Vainepoto Tangaroa contemplates about life as the sun sets in Mauke. Photo: DANIEL FISHER. 21010725
At the beginning of 2019, Vainepoto Tangaroa traded her mum’s slice of paradise, Gisborne and Tokomaru Bay on the East Coast of the North Island of New Zealand, for that of her late father’s, the beautiful Cook Islands. Tangaroa tells associate editor Katrina Tanirau why it’s a decision she’s glad she made.
her father, the late Upokoina Tangaroa when she was eight-years-old had an
enormous impact on Vainepoto Tangaroa.
it wasn’t until she was transitioning from being a teenager into adulthood that
she realised the far reaching effects of such a loss.
years, Tangaroa blocked out memories of her dad – a coping mechanism she says
came from a need to protect herself and her mental health.
mum Patricia Tangaroa nee Milner, did a stellar job of raising her and her
so many who find themselves wading through life looking for the missing pieces
of their puzzle, Tangaroa’s desire to know who she really was, couldn’t be
being resentful and angry, thoughts of suicide and binge drinking simply didn’t
help the situation.
“freaked out” about leaving Gisborne where she grew up and went to school on
the East Coast of the North Island of New Zealand, in order to grow she knew
that it was time to return to the home of her dad and the place where she was
born – the Cook Islands.
January 2019, Tangaroa jumped on a plane and travelled to Rarotonga to take up
a job at Cook Islands Tourism.
the fear and did it anyway and from there the journey of growth, healing and
story of Vainepoto Tangaroa’s mum Patricia Tangaroa nee Milner and her dad
Upokoina Tangaroa is a tale that could easily provide the basis for an
award-winning novel or movie.
started “30 odd years ago”, when a young Patricia decided to take a trip to
Rarotonga to play squash.
was pretty impulsive, a far cry from the person she is today,” Tangaroa says.
played squash with Sue Marsters, whose husband was Peter Marsters, he trained
Upokoina Tangaroa, my father, for boxing in the South Pacific Games.”
Peter Marsters took her mum out for dinner to the Edgewater and there sitting
at the table was Upokoina Tangaroa – a skilled rugby player and boxer from
Akatokamanava/Mauke and Aitutaki.
guess it was kind of a set up by Peter and Sue and it worked,” she says.
spent two weeks with my dad, after that he went back to Mauke and she to New
other plans for Patricia and Upokoina when a teaching job came up at Apii Mauke
and he asked her to apply.
Vainepoto Tangaroa sits and listens in the Divided Church in Mauke. 21010814
them knew that the two weeks they had spent together was more than just a
fleeting love affair.
being “impulsive” she applied, was successful and moved to somewhere she had
never been – Akatokamanava/Mauke.
missed my dad and knew he wasn’t like any of her previous relationships,”
second day she was on Mauke, he moved in with her and the island was talking
Tangaroa was born in Mauke and if they had stayed a little longer her younger
brother would have been too.
after three years, Patricia was ready to go.
lived pretty “primitive” in Tukume with no running water, no floor and an
dad was used to that life, but her mum even though she had a basic upbringing
again with my little brother, she decided that it was not how she wanted to
bring up her two children.”
Tangaroa’s parents had children from previous relationships – her mum a son and
her dad a daughter.
brother grew up with our family, a typical Maori family where he grew up with
my mum’s sister so my mum could continue her studies and travel,” Tangaroa
sister grew up with her mother and we did not see her often. Growing up I often
wondered why she didn’t make more effort; girls always dream of having that
sister relationship and I have never had it.
the last few years I have realised that I was lucky to have my brothers and my
sister and we will always be connected through our dad.”
Tangaroa was eight-years-old when her dad passed away.
back, she accepts the magnitude of such a loss and the effect it had on her,
but as a child Tangaroa says she often thought her dad’s family could have done
more to keep them involved.
I have grown up, I have realised that they had their families and they didn’t
have to do anything,” she says.
one of dad’s sisters made a big effort, she would bring her entire family to
Gisborne, she would regularly call us and my brother and I were and still are
really close with her children.”
Tangaroa was buried in Hamilton, New Zealand right across from his father
first time since they left the Cook Islands, Tangaroa and her family returned
to Mauke to place a memorial plaque that sits right on top of the grave of her
great grandmother – Mama Aue, Vainepoto Ngauu Aue nee Taia.
wanted to bring him back but for many reasons, we did not,” she says.
were lucky enough to have most of my dad’s siblings and his mother in New
and one of her dad’s sisters lived and still lives in the 16th island of the
Cook Islands – Tokoroa.”
doesn’t stop for those left behind after a loved one passes away, but it
doesn’t mean it gets any easier either.
and her brothers were blessed to have her mum, but there were always questions
in the back of her mind. Questions she was often too scared to ask because of
fear that she might hurt her mum.
the Tangaroa family returned to Rarotonga for a holiday.
2018, she came back alone with her dad’s brother, mother and her cousin for the
New Year in Aitutaki.
Vainepoto Tangaroa and Daniel Fisher from Cook Islands Tourism in Mauke over the festive season. Photo: DANIEL FISHER. 21010712
this trip I had already accepted a job with Cook Islands Tourism, in November
2018 I saw the job advertised with Cook Islands Tourism and was offered it
December and moved in January 2019,” she says.
years on, Tangaroa has contemplated about whether she was ready to make the
move to Rarotonga.
not, she says but she knew that it was something she had to do.
wasn’t getting the same enjoyment I once got from Flight Centre, I had been
there nearly four years and even 18 years on I was still having a hard time
dealing with my dad not being around,” Tangaroa says.
to the place he loves the most, technically that is Mauke but Rarotonga is
as Tangaroa arrived on Rarotonga, she says she could feel her dad’s presence -
she drove around the island and just cried.
this is where I needed to be. It was so special and I knew I had made the right
choice,” she says.
hasn’t always had a place in Tangaroa’s heart, when she returned after her dad
passed, she was a child and did not appreciate the beauty of her and her
father’s birth place.
comes wisdom and the ability to really see. Every trip to Mauke since has been
an eye-opener for Tangaroa.
she hopes to make a permanent move.
people of Mauke make every trip so special for me, I remember when I came in
September some of the locals came up to me at the airport and said ‘Vainepoto,
welcome home’ and ‘Vainepoto, how’s mum?’ and as the days go on more questions
and more conversations, I had no idea who they were but they were happy to see
me,” she says.
each visit I have learnt how many people actually remember my mum and dad and
that is something so beautiful.”
have shared lots of stories about her dad but at the core of most of them, he
was a tough man and did not care who you were.
staunch, head strong and lived his life how he wanted. He was a great rugby
player and boxer, he loved to fish and plant.
always knew what this island meant to him but it wasn’t until I returned to the
Cook Islands, I got a better understanding just how important it is,” she says.
was one person that he would listen to though, my Nanny Vainepoto. She was the
matriarch and though he did not care who you were, she was everything to him
hence why I was lucky enough to get her name.
up, I did not like the name at all but I just didn’t understand the importance
of who she was to him and everyone in my family. It was a honour to have her
name and I know that now.”
moving to Rarotonga, Tangaroa admits there have been some tough times.
all it’s the first time she has lasted as long as she has away from her mum,
Gisborne where she grew up and her other slice of paradise - Tokomaru Bay, a
seaside settlement about 90 kilometres away from Gisborne.
healing and growth that she has experienced has all been worth it.
remind myself why I am here and what I have got out of this experience. The
friendships, the family connections, the connection to my Cook Islands culture
and of course my personal growth,” she says.
though I was not ready to move, I am so thankful for Cook Islands Tourism -
they have created a safe place for me to grow and a family I did not know how
much I would need on this journey.
my little slice of paradise on the East Coast most days but now I just have two