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‘It’s like coming back home’: Shortland Street star shares his connection with Cook Islands

Saturday 19 November 2022 | Written by Rashneel Kumar | Published in Entertainment, Entertainment, Features, National

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‘It’s like coming back home’: Shortland Street star shares his connection with Cook Islands
Ben Mitchell and his family, wife Kate and children Mila Mitchell, Sofia Mitchell, Nico Mitchell, with Aitutaki tour guide Ali who Benjamin shared a special bond and connection with. SUPPLIED/22111819

Ben Mitchell has visited the Cook Islands several times but it was during a recent trip that he felt a connection which brought him closer to his ‘ancestral homeland’.

Best known for his role as Dr. TK Samuels in New Zealand’s longest running soap opera, Shortland Street, Mitchell and his family – wife Kate and children Mila, Sofia and Nico – spent some quality time in Rarotonga and Aitutaki “recharging” before returning to the studios.

The 43-year-old has done this many times before, but his latest visit was different and special, he says.

“I feel a real connection to my ancestors from here, I have similar feeling of Tahiti, but when I was here and when I’m in Aitutaki, it’s different. It’s very hard to explain, the locals will understand. It’s like coming back to Hawaiki where my ancestors stayed, it’s like coming back home when I’m in Aitutaki or even in Rarotonga in the lagoon here.

“This is the place where my ancestors set off, they came all the way down to Aotearoa … and there is such a missing link down there, but here the culture is very strong.

“It is a very special place for my family, it has taken me 44 years, but probably it has taken a tourist in me to understand and appreciate too, otherwise I wouldn’t have appreciated it.”

Mitchell, who speaks fluent Te Reo Maori, says his great grandparents hail from Fiji and he has “6 per cent Tongan blood”, but considers himself a “Polynesian at heart”.

Ben Mitchell during a vaka cruise in Aitutaki. SUPPLIED/22111823
Ben Mitchell during a vaka cruise in Aitutaki. SUPPLIED/22111823

“I have been on this journey looking at a subconscious level, thinking where I am from, not just where I grew up or where my parents grew up, not even where my grandparents grew up, but where my generations come from.

“They didn’t just come from somewhere or just from this and that tribe … they were great Polynesian voyagers from places like Rarotonga right through to the Marquesas, but here I feel special and I know this is it.”

Getting off the plane in Rarotonga, the sound of drums and the “welcome home” greetings give Mitchell the warmth that he gets from those close to him.

In an interview with Stuff, Mitchell ranked “listening to Rarotongan drums” as one of his favourites.

He tells Cook Islands News: “It’s the drum, I don’t know why, you might say it’s just the drums, but for me it’s something ancient in my brain, in my body, in my heart. It’s like I knew this knowledge, and it’s just subconsciously waking.”

“Literally I have been going to every single (island) shows, the dancers, they’re phenomenal, sensational dancers, and drumming is next level. They get me up on the stage for a bit of dancing and to beat the drums, and I have made a decision that my girls, my daughters, are going to learn (drumming) when they get back home.”

Mitchell joined the Shortland Street, initially as a reporter in 2000 – fresh after winning the Mr New Zealand title in 1999.

In 2006 he rejoined the Shortland Street cast as Dr TK Samuels, becoming one of the longest running characters – after Chris Warner (played by Michael Galvin) – in New Zealand’s prime-time soap opera, centering on the fictitious Shortland Street Hospital.

Over the years his character has grown from a young doctor joining the Emergency Department, to now the CEO of Shortland Street.

A humbled Mitchell thanks his co-stars, directors and writers for keeping him going and help make his character one of the most loved in the show which has been running for three decades.

Ben Mitchell and his family, wife Kate and children Mila Mitchell, Sofia Mitchell, Nico Mitchell, having breakfast at their resort in Rarotonga. SUPPLIED/22111824
Ben Mitchell and his family, wife Kate and children Mila Mitchell, Sofia Mitchell, Nico Mitchell, having breakfast at their resort in Rarotonga. SUPPLIED/22111824

“It’s been a privilege, I have worked with some of the best actors in the country who have gone on to do amazing things internationally, the directors, and fantastic script writers and I get to do what I love every single day. It’s been blessing man, I can’t describe it, brother,” he says.

“I didn’t grow up wanting to be an actor, I was kind of like ‘Ah what would it be like to be in movies’, and I did a couple of things here and there (before Shortland). In hindsight when I look back, I can’t believe my journey has been so long but I never think of it that way, you’re just on the go and I’m just getting started.”

Mitchell, who is looking to venture into producing and teaching, is already planning to return to Rarotonga next year with his family.

“Thank you so much for the support from everyone here, there is a lot of support here and there is also a Fiji community here who I connected with over some kava up the road from my resort … I had about seven or eight bowls, luckily my resort was a 500 metre drive home,” he shares with a laugh.

“I’ll be back home next year, 100 per cent, and I’ll come back to see everyone.”