As for many people today, my working life involves a lot of travel. At one stage it felt as though airport lounges were home, by any standards though, the journey to Aitutaki, Cook Islands, was epic! 11 hours to LA, a further 8 hours to Rarotonga, an hour in a small plane and finally a bike ride to the guest house. On arrival, I lay my head wearily on my pillow and sank into a deep sleep.
Opening the window on the first morning my heart skipped a beat. I was actually in the Bounty advert! An expanse of deep blue lagoon, mirrored and unbroken, bordered by an expanse of golden sand lay just outside my window. This incredible place was to be my home for a month whilst I documented the incredible beauty of these Pacific Islands.
The Cook Islands have been the preferred location for many recent film projects including Channel 4’s ‘Shipwrecked’. It’s natural tropical beauty is unsurpassable, truly the island paradise of our dreams.
I was introduced to Misepa who had lived her whole life on Aitukaki. She proceeded to teach me greetings in the local tongue, a skill I put to good use when I was introduced into the local drinking circle. Later, scooting around the island with her on a motorbike, she proved herself a knowledgeable and entertaining guide!
Invited by Ian Dollery to spend a day fishing, I boarded his boat. Skilled in the extreme, his lines were cast and it was not long before the fish were biting. Lulled into a false sense of security by Ian's sure footedness and stability in the ocean swell I positioned myself towards the edge of the boat and began filming. A small shift in the swell caught me unawares, a slight wobble had me reach out for a stable anchor with my free hand only to find none. To this day I have no idea how I managed to keep my valuable filming equipment above water whilst I took a thorough dunking in the Pacific Ocean! “Grab my camera! “ I yelled at my rescuers as they tried to haul me aboard. Unbelievably, my equipment survived unscathed. Very lucky as the nearest professional camera store was 8 hours flight away in LA!
Laughing off my undignified dunk, we travelled on to Shark Island, the island used by channel 4 for the filming of Shipwrecked. For 15 minutes I was alone on my own tropical island. I really felt as though I could happily wave goodbye to the boat and remain forever, stranded in paradise. I am sure that the novelty would wear off quickly but for a few minutes I was Tom Hanks without even Wilson for company and I will remember that time forever.
My next excursion took me to Atiu, the island of birds. Captain Cook, the explorer on his ship Endeavour was the first recorded European to land here. A great admirer of the man, my business partner and I had named our media company after his ship. For two days I was educated on the growing and producing of coffee. A total novice, I was constantly in trouble for picking unripe Berries. The roasting took place in a small outbuilding and the smell was amazing! With only a fire, drying mat and hand grinder Mata produced incredible coffee and I found her simple methods and way of life inspiring. Later I flew back to the main island aboard a tiny plane, surrounded by passengers who had become my friends during my time on Atiu.
Back on Rarotonga I met Pa Teuruaa, a local celebrity who took me on a walk in the mountains and shared some of his vast knowledge of the island's flora and fauna. Eating many of the fruits we found along the way I experienced tastes both divine and just plain weird! What a wonderful man, it was impossible not to be touched and moved by his calm and gentle manner.
You can imagine the reluctance on my part to leave these paradise islands but home was London. It is difficult to imagine a more extreme contrast both in environment and in way of life and I must confess to having had a bit of a struggle re-adjusting to the hustle and bustle of city life.
I feel very privileged to have been able to meet the wonderfully warm and fun loving Cook Islanders in their beautiful home. Whilst writing this I have made a promise to myself... I am going back one day!
Sitting upfront on Air Raro to Atiu, The Island of Birds
Traditional Tumunu/ bush beer. Atiu is the only island still practicing the two-century-old Polynesian drinking ceremony.