share with Britannia, Piko,and Ron/Gina.
Two additional interesting facts about Raro: Landholding is handed down by families, which may account for the fact that there is no real poverty on the island. And families bury their loved ones right on their property - a comforting thought to have your loved ones, even dead loved ones, close by.
At 8/19/2011 13:22 (utc) our position was 19°34.75'S 168°09.05'W