Tag Archives: Niue

IDYLLIC POLYNESIA

‘The Marquesas were unique, unlike any island group I’d ever seen, a dream landscape for both poets and scientists.’

J. Maarten Troost, ‘Headhunters on my Doorstep: A True Treasure Island Ghost Story’


‘I’ve snorkeled all over the South Pacific, but nowhere have I seen a place more bewitching than the South Pass of Fakarava.’

J. Maarten Troost, ‘Headhunters on my Doorstep: A True Treasure Island Ghost Story’


‘Rarotonga is the main island of the Cook Islands, a country in central Polynesia, west of Tahiti and east of Tonga. Tiny and beautiful, it is surrounded by a wide turquoise lagoon and sharp coral reef.’

Kathy Giuffre, ‘An Afternoon in Summer: My Year on a South Sea Island, Doing Nothing, Gaining Everything, and Finally Falling in Love’


‘In an attempt to attract a dribble of tourism, Niue has adopted the sound-bite title Rock of Polynesia for its two hundred fifty square miles, which rise from a narrow fringing reef like a two-layer wedding cake. It’s different from any island we’ve seen. It is girt by cliffs that continue down to some of the world’s deepest ocean bottoms, without lagoons or beaches. Nor does Niue have rivers and streams, for the plentiful rainwater simply sinks into porous limestone. This renders the coastal waters unbelievably clear. More than a hundred feet of underwater visibility is routine, the diving among the very best for the very few who get there.’

Andrew Rayner, ‘Reach for Paradise’


‘It often seemed to me that calling the Hawaiian Islands “paradise” was not an exaggeration, though saying it out loud, advertising it, seemed to be tempting fate. They are the most beautiful, and the most threatened, of any islands in the Pacific. Their volcanic mountains are as picturesque as those in Tahiti, their bays as lovely as the ones in Vava’u; the black cliffs of the Marquesas are no more dramatic than those on Molokai and Kaua’i. The climate is perfect.’

Paul Theroux, ‘The Happy Isles of Oceania: Paddling the Pacific’

GREAT SUMMER READS (2016)

‘Sailing to Jessica’ by Kelly Watts

When reality doesn’t always meet your expectations, you need something that will set you free from your worries and bring back a smile on your face. For Kelly and Paul, a happily married couple dealing with fertility problems, that ‘something’ turns out to be a voyage across the Pacific Ocean.

As they sail from one island to another, they discover the beauty of life anew. Visiting fascinating places and immersing themselves in the exotic cultures of the South Seas, they finally start to look to the future with optimism and hope in their hearts.

‘Sailing to Jessica’ is a beautiful, uplifting story that will make you both laugh and cry. Being first and foremost a great adventure book, it will speak to all the sailing aficionados who can’t imagine their lives without a daily dose of thrill and excitement. Kelly Watts describes the good, the bad, and the ugly so I can guarantee that you will not be able to stop reading until you reach the last sentence.

‘Sailing with Impunity: Adventure in the South Pacific’ by Mary E. Trimble

Fulfilling her husband’s lifelong dream, Mary agrees to set out on a journey from Seattle to the islands of the South Pacific. After finding the right boat and saying their farewells, the couple is ready to set sail to paradise.

Despite dealing with the unpredictable power of nature, they manage to enjoy their new life aboard Impunity. They get to know the alluring world of Polynesia, taking delight in meeting local inhabitants and experiencing their ways of being.

Summer is the time of year when most of us feel the urge to travel. It’s not always possible to leave everything behind and just get away, but a good book will definitely satisfy your needs. I promise you that Mary’s words will transport you to the tropical isles. You’ll be able to feel the hot air, smell the sweet scent of flowers, and hear the cheerful buzz of people’s voices.

‘Blue Latitudes: Boldly Going Where Captain Cook Has Gone Before’ by Tony Horwitz

Following in James Cook’s footsteps? Why not! Two centuries after the great Englishman’s voyages, Tony Horwitz decides to embark on his own adventure, recreating Cook’s epic journeys through the Pacific Ocean.

Trying to fully grasp the Captain’s accomplishments, Tony happily explores the tiny islands. He spends time chatting to the natives, asking questions, and waiting for answers. He isn’t afraid to dig deep and, as a result, gets awarded with a riveting tale of the navigator’s life.

Not only will this masterfully written travelogue give you a lot of enjoyment, but it will also provide you with a great deal of information about history, Westernization, and most of all Captain James Cook. It is a compelling read that will let you discover the Blue Continent from the comfort of your home.

‘The Shark God: Encounters with Ghosts and Ancestors in the South Pacific’ by Charles Montgomery

Ever since Charles came across his great-grandfather’s box as a 10-year-old boy, the pieces of paper that were tucked inside have been constantly in the back of his mind. Inspired by the unusual discovery, and especially by one intriguing description of the events that had taken place in Melanesia in the 19th century, he decides to visit the islands of the Pacific.

In Vanuatu and the Solomons, he searches for old myths and legends; for reality that blends with black magic. What he finds is a bewitching world of ancient rituals and traditions that completely engrosses his body, soul, and mind.

This book is as much about the author’s journey as it is about religion and different belief systems. It’s very thought-provoking but at the same time extremely entertaining. Charles Montgomery, being a talented writer he is, invites you to accompany him on a guided tour of Melanesia. Trust me, you don’t want to miss that chance.

‘The Fragile Edge: Diving and Other Adventures in the South Pacific’ by Julia Whitty

The Blue Continent has always been heaven for deep-sea divers. While shooting for nature documentaries, Julia Whitty ventures underwater to discover the kingdom of the great Pacific Ocean.

In three different locations: Rangiroa atoll, Funafuti, and Mo’orea, she explores the mesmerizing world of sea creatures and coral reefs, occasionally going on land to acquaint herself with the local cultures and see how globalization has been changing the remote places.

If you like watching nature documentaries, you will absolutely love this book! The author’s incredibly vivid descriptions will let you picture every scene in your mind’s eye. It’s a pretty spectacular ‘visual’ experience that may surprise you quite a bit.

‘BLUE LATITUDES: BOLDLY GOING WHERE CAPTAIN COOK HAS GONE BEFORE’ BY TONY HORWITZ

‘Blue Latitudes: Boldly Going Where Captain Cook Has Gone Before’ is Tony Horwitz’s travel memoir, which he penned inspired by his travels through the islands of the Pacific Ocean.

BLUE LATITUDES

Summary

Struck by the places Captain James Cook visited during his voyages and perfectly aware of the impact he had on the Blue Continent, Tony Horwitz gets an idea that it would be quite nice to follow in the great Englishman’s footsteps and see what has changed since the Age of Exploration.

Starting aboard a replica of Cook’s first ship, the Endeavour, he travels to the vast expanse of water dotted with tiny islands most people describe as ‘paradise’. He visits sensual French Polynesia, Tonga, savage Niue, and used-to-be-full-of-cannibals (at least that’s what people say) Hawaii. He flies to England, explores Australia, skips to New Zealand, and makes a trip to Alaska. In each of these places he learns what the natives think of the British captain, and how they perceive his accomplishments. With every island, beach, and lagoon Tony gets more and more interested not only in Cook’s travels but in the man himself.

Review

Isn’t it wonderful when you have a chance to grab a book that masterfully combines vastly different genres into a single, cohesive narrative? When you feel that one minute you’re reading a gripping travel piece and the next a fascinating biography of a man who changed the world a little bit? ‘Blue Latitudes’ is exactly this kind of book. Fusing elements of memoir, travelogue, biography, and history, Tony Horwitz invites readers on a delightful journey to even more delightful places anyone would like to see at least once in their life.

Yes, this title is first and foremost a well-presented coverage of the author’s voyages. As he relives Captain Cook’s expeditions, he visits the exotic Pacific islands, confronting the Englishman’s descriptions with present reality. He investigates how the Blue Continent has been transformed since Cook’s day. As he explores the effects of colonialism and globalization, he can’t help but notice the change in ancient customs and traditions, as well as a subtle yet visible shift toward certain Western values. Comparisons between 1700s Oceania and Oceania today are probably the most interesting to read. Tony Horwitz’s curiosity makes him delve into the nitty-gritty details. And that is truly fascinating. What’s Niue’s problem with red bananas? Is the island still inhabited by savages? Just how friendly are the Friendly Islanders? What really happened in Hawaii? He tries to rediscover the great Pacific anew. And you – as a reader – are more than welcomed to join him.

But of course this book is not only Mr Horwitz’s travel memoir; it’s also a gripping biography of one of the greatest explorers of all time. James Cook needs no introduction. Some people consider him a hero. For others he was just an invader; a villain of some sort. Whatever your opinion, one thing is indisputable: Captain Cook filled in many of the blank spots on the world map. He was a man of adventure; a bold navigator who didn’t know what the word ‘fear’ meant. The writer, whose fascination with Cook is obvious, paints a vivid portrait of the Yorkshireman’s life: from his early days in the Northern England to the epic voyages he undertook. I must say, it is unquestionably one of the most informative biographical accounts you’ll ever have a chance to read.

As you may (or may not, if you aren’t familiar with the author’s other works) expect from Tony Horwitz, the book is excellently written. It’s a delightful mix of Cook’s original journals and Mr Horwitz’s own observations. The past and the present are detailed in equal measure, so you are definitely not in danger of being stuck in the 18th or 21st century. Besides, it doesn’t really matter, because you will have fun. The author maintains an anecdotal manner, which makes the volume thoroughly entertaining. Although revealing and explanatory, it’s still just a light-hearted read.

All in all, ‘Blue Latitudes’ is a fabulous book, especially for those who’d like to learn more about the man that played a significant part in shaping the cultures of the Pacific. Grab it, and I assure you you will not be disappointed.

GREAT SUMMER READS (2015)

‘The Happy Isles of Oceania: Paddling the Pacific’ by Paul Theroux

Having just separated from his wife and facing the possibility of being diagnosed with cancer, Paul comes to the conclusion that the best way to forget his problems is to set out on a journey. So he quickly agrees to go on a book tour in Australia and New Zealand and whilst there, he decides that it would actually be fun to travel across the Pacific using an inflatable canoe.

As he paddles the vast ocean, he visits the black islands of Melanesia; the grand archipelagos and tiny atolls of Polynesia; and the one and only, heavenly Paradise. The farther he goes, the merrier he gets. Because in the Blue Continent, everyone finds their bliss.

This is one of the greatest travel books ever written and a perfect summer read. Paul Theroux’s words will transport you to the most alluring exotic lands, introduce you to the most incredible societies, and let you discover the most fascinating cultures you can encounter. This is the great Pacific as seen through the eyes of a cynical Westerner.

‘Gallivanting on Guam’ by Dave Slagle

After being offered a job on Guam, Dave moves to the tiny Micronesian country, not really sure what to expect.

As he lands on the island, he finds himself in a world very different from anything he has experienced so far. Although Guam seems quite surreal, Dave realizes he needs to adapt to the new surroundings in order to fully enjoy his little sojourn. So he does exactly what the natives do: he visits local bars, sings karaoke, and flirts with beautiful girls. And when he thinks that his life could not be any better, everything starts to fall apart.

Despite being somewhat controversial, Dave Slagle’s account is a page-turner that entertains and educates at the same time. It’s a light, often hilariously funny, read that will show you Guam like you haven’t seen it before.

‘The Miss Tutti Frutti Contest: Travel Tales of the South Pacific’ by Graeme Lay

For Graeme Lay, the South Pacific is unquestionably the most appealing corner of our globe. Travelling from island to island, he absorbs the enchanting atmosphere of Polynesia, learning what it really means to spend time in paradise.

Whenever he goes, he meets intriguing locals and even more intriguing foreigners. He familiarizes himself with the unique cultures of the region and does everything possible to get to know the many secrets it hides.

This book is like a sweet, tasty summer cocktail. The perfectly mixed collection of stories and tales will take you to the fabulous places not many people have had a chance to see. You will have fun, and you will laugh whenever you take this refreshing title in your hands.

‘Where the hell is Tuvalu?’ by Philip Ells

Looking to escape the office treadmill, Philip agrees to become the People’s Lawyer of the fourth-smallest country in the world.

Tuvalu, his new adopted home, turns out to be quite a challenging place to live and work. As he learns to deal with everyday obstacles, he tries to perform his legal duties as best he can. Which is not an easy thing to do taking into account that he is forced to handle a wide variety of criminal offenses, from a slightly amusing pig theft to extremely difficult and heartbreaking domestic violence.

If the author of a book is British, you may assume that the publication will be laugh-out-loud funny. And this personal memoir certainly is funny. Funny, witty, and thought-provoking. Although it’s written in a light-hearted manner, it touches on a few sensitive subjects. Well, no one has ever said that a summer read can’t make you ponder important issues, right?

‘Reach for Paradise’ by Andrew Rayner

Motivated by his dream of visiting the Blue Continent, Andrew buys an old steel ketch and without hesitation starts his voyage through the Pacific Ocean.

What he discovers along the way amazes him. The breathtaking beauty and the irresistible charm of each country, archipelago, and atoll attract him with an almost magnetic force. With every nautical mile he sails, his desire to get to know the serene places grows stronger.

Andrew Rayner’s memoir will make you crave Pasifika. Literally. It is a beautiful book that perfectly conveys the beauty of the region, making you want to leave everything behind and travel to the islands of tranquil delights.

A CHAT WITH… ANDREW RAYNER

Andrew Rayner is not your ordinary man, and his book, ‘Reach for Paradise’, is certainly not your ordinary publication. But, you wouldn’t expect anything less from someone who spent eight years sailing the blue waters, would you? If you want to know what Andrew had to say about his adventure, book, and – of course – Pasifika, just read the interview.

Pasifika Truthfully: People embark on a voyage for various reasons: they want to escape, forget about their problems, or simply see the world. Why did you decide to set sail?

Andrew Rayner: Most opportunity is luck, and venture’s often a combination of push and pull. In my case the children fledged, my wife gone and my business sold on one hand, and an insatiable travel lust for the Pacific on the other made circumstances that both enabled and stimulated me to get a boat and head for the horizon. Like many before me, the original intention was traduced as my intended three years afloat to be followed by a return to city work turned into five, seven and eight before the circumnavigation was completed.

PT: I do believe you can now say it was a life-changing experience.

AR: No question. Sailing gives quality time for thinking not often available on land. Clear starlit skies and a vast ocean lit from within by bioluminescence make a great page on which to reckon one’s view of things. And there’s an impression of more uncluttered society in the island communities that’s an aid to clarity of mind and appreciation of the precious aspects of human nature.

PT: What was the most and the least enjoyable part of the journey?

AR: Blue water sailors spend more time fixing the boat than sailing. Everything breaks sometime, most often when the nearest help is hundreds of miles away. ‘Boat maintenance in exotic places’ is a reasonable description of low latitude cruising. Another aphorism ‘The two best days of your life are the day you buy the boat, and the day you sell her’ has several grains of truth. Yet a boat is the only way to Pacific islands, bar a handful. Thus I’d say being faced with boat problems you can’t fix but have to fix is among the most testing.

The other side of this coin that makes it all worthwhile is the endless variety and joy of islands, of passages, of the ocean and the submarine life, and most of all the wonderful people out there.

PT: Knowing what you know now, would you like to repeat your adventure?

AR: Yes, at least at the age I set sail I would go again. Anyone who has the chance to undertake such a journey is hugely privileged.

PT: Now, let’s concentrate on Pasifika. For you, paradise?

AR: Foregoing quibbles about definitions, yes.

PT: If you were to describe in a few words each of the Pacific countries you had a chance to visit, what would you say?

AR: An impossible task that might produce a result unfair to everywhere. People need different things from their travels, and when asked standard questions about best islands I try to gage what the questioner is looking for. Intrepid travelers I’d send to Vanuatu, divers to the few places operating in PNG or the Solomons. Those looking for beauty combined with comfort love Bora Bora, and for an excursion into anthropology Rapa Nui. Vava’u has charter sailboats available and a magnificent archipelago to explore, and Aitutaki produces the finest dancing in the ocean. The tamelife of the Galapagos is wondrous, while the rest of the oceanic Pacific Ring of Fire never disappoints rookie geologists. Fiji, Niue, the Micronesian islands, the Kula Ring islands of PNG, there’s almost nowhere I wouldn’t wish to return to. But most important is to have time with the people.

PT: Your book can certainly help people visualize all those places. I must say it is a magnificent publication. The pictures, illustrations, maps simply delight. Why did you choose to embellish the written word?

AR: I remember ‘Treasure Island’ among the books I read when pretty small. The images left, Blind Pugh bringing the Black Spot, the Island, the chest of treasure, were drawings. I’m sure my enjoyment and recollection depended considerably on these drawings. Non-fiction books can of course survive without illustration, most in fact very easily, but some seem to cry for help. I felt ‘RFP’ could not convey the relationship of islands without maps, and my pen isn’t adequate to describe all that I wished without the help of illustrations. I am most fortunate in having as my wife and travel companion a superb painter and mapmaker.

PT: ‘Reach for Paradise’ is so unusual that it’s difficult to categorize. In your opinion, is it a memoir, a travelogue, or maybe a travel guide?

AR: Aah, it’s those and more, with plenty of history, anthropology, literary reference, and even a naughty bit of my own verse thrown in. But none of that is the aim. ‘RFP’ is a celebration of Pacific islands, something I found despite diligent inquiry was lacking from contemporary bookshelves. The islands are magnificent and to varying degrees outside the modern world, not as colonial left-overs or some sort of a curiosity goggled at by boatloads of tourists but vibrant societies with rich culture and story. They deserve a reasoned overview through sympathetic eyes. Though ‘RFP’ may prove to be a travel companion where there was none like it before, I hope, too, it conveys the true spirit of the islands.

PT: I’m sure you have many more stories to tell. Do you plan to write a sequel?

AR: No, though tempting. I cut some 40% of the original manuscript to make ‘RFP’ manageable.

PT: Last question that I need to ask… Have you found your paradise? Is it Hawaii, where you now live?

AR: Location is as much a compromise as most things in life. We farm fruit in the most Hawaiian, thus Polynesian, part of Hawaii. It’s beautiful, remote and traditional. But 800 numbers, cable internet, and Costco a couple of hours away serve to make life easier. We are happy here.

‘REACH FOR PARADISE’ BY ANDREW RAYNER

‘Reach for Paradise’ is Andrew Rayner’s chronicle of his eight-year-long voyage through the islands of the Pacific Ocean.

REACH FOR PARADISE

Summary

Andrew has always dreamt of visiting the islands of the South Seas, so much celebrated for being a slice of paradise on earth. When the opportunity to fulfill that dream finally arises, he buys a boat and eagerly starts his great journey of discovery.

The Blue Continent makes an enormous impression on the Englishman. As he travels from bay to bay, he immerses himself in everything the region has to offer. From romantic Tahiti, to the islands where time begins, to the place in which money grows on trees – each and every corner exudes irresistible charm that Andrew finds impossible to resist. The breathtaking beauty that surrounds him, the fascinating cultures he encounters, and the wonderful people he meets make his adventure a truly unforgettable experience.

Review

I have never seen a more beautiful book. And by ‘beautiful’ I mean ‘aesthetically pleasing’. ‘Reach for Paradise’ simply delights. From the moment you lay eyes on the cover, you are completely mesmerized by the stunning design. Andrew Rayner’s words are embellished with photographs, exquisite colourful illustrations, and maps created by his wife, Robin, who herself is an enormously talented person. Her paintings – which you’d want to see framed and hanging on a wall in your house – wonderfully convey the magical allure of the islands, helping you imagine their tropical scenery. Each and every page of this publication is a celebration of art, literature, and – of course – the great Pacific.

Just as the book is beautiful, it is also difficult to categorize. You may now start wondering what genre it belongs to. I made an attempt to solve this mystery. With no success. It’s not entirely a travelogue, nor is it a personal memoir. It’s a mix of both, and more. The author’s reminiscences and anecdotes are combined with insightful, often anthropological observations that offer you a rare glimpse into the folkways of indigenous societies. It can be noticed that Andrew Rayner went to extraordinary lengths to keep his representation of the islands and their inhabitants accurate, faithful, and objective. He didn’t just travel through the Blue Continent, he studied it. He cared enough to explore its history and acquaint himself with the nuances of its cultures. Having analyzed numerous works devoted to the subjects, some of which make a guest appearance in the book, he wrote his account with a fullness of knowledge – dare I say – few men possess.

Now, if you think that is all you’re going to find in ‘Reach for Paradise’, you couldn’t be more mistaken. The volume is a well-researched guide – a mine of useful, valuable information that may come in handy for those who plan to set sail for the South Seas. By no means is this a cruising manual with tips and advices regarding nautical excursions. Nonetheless, it is definitely worth keeping onboard…as a source of great inspiration. Vivid and comprehensive descriptions that reveal Oceania’s hidden marvels will give you a good enough reason to go there. You don’t intend to travel? Well, after reading this book you’ll feel the overwhelming temptation to embark on your very own voyage to the isles of paradise.

Andrew Rayner created a beauty that is a sheer joy to hold in hands. His stories – brilliantly written and thoroughly absorbing – stir the imagination, igniting your inner wanderlust. This is travel literature at its best and, without the slightest doubt, one of the finest publications regarding the Pacific Islands. If this blue corner of our globe holds a special place in your heart, do not hesitate to buy this title. It is a must-have!

‘SAVAGE ISLAND: AN ACCOUNT OF A SOJOURN IN NIUE AND TONGA’ BY BASIL THOMSON

‘Savage Island: An Account of a Sojourn in Niue and Tonga’ is a memoir penned by Basil Thomson, a British colonial civil servant, who was sent to the Pacific countries in 1900 as a special envoy representing the United Kingdom.

SAVAGE ISLAND

Summary

After the death of King Tuitoga, the chiefs and rulers of Niue kindly ask Queen Victoria to place their island under the protection of the Crown. When the British officials finally discover the value of this South Pacific territory, sir Basil Thomson is dispatched to sign a treaty of cession and hoist the Royal Union flag.

The Savage Island quickly charms the foreign visitor. In between performing his formal duties, he strolls the streets of Alofi and acquaints himself with the wonders of ‘The Rock’. With every passing day, as he gets to know the place, he is more and more mesmerized by the friendly inhabitants and their fascinating culture.

When his sojourn in Niue comes to an end, Mr Thomson is transferred to Tonga in order to convince king Tupou II to accept British protectorate. During this short visit he absorbs the Tongan way of life, learning quite a bit about the mentality of the native Islanders.

Review

Not every day you get a chance to lay your hands on a book about the colonial administration in the Pacific. Firstly, because few of the men engaged in the politics during that period felt the need to describe the details of international relations. Secondly, because even fewer of them had the ability and skills to actually do it. Basil Thomson’s account may not be the most compelling piece of literature ever written, but it is definitely worth your attention.

This short publication is a pleasant mixture of the author’s reminiscences, insightful observations, and amusing anecdotes. Despite the fact that Thomson concentrates predominantly on the political situation of the two states, his memoir is quite an entertaining read. The reason for this lies in his proficiency in combining the weighty subjects with light-hearted stories. In one chapter you learn about the complexities of the protectorate system, in another you discover what the Tongan ideals of beauty are. The meticulous delineations of island life and scenery provide you with an insider’s look into the famous Pasifika ways of being. It should be noted, however, that Basil Thomson had grown up in a society far different from the ones he visited in the Blue Continent. Therefore, his comments are often subjective and may exude a mildly unfavourable undertone.

Now, the greatest virtue of this account is unquestionably the historical background. It is the story of the times, which proves to be a valuable lesson on the Pacific Islands’ colonial past. The author concisely explains how some of the territories voluntarily asked for the protection of one of the mighty empires to avoid being taken over by another country, while other nations enjoyed their independence and were reluctant to succumb to official annexation by any Western power. As a government representative, knowledgeable about the state of affairs, Thomson was an expert in his field. With this book he offers readers a look behind the proverbial curtain of the politics and diplomacy in the ‘era of involvement’. Trust me, you do want to take that glimpse.

All in all, I must say that this is an interesting literary work. Not especially riveting, not particularly impressive but attractive enough to recommend it. It’s a well-written chronicle of the important events in the Pacific history, penned by a man genuinely fond of the islands. Plus, this is one of the very few books regarding Niue, and as such it deserves due recognition.

A CHAT WITH… GRAEME LAY

Graeme Lay is the author of several books set in the South Pacific. Along with ‘The Miss Tutti Frutti Contest’, these include the young adult novel trilogy, ‘Leaving One Foot Island’, ‘Return to One Foot Island’ and ‘The Pearl of One Foot Island’; the non-fiction works ‘The Cook Islands’ and ‘Passages – Journeys in Polynesia’, and the adult novel ‘Temptation Island’. His recent historical novels: ‘The Secret Life of James Cook’ (2013) and ‘James Cook’s New World’ (2014) also feature largely South Pacific settings. Here you can read what he had to say about his beloved Pasifika.

GRAEME LAY

Pasifika Truthfully: When did you first fall in love with the Pacific Islands?

Graeme Lay: Probably from the moment I first set foot on one. That was New Caledonia, which is not a particularly beautiful island in itself. But the mixture of people – Melanesian, Asian and European – was captivating. I loved the cultural intermingling, too. Racial intermarriage has produced people of distinctive beauty. I had always been keen on French culture, so to see it transplanted to the South Pacific was fascinating. I’ve subsequently seen and relished the same cultural and racial mixture in French Polynesia. Samoa too has a great blend of Polynesian, Palagi and Chinese people.

While researching a book I wrote about the Cook Islands, I went to several islands in that group, which was a great experience. Mauke, for instance, is not visited by many tourists, but is a lovely ‘outer island’. Rarotonga is another favourite island of mine since I first saw it, in 1983. I now have many friends there too, which makes visiting it even more pleasurable.

PT: And where would you like to go? Is there an island you have never been to?

GL: There are lots of islands I still haven’t been to, although I’ve visited a good many. I’d like to see Easter Island – the easternmost point of the Polynesian Triangle. I haven’t yet seen the Hawaiian Islands, but I’m going there in August and greatly looking forward to seeing them. Raivavae, in the Austral Islands, is another island I’ve heard and read lots about. I’d like to go there one day. And also ‘Ua Pou, in the Marquesas.

PT: Do you think you could live in one of the Pacific countries; call it your home?

GL: I suspect not. I’m very much a New Zealander – a fifth generation one – so this is my permanent home. An extended visit to say, Rarotonga or Tahiti, would be lovely, but I could never call them ‘Home’. Some of the appeal of those islands may wear thin if I stayed for an overly long period, I suspect. ‘Familiarity breeds contempt’, as the saying goes.

PT: Let’s focus on your book for a while. ‘The Miss Tutti Frutti Contest’… It’s an interesting title. I assume you didn’t choose it to immortalize the famous fa’afafine pageant. Is this how you perceive the islands? As a delicious mix of fascinating cultures?

GL: Most certainly. We gave the book that title because it’s different and catchy, and the contest itself was unforgettable. The fa’afafine phenomenon had always fascinated me, right throughout Polynesia. Each island group has an equivalent of Samoa’s fa’afafine, and to observe them and meet them is very interesting indeed. When I was working in Apia, one of my colleagues was a fa’afafine, and he was great company. It was Makisi who put me on to the Miss Tutti Frutti Contest.

PT: The book consists of fifteen different stories, but I’m sure you have many more to tell. Do you plan to write a sequel?

GL: I would very much like to. I’ve been to several other islands since I wrote that book, and always I’ve discovered great stories while there. Mangareva in the Gambier Islands and Pitcairn Island were particularly inspiring. Some of the more remote islands of Tonga, too, I found fascinating. There is always much to be inspired by in the islands of Pasifika!

PT: In your opinion, what is the biggest myth about Pasifika?

GL: The fact that people invariably apply the word ‘Paradise’ to the islands. There is no such place as ‘Paradise’ in the sense of a total Utopia. The belief that the islands of Pasifika are Utopian is false. The people there have such serious economic, political and social problems that the word ‘Paradise’ is a misnomer. The islands are alluring yes, beautiful yes. But ‘Paradise’? Definitely not. That’s just a tourism brand, and a misleading one. That’s why New Zealand has such huge Pasifika populations.

PT: If you were to choose the most beautiful island, what would it be?

GL: My favourite island in French Polynesia is Huahine, which is exquisitely beautiful and not over-commercialised. It also has a fascinating history, both Polynesian and European. Some of the finest archeological sites in the whole Pacific are found on Huahine. Captain James Cook knew the island well, and anchored his ships in the lagoon in front of the island’s only town, Fare, several times. I could never tire of sitting on Fare’s waterfront in the evening, sipping a Hinano lager and watching the sun go down over Raiatea, Huahine’s neighbouring island.

‘THE MISS TUTTI FRUTTI CONTEST: TRAVEL TALES OF THE SOUTH PACIFIC’ BY GRAEME LAY

‘The Miss Tutti Frutti Contest: Travel Tales of the South Pacific’ is a compilation of fifteen stories written by Graeme Lay. They are the collected accounts of many journeys the author took during the 1990s and the early 2000s.

THE MISS TUTTI FRUTTI CONTEST

Summary

In the Pacific region life is never dull and Graeme Lay certainly knows it. Travelling from country to country, he discovers the best of what each island has to offer.

In the Cooks, he consumes fiercely alcoholic bush-brewed beer and spends his time in the famous waterfront bars, rubbing shoulders with the locals. He then departs to Samoa, where he retraces the final days of Robert Louis Stevenson and learns quite a bit about the phenomenon of fa’afafine.

In Tonga, his next destination, Graeme is forced to impersonate a Mormon missionary while on Niue he gets a chance to cruise along the coast, attend the village church service, and witness a social gathering on the occasion of the Governor General’s visit.

During the voyages to French Polynesia, he searches for Herman Melville’s valley, uncovers the shocking secrets of Gauguin, finds out how to have a honeymoon, gets to know the connection between television and birth rates, and locates the heart of Tahiti.

Review

If you have ever wanted to find a perfect example of a travel book, search no more – you’ve just found it. This title is the quintessence of the genre; it’s a book that will literally take you to the magical islands of the Blue Continent the moment you start reading its first sentence. I’m not sure if this is the result of Graeme Lay’s extensive knowledge of the Pacific region or his remarkable storytelling skills. It might be both actually.

The stories in the compilation are as varied as the isles of Polynesia. This is probably why the volume shines with so many different colours. Some of the tales are just humorous pieces, written to entertain readers and bring them a little joy and happiness. Others are educational, thought-provoking narratives that not only help you understand the cultures of the South Seas but also let you notice all the distinctions that exist between traditional and modern societies. I must say, this wonderful mix is like a refreshing cocktail made with a bunch of exotic – sometimes unusual but always tasty – ingredients: personal anecdotes, adventure yarns, depictions of faraway places, and interesting ethnological facts. It’s something you could drink, excuse me…read, any day of the week.

The book is beautifully constructed. It’s good old travel writing with a strong focus on characters and places. Vivid portrayals of both people and the tropics will make you long for ‘the paradise’ so badly that you will instantly want to follow in the author’s footsteps; just to sit in a bar, listen to the ocean, and chat with the friendly natives. It cannot be denied that Graeme Lay is a man of enormous talent. Whatever he chooses to describe, he does it in the most engaging way possible.

‘The Miss Tutti Frutti Contest’ is a delicious read. It’s charming, insightful, highly compelling. It’s your ticket to the South Pacific. I can’t imagine you wouldn’t want to set out on this journey.

‘NEW TALES OF THE SOUTH PACIFIC – PARADISE NOT’ BY GRAEME KENNEDY

‘New Tales of the South Pacific – Paradise NOT’ is the first book written by Graeme Kennedy. This collection of five stories, which describes the reality of life in the Pacific Islands, is based on Kennedy’s own observations as well as his incredible knowledge of the region.

NTOTSP 1

Summary

Travelling through the Blue Continent, Graeme Kennedy gets a chance to visit some very interesting places and encounter even more interesting characters.

In the village of Aka’aka (Wallis and Futuna), he meets a man whose only dream is to return to the hustle and bustle of a big city. In Pago Pago, he spends his time at the hot and steamy bar with quite a few attention-grabbing individuals. He then escapes to Niue, where a middle-aged New Zealander changes his life, teaching everyone a lesson. After that he finally departs to Samoa to talk to a French priest who has chosen to serve God by helping people in Lepea village.

Review

The first thing you’ll notice about this book is how fantastically written it is. As a former journalist, Kennedy definitely knows how to put thoughts and feelings into words. His writing style – elaborate yet very clear, attractive but not overwhelming – makes the stories a pleasure to read while his imagery – powerful, vivid, and precise – makes the stories come alive. As everything, from landscapes to neighbourhoods, is depicted in the slightest detail, you’ll get a chance to ‘explore’ the surroundings. It doesn’t matter if it’s a luxury resort, a stunning beach, or a sleazy bar – you will ‘see’ it all. You will even feel the heat and humidity slowly surrounding you… Ah, that tropical paradise!

Speaking of which, are those islands really heaven on earth? In the eyes of Graeme Kennedy, they are not. After starting the book with a wide-ranging commentary on the history of Polynesia and its current situation, the author makes a great comparison between the so-called Eden and the actual South Pacific, which – just like any other place in this world – has its dark side. You’ll suddenly discover that not every street resembles the picture-perfect images from travel brochures, ever-so-friendly natives need to deal with their own problems, and tourists do not always get what they came for. But somehow the Blue Continent is still fascinating and magical. Even if it’s shown from a different perspective.

The stories in Kennedy’s compilation vary widely. Some of them are tragic, some are sad, some are simply hilarious. But they all have one thing in common: they are deeply thought-provoking; they change the way we perceive that blue land of bliss. Mind you, they change the way we perceive our world.

The book is short and can be read very quickly. It’s just perfect for a lazy evening spent at home or an even lazier afternoon spent at the beach. I am sure you will love it, especially if you enjoy travel writing with a twist.