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Can you help solve a photo mystery?

Friday 6 January 2023 | Written by Cameron Scott | Published in Art, Features


Can you help solve a photo mystery?
This old photo appears to depict a scene somewhere in the South Pacific. 23010512

Former editor Cameron Scott hopes Cook Islands News readers might be able to help him solve the mystery surrounding an old photograph he bought in an online auction in New Zealand late last year.

The photo, which seems to date back to early last century or even earlier, was auctioned by Webb’s Antiques along with an assortment of other items from New Zealand and the South Pacific.

Scott bought the photograph for just $25 after noticing it had a handwritten caption saying, “A scene at New Zealand.” However, it showed a river or estuary lined with banana and coconut trees, and appeared to have been taken in some part of the South Pacific.

Close-up detail of part of the photo, showing thatched huts, two people and a river or estuary lined with coconut and banana trees. 23010513

“At first I wondered if it was taken somewhere in the Cook Islands, maybe even on Rarotonga. But when you look closely, there’s a rough kind of raft with raised seats in the water, which to me, doesn’t seem to be Cook Islands style,” he says. “I also don’t recall any tidal estuaries like that on Rarotonga.

“The thatched huts and other structures look similar to early Cook Islands buildings, but I really have no idea where it was taken or when.

“If a Cook Islands News reader could help me, I’d love to get their opinion. The photo definitely wasn’t taken in New Zealand though, so whoever wrote the caption couldn’t have known anything about it either.”

Anyone who can help should contact Scott at:


Te Tuhi Kelly on 12/01/2023

It appears that here is only one person in this photo, the other looks like an afterimage of the same person during timelapse. What looks like a goatee beard is probably a necklace of some sort because it looks like the person is holding a hand bag of some sort. Hence it could be female with a head covering or a distortion in the image and wearing a full dress. There is a square distortion above the second figure which indicates some sort of doctoring of the image. If this is Fiji the first photographs were made in the early 1870's in Fiji and bamboo introduced in the mid 1800's. Then again it could be Asia.

Tata Crocombe on 06/01/2023

My guess would be that it is most likely in Fiji. 1. Bamboo rafts are common there on the major rivers even today. 2. The height of the river bank suggests a major river which limits the number of islands in the Pacific. I would be very surprised if it were Rarotonga. 3. There is a person wearing a white sulu as they are called in Fiji which was not common in the Cook Islands