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I want to continue what he started: Widow remembers a Rarotonga tourism trailblazer

Monday 5 February 2024 | Written by Joanne Holden | Published in Features, Memory Lane, Weekend


I want to continue what he started: Widow remembers a Rarotonga tourism trailblazer
Kave and Jules Tamaariki were married for eight years. 24020410 Photo: Supplied

When Kave Tamaariki booked for his two sons and their families to visit him in Rarotonga in the new year, it was meant to be his first time showing his four grandchildren his island home. Instead, their first trip to the sub-tropical paradise came a few months early – for their grandfather’s funeral.

Kave had a lot of plans for 2024, widow Jules Tamaariki told Cook Islands News before she embarked on a holiday the couple were meant to be sharing this month.

He was going to ease back on his duties at the couple’s tourism operation, Ariki Adventures. They were going to spend more time with his grandchildren in New Zealand. He was going to kite surf in the Philippines for a couple of weeks.

Those plans came to a halt when Kave suffered a heart attack, followed by a brain haemorrhage, and died on October 29, 2023. He was 58.

“There’s a lot of grieving still to be done,” Jules says.

“I’ve got myself into a routine. I get up at 5am every morning for yoga. I have to do that so I can function.

“I did think about getting off the island early on, but then I thought, ‘What would that look like? Moving away and starting again?’ I decided I want to continue what he started.”

She has been supported in her grief by a “great network of amazing friends” in Rarotonga – as well as her father, who travelled from the United Kingdom for Kave’s funeral and remained by her side for the next three months.

Kave’s words of wisdom have also helped Jules through her grief.

“He was a very strong character. If you had an issue, he would say, ‘I don’t want the problem, I want the solution. You know the answer, you just need to figure it out.’

“I was talking to my friend about it and she said, ‘Well, he’s prepared you for this.’”

Kave was born in New Zealand on May 27, 1965, to Cook Islands parents.

Raised in Tokoroa, Kave moved to Tauranga to join the Royal New Zealand Air Force in 1987.

Kave undertook United Nations peacekeeping missions in Angola, East Timor, Afghanistan, and the Middle East.

He was made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2000 for his service in the RNZAF Regular Forces, and achieved the rank of Squadron Leader.

He was operating out of RNZAF’s Whenuapai base in Auckland when he met Jules through “friends of friends” in 2004.

However, the pair decided to split after Kave was sent to Wellington following his six-month stint in Angola – Jules, who was in the midst of studying and setting up a physio podiatry practise, not ready to move with him.

Nearly 10 years later, she was working between Auckland and Wellington when she bumped into a familiar face in the capital.

Jules had signed up for Ironman New Zealand and the Rarotonga Triathlon, despite never having been to the Cook Islands – but her and a friend decided to take a break from their “rigorous training” to go bar-hopping.

“My girlfriend got herself shacked up so I was left on my own,” Jules says.

“Kave was dressed as a gangster.

“I didn’t recognise him, he didn’t recognise me – but we got talking.”

It was only after Jules mentioned the Rarotonga Triathlon and Kave declared his love for kiteboarding that the cogs started turning.

“I said, ‘Kave?’ and that was it,” Jules says.

“We got serious pretty fast. But then, he was going to go to a post in Israel and I thought, ‘Not again.’

“He had talked about going back to Rarotonga before, so it became a question of Israel or Rarotonga.”

Kave left the RNZAF after 28 years of service, moving to Rarotonga with Jules in 2014. However, he continued to serve on the Active Reserve between 2015 and 2022.

Kave had decided to do the triathlon as well. He needed to buy a bike and Jules had to teach him how to swim competitively, as it was his first attempt at the swim-bike-run race.

Adopting a dog was the top priority for Kave and Jules in their plans for the Rarotonga move, followed by starting a business.

Kave, along with his brother, built three studio bungalows next to his house in Avana to serve as tourist accommodation.

Meanwhile, 10 paddle boards from Kave’s days teaching kite boarding were loaded into a container with the rest of the couple’s belongings, so they could offer paddle tours of Muri Lagoon.

New canine companion Tama soon joined them as they established Ariki Adventures.

“I was doing massage as well, just trying to bring in extra money. We were broke. We put everything into it,” Jules says.

“We were doing it all from phone and the market.

“Kave’s auntie had a little art shop, and she offered to let us use the land. We built a little shack, got a coffee machine, starting making bagels and things – and it grew from there.”

Kave and Jules married in January 2015.

The couple pioneered the turtle tour in Avaavaroa Passage in 2017, starting sea turtle conservation group Te Ara O Te Onu to research and protect the reptiles at the same time.

The number of turtle tour operators had since swelled to 14, turning the passage into what Jules calls “Vegas for turtles”.

Jules says their tour has contributed “thousands of dollars” to sea turtle conservation, including to a project planting trees for nesting in Tongareva.

Kave and Jules’ multi-pronged tourism operation “kept chugging along” when Covid-19 forced the country’s borders to close in 2020.

“The stress of paying staff was the biggest thing. We had the subsidy, but it sometimes wouldn’t come until the end of the month.”

In the lead-up to the border reopening permanently in January 2022, Ariki Adventures shifted from Muri to Arorangi.

The couple continued looking for ways to expand the business, whale watching being their latest addition.

“He was definitely the driver, I was in the background making sure everything worked out all right.

“He would have a gold star idea, like a flying fox from the top of the mountain, and I would bring it down to what’s affordable.”

The only change Jules plans to make to the operation they established together is to turn the tourist accommodation side into a rolling yoga retreat.

“He would encourage me to do that.”

Jules believes the stress of running the business contributed to Kave’s heart attack, but she cannot help wondering if he would have survived had his symptoms not been misdiagnosed as heart burn three days beforehand.

“You can go round and round the rabbit hole,” she says.

“It was just his time.

“I’m proud of what he gave me. The strength he had helped me think a bit more about what I’m capable of, and to stand up for myself.”