OPINION: The Plight of the Kiwi and the Parrot Fish

Wednesday 2 June 2021 | Written by Supplied | Published in Editorials, Opinion


OPINION: The Plight of the Kiwi and the Parrot Fish
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 way.

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 the Ukulele.

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 types.

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 pristine waterways. 

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 personal favourites.

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 yourself.   

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 tolerated. 

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 recycle too. 

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


Bobby Tipokoroa on 05/06/2021

Very valid points made. Well done!

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