The move to close the park, made up of a collection of brightly coloured floating bouncy castle style components, follows a Ports Authority Board decision to move the waterpark from Avatiu Harbour to Avarua Harbour, once dredging there is completed.
Owners Jackie and Dr Teina Rongo are saddened by the Ports Authority’s decision, saying the waterpark has been popular with both children and adults.
“The Ports Board wanted to shift us to Avarua Harbour for various reasons including navigational issues though our park is in a ‘No-Boat Zone’ between two yellow buoys,” Jackie said.
They also mentioned plans to dock a longer patrol vessel in the harbour, though this will not be for a few years.
“Lastly, it is their belief that recreational swimming should not occur in Avatiu Harbour, though the general public has never been banned from this.”
Rongo said she and Teina had met with the Ports Board to ask them to reconsider their decision.
“We provided our reasons why Avarua was not ideal for us with the oceanographic and wind conditions, rip currents, and the problems involved with keeping the general public off during non-operating hours, etc. But ultimately they were not swayed.
“They’ve allowed us to continue operations until the dredging at Avarua Harbour is completed.”
Jackie said the waterpark had been a labour of love for Rongohiva Watersports from the very first stages of getting Ports Authority approval to operate within Avatiu Harbour and bringing the park components to Rarotonga in 2015. Rongohiva had also upskilled the crew and other interested Cook Islanders in open water lifesaving techniques by bringing the International Surf Lifesaving Association to the island in 2016, and finally opening the waterpark in April 2017, with the Boys Brigade helping with early trials.
“The lifesaving initiative has spun off into a lifesaving course that the Cook Islands Red Cross is working to offer continuously in our community,” Jackie said.
“We’ve received much positive feedback from the community and overseas guests that our waterpark is a ‘playground-on-the-water’ that has helped children increase their water confidence in a safe and monitored environment in an affordable and fun way.
Being so close to shore also allows parents to be in on their children’s fun, observing from the rock wall area. We hope we can continue to offer this activity if we can find the right location with wind protection and sufficient water depth to safely operate.”
The decision to close the park for the meantime has been accompanied by Rongohiva’s decision to move their distinctive yellow office inland, away from the coast.
With climate predictions swinging towards wetter conditions in the southern Cook Islands for the next 15 to 30 years and climate change models predicting cyclones with stronger intensity into the future, the Rongos say they are taking proactive steps to mitigate the possible impacts on their small family business.
A major rain event on the evening of April 9 this year saw the Avatiu stream adjacent to their hut flow over the bridge, bringing debris and thick layers of mud into houses and businesses in the area.
The Rongos, who are both Marine Biologists and have been strong advocates in climate change education, and are well aware of the impacts and flood zone areas on Rarotonga, say the flood provided them with a “reality check”.
“We have been very fortunate that no cyclone has hit Rarotonga since the six major ones that hit us in 2005,” says Dr Rongo.
“The coastal development along Avarua since then, which includes the reclaimed land of Constitution Park and the new design of Avatiu Harbour, have so far been untested.”
Dr Rongo believes these coastal “improvements” are likely to in fact cause more flooding and damage along the Avarua coast, putting their hut in a high-risk zone.
“Though moving the office is costly, it is the best option before the cyclone season.”
The Rongohiva team say they appreciate the support they have received from Ports Authority General Manager, Bim Tou, and his team for the waterpark concept, as well as the support they continue to receive from locals and visitors for their watersports activities.
Though current plans for the relocation of the waterpark are uncertain, Rongohiva will continue to operate their boating activities.
Those who have waterpark vouchers to redeem should contact Jackie at 73560 or Miller at 57585.