A visitor taking part in an island night event in Rarotonga. Cook Islands Tourism/21030544.
Describing herself as one of those pesky Kiwi’s that keep coming back to the Cook Islands, NZ-based freelance writer and artist Susan Allen is concerned about the local environment, and whether tourists are truly welcome.
With the borders re-opened and Covid-19 free, we’re on our
Time to breathe a collective sigh of relief, or is it?
I for one can’t wait to step off the plane, feel that rush
of warm air, see the swaying palm trees, and hear the sweet familiar sounds of
Seriously I love the place warts and all, but right now I’m
doubting whether we are truly welcome and if you are really “open”.
One thing is for sure, I’m not one of the stereotypical
types of Kiwi visitor, described in an opinion piece (‘Our holiday is over,
their holiday begins’) in the May 17 edition of CI News.
You know, those dangerous chilly bin carrying speedster
The writer pushed my buttons though and left me feeling
annoyed about being lumped into the category with those ‘Kiwi’s’.
No, not for me. The noisy scooters using the ring road
around the island as a race track, or the 4wd bikes tearing up the land, and
loud bumper to bumper traffic in downtown Avarua.
Give me a peaceful spot by the lagoon to watch the sunset
over the reef, time reconnecting with friends made, a Cocktail or two, and I’m
as happy as a pig in mud.
I wait for the bus, eat local, buy local, and am acutely
aware of only leaving behind the smallest of environmental footprints.
Maybe I am an exception to the rule, but I think not.
As a frequent visitor to Rarotonga over the last twenty
years, I have felt mostly welcome and tried to be respectful of the people and
place. I like to think I’ve arrived with an open mind and heart, and to learn
more about everyday life on the island.
Over time, I’ve observed this ‘picture perfect’ paradise
changing, and not necessarily for the better.
The place is busier with more tourists and vehicles, and
inadequate infrastructure in place to meet the demand.
The environment has taken a serious hit, especially the once
When I first started visiting, the lagoon was teeming with
brilliantly coloured tropical fish. Now there is noticeably less marine life,
with many species on the endangered list.
Which brings to me the plight of the parrot fish, one of my
Not merely swimming about waiting to be spotted by
snorkelling tourists, but a VIP fish of the highest calibre, and a vital part
of the marine ecosystem.
The pretty parrot fish spend most of their days busily
cleaning algae from the reef to keep it healthy, miraculously processing dying
coral into sand.
So you can imagine my horror knowing this and then
subsequently spotting one on the menu at a local restaurant. No wonder the
oceans are in trouble.
As for the coral, which was a rainbow of colours twenty
years back, it now lies dying on the seabed, like a vast wasteland of bleached
bones. A reminder of how exploitation of our natural world is destroying life
in the oceans of the world.
If you care to venture below the waves you will see this for
The tone of the previous feature also made me question if
the local’s ‘genial smiles’ are in fact genuine? Or part of an island wide
performance, staged somewhat reluctantly, to entertain and cajole us
Kiwi’s. That we are merely
If it hadn’t been for my own personal experience of warmth
and hospitality in Rarotonga, I would be thinking twice about returning.
But coming from a NZ tourist destination myself, I do share
some of the sentiments of your columnist.
When our population here swells over the summer months, the
visitors arrive in droves, much to the annoyance of the locals.
They take over our best beach spots in their camper vans,
hang out their dirty laundry in trees, plug into our free WIFI, buy nothing but
noodles, which they eat over a camp stove in supermarket carparks.
To top it off they leave behind their rubbish for us to
If I’m honest I can’t say I’ve always felt welcoming or
flashed them a ‘genial smile’. Maybe if my livelihood depended on it, I too
would be singing and dancing along with the best of them.
PS The question, ‘but should we be telling them about
Dengue? Damn right you should. Forewarned is forearmed.
Susan Allen is a New Zealand-based freelance writer and artist