Friday, August 23, 2013

Raring to Go in Rarotonga


Kia Orana:   "Long life" or more formally, "May you live on" is a greeting that in the Cook Islands requires the same in response. It is unacceptable to let the greeting "Kia Orana!" hang in the air without its echo, said with equal enthusiasm:  "Kia Orana!"

As Patrick and I prepare to leave Rarotonga, we are looking forward to experiencing more of the Cook Island culture on some of the smaller islands in the group. 

Our injector pump finally arrived and Patrick reinstalled it. Silhouette's engine is once more functioning without engine oil contaminating the diesel. We sail in the morning for Palmerston atoll, where we will deliver a wheel and some other bits and pieces to some of the islanders there. 

This will be our last blog post with pictures for awhile, so I will leave you with some of the highlights of our visit to Rarotonga.

Early in our stay, I visited the Whale and Wildlife Center on Rarotonga. A woman named Nan Hauser started the museum. Nan does marine mammal research around Rarotonga and has an interesting backstory. It turns out that one of Nan's distant relatives, Mary Sherman, is buried on Rarotonga. Mary came to Rarotonga from New Bedford, Mass. as the wife of a whaler on a whaling ship. Thus, both women connected throughout history were associated with whales but in much different capacities. 

Rumor has it that Mary was the progeny of an affair between her father and his Irish maid (who eventually returned to Ireland.) Mary's father raised her but wanted to cover up her origins---to the point where he even created a fabricated death complete with tombstone back in New Bedford. It took Nan Hauser a long time and the help of many other people to trace out her relation to Mary Sherman. When she did, Nan honored that family history in the organization of the whale museum. The first part of the museum is dedicated to whaling artifacts and the process of whaling.

Harpoons and blubber knife

I had previously heard about ambergris from sperm whales being used to make perfume, but something I didn't know was that whale baleen was used as the stiffeners in corsets.

"Baleen was used as the stiffener in corsets."
 As you move through the whale museum, the focus turns to whale research. Audio and video of whales and whale sounds play continuously in various parts of the museum. One of the techniques documented for tracking humpback whales bears a spooky resemblance to the harpoons that once killed them:  satellite tags.

A satellite tag used in tracking whale migration

The difference between a satellite tag and a harpoon is that a satellite tag only penetrates the skin and blubber layer and does not penetrate the underlying muscle; theoretically, it does not harm the whale.  

I also learned some things I didn't want to know in the museum. I am aware of the impacts of plastic in the oceans:  Albatross chicks that can't absorb nourishment because their guts are full of plastic bits and therefore, starve to death; or marine mammals and reptiles that ingest plastic bags thinking they're a favorite food source---jellyfish. I didn't know that cigarette butts were also mistaken as food by sea turtles. When I think of all the fishermen I've known that flick cigarette butts into the water (because it's the safest place for them on a boat...), I can appreciate the magnitude of this problem.

Pile representing number of cigarette butts recovered from a sea turtle's gut
On a lighter note, there is some excellent hiking on the island of Rarotonga. I went on the Cross-Island walk, along with the crews from Landfall and Wild Fox

Gnarly hiking

Barb and Dennis from SV Landfall

Dennis with Wild Fox's Anthony

Trio climbing a rooty section

...with Kirsten following close behind (Photo courtesy of Barb McIsaac)

We scrambled partway up the rock formation known as "The Needle" but declined to do the vertical rock climb at the top. 

Dennis and Barb at the base of the summit climb

View from the Needle

K down-climbing from the base of the summit climb (Photo courtesy of Barb McIsaac)

We got some better views of the Needle from some distance away...

Rarotonga's Needle

Two fiesty women:  Barb and Kirsten (Photo courtesy of Dennis Ommen)

....and then descended into a valley with a stream running through it.

Infinity fiddlehead

A waterfall along the way

About five days later, I went on another hike by myself while Patrick reinstalled the injector pump. The Te Manga Track is a hike that few visitors to Rarotonga do, and it goes to the island's highest point. I should say that I thought I would have to do this hike alone, but as I set off from the houses near the base of the trail, I attracted one after another friendly dog interested in going for a walk. I hiked in the best of company with four dogs up this challenging track! 

The two eldest dogs were the best climbers:  They had obviously done the track many times, and I might have lost the track at points without their trail blazing abilities. (The Te Manga Track is not as well marked as the Cross-Island Walk, but it is marked with orange plastic triangles and red ribbons. ) We left the youngest dog (a pup of one or two years) behind at the first steep rock face:  He simply did not have the climbing ability of the other dogs. I intended to pick him up on the way back, but he sniffed his way home before that. 

The next youngest dog, a female, stuck by my side the entire way, until we left her, too, at a steep rock face just before the summit climb. Or thought we left her...on the way down with the other two dogs, I suddenly came across this female on the steepest section of the climb. She had somehow followed us up, but was stuck and too terrified to go down. I spent the next hour trying to coax this dog down from the mountain. I had given Patrick an approximate ETA of when I would return, and I needed to get moving. Finally, precipitously hanging by a questionable rope with one hand, I grabbed the dog by the scruff of her neck and dragged her down the scary stretch of slope with the other. As soon as she skidded to a stop at the bottom, she erupted into a series of wags---she was so happy to be down! If I didn't live on a boat, I would have adopted a dog that day. 

Ikurangi summit as seen from the Te Manga track

Avatiu (left) and Avarua (right) harbors from the Te Manga track


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