Talk to anyone on the street about Carter and the response will most likely be, “He’s a great guy! He gets things done.”
It’s a characteristic that earned the 63-year old another nickname – Carter the catalyst.
In fact, there have been a number of letters to the editor and smoke signals that supported Carter’s proactive approach to improving and enhancing the lives of locals through various New Zealand Aid Programme funded community projects.
In one case, a letter writer suggested Carter should have the Prime Minister’s position, such was his popularity.
Carter and wife Leoni return to Aotearoa this week, a week shy of two years in the post of High Commissioner, with fond memories of the Cook Islands people and the fragrance of the country and culture in their hearts.
For Carter, his lasting impressions of the Cook Islands will be her people.
“What stands out for me is the people,” says Carter.
“The highlight has to be the warm and welcoming people – the Cooks have the most beautiful, loving and caring people you will meet anywhere.”
Carter says that it’s been a real privilege to have visited 10 of the 12 inhabited outer islands with the northern group island of Manihiki holding a particularly special place in his heart.
“It’s been a real pleasure to have visited the outer islands and see the real Cook Islands which hasn’t been diluted by papaa like here,” says Carter.
Carter is also proud of the various projects that have been achieved during his time as New Zealand High Commissioner including projects that have improved the water, waste and sanitation management on Rarotonga.
Carter points to the completion and opening of the alternative cruise ship jetty in Arorangi as another important project ticked off the list.
However he says one of the two projects that he is most proud of is the formation of the water safety committee to improve the awareness of potentially dangerous swimming areas across Rarotonga.
The water safety movement was instigated by Carter and other concerned residents after a dear friend’s mother drowned in the Avaavaroa passage.
The other project close to Carter’s heart is the Future for Youth Imitative – developed to co-ordinate various youth-focused projects in the community.
While the seed for the Future for Youth initiative was planted in 2011 when Titikaveka grower Teava Iro co-ordinated an agriculture project through the Titikaveka Grower’s Association to target troubled youth.
After hearing of the project, Carter became a catalyst to increase the initiatives publicity and to run a fundraising initiative for the group which recently held its inaugural annual general meeting to formalise the committee.
Carters says that he’s especially proud of the two community based projects because it is something the local people can take ownership of and drive.
“It’s been a real buzz for me to see the development of these two projects.”
On the health front – Carter says he is as fit, if not fitter, than he’s ever been – one of his many goals when he took up his High Commissioner’s post in late July, 2011.
“It’s easy to get fit here,” says Carter.
He says that from his home at Ngatipa, he’s just had to roll out of bed and in to the Tupapa centre for exercise classes there while Tereora College physical education teacher and top female triathlete Vanessa Woodger has been his personal trainer, “for this old papa”.
He also still gets a buzz out of taking part in the Round Rarotonga Road Race and completing the circle round around the island in under three hours.
In terms of the state of the nation – Carter says in his view the Cook Islands stands out from the rest of the Pacific Islands.
“The country had great structure, great democracy and it has been developed well.”
He adds that he believes the Cooks has many more development opportunities ahead of it.
“What is really wonderful is education and educating the people,” says Carter.
“You can never do enough to educate people – just build on the educational system and that’s being done and it needs to continue to develop and keep lifting the standard.”
“Some people say ‘but locals just leave to go overseas’, but we need them to come back with their skills and knowledge and add back to the country.”
Carter and Leoni are looking forward to returning to their home on Ninety Mile beach – a home the couple haven’t lived in for many years.
“A mate of mine commented that after 60 years I’ll finally return home to settle down,” chuckles Carter.
However the couple won’t have too much time to reminisce about the wonderful people and they met and time spent in the Cooks as its back on the campaign trail for Carter.
“We arrive back in New Zealand on the 21st and have a few days to unpack then I’ll be out campaigning starting on Friday 26th.”
A career politician, Carter has racked up several records during his time in the Beehive.
He has spent 24 years as an MP, been senior government whip and senior opposition whip, and is the longest serving whip in the history of the New Zealand National Party.
Carter spent 20 years working in local government and became the youngest county clerk in New Zealand for the Hokianga County Council at the age of 27.
This time round – Carter will be running to be mayor of the Far North district.
While he may be returning to a busy schedule – Carter says he will be keeping up with current affairs in the Cooks via online media and social network Facebook.
“With modern technology these days you don’t have to lose touch – we will be taking a little bit of the Cooks in our hearts.”