These pastel sketches were done in the Cook Islands which nestles in the South Pacific between 16th December 2019 and 10th January 2020.
The first sketch is looking out from ‘One Foot Island’ on the edge of the Aitutaki lagoon towards the main island. In the first few sketches, there is the beach residence where we stayed on ‘One Foot’ which is the only habitation on the island. On the second night of our stay, we experienced a category 1 cyclone which brought 30-foot waves crashing on to the reef. I closed all the shutters in the night during the storm as it was fairly buffeting the wooden framed building. Notable on this island and the Cooks in totality are the wild cockerels which eagerly pecked at the used husks of coconuts which we discarded. I did a rather loose picture of chickens and surrounding foliage. You will see a striking picture of hard volcanic dioritic strata that launches itself some 200 metres like a causeway into the lagoon. It hints at the soft reef which has built over these volcanic islands over the last 8-10 million years on top of a very deep volcanic island.
Returning to the main Island of Aitutaki I find that the rhythmic crashing of waves on the reef constantly draws your eye to the dark blue horizon. The remorseless energy being expended from waves which could have travelled 4000 plus miles. Any sign of plastic bottles or waste is non-existent on the natural beaches within the reef because of this protective fringe. The stormy weather has ground up a lot of dead coral however and pushed it on to the shoreline. The reef horizon at various times of the day inevitably features in these pictures with the coconut trees in the foreground. The beach disappearing along the shoreline also offers up a beautiful wilderness.
You see hermit crabs hiding from the odd human that ventures on to the shoreline with a blue starfish that is unfortunately dead. The picturesque coconut trees fringe the beaches. The supply ship from Rarotonga which has been delayed pops up on the horizon. A lot of children’s toys are not available on the island until after boxing day as a result of the 2 weeks poor weather delayed arrival. The blowing trees /rain in some part show the aftermath of the cyclone while a local fishing canoe lies beached on the sand in another picture. Better weather brings tourists on paddleboards or some local fishermen.
We are encouraged to take part in the round Island danceathon (Koni Round) on New Year’s Day. The green shirts are pre-ordered by visitors who come back from New Zealand to join their particular village….in this instance the biggest village on the island. Everyone is encouraged to take part on the whole island. The pictures reflects the joy and energy of a superb annual event which is run by a different village each year. A total of $84,000 NZD was raised at this New Years day event for local initiatives. A similar event run on boxing day each year raises $65,000 NZD.
On the 6th Jan, we journeyed to Aitu which is far more remote than Aitutaki. In fact, they have not had a supply boat to the island since the end of November, so certain food supplies were very short. The island does have a reef, but it clings very close to the 4-6 metre cliffs and beaches which surround the whole island. Aitu is famous for birds and the lush varied trees and in the past the warlike people. You see in the pictures the famous limestone caves with liana creating a fringe at the entrance. In the lush interior original mahogany trees still grow along with banyans and many other fruit trees like Mango. The small red hut in one of the pictures reflects the much less developed nature of the buildings on the island. At our accommodation we are told there is no need to lock our doors, there is no crime on the island.
On our return to Aitutaki, we re-visit Mouarii café for a superb fish meal. James does the fishing while Terri runs the restaurant. In the meantime, I do a picture of a dilapidated fishing boat by the main harbour. I also try to picture the Café and the Maine store in town….note the Christmas lights.
Tu Bishop takes me round to a number of sacred grounds which are signified by Black Stones… the so-called Marae. It is fascinating that the legendary landing place of Ru is known but hardly commemorated. From there you go to a place where people were judged or even executed. Further inland the Marae are more spiritual. Generally lying on people’s land the visitor has to ask permission to visit these cenotaphs to past Polynesians. The exact date of these commemorative stone is not known, but one might presume that they could be 500 years old minimum. The similarity to much older ritual places in the UK or say Brittany is remarkable….but in the UK they are 2500 BC. You will get a group of Stones in a circle. What they exactly mean in terms of burials or the like I am not entirely sure. Much of the early history of the Cook Islands is an oral history delivered in various accents of a form of Maori. A lot of the Cook Islands draws descent from seafarers from Tahiti.
Paengariki Marae: Aitutaki is featured in the pictures.
The last picture shows a full moon over the water. This was painted circa 9th Jan 2020. It really sums up the end of the trip.
General comment…The pastels used are not so stable…hence these photos might show the odd bit of patina.
Group Creative Director