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COOKS’ REMOTE NASSAU, PUKAPUKA TURN TO SAMOA Apia markets closer, cheaper than Rarotonga

By Aigaletaulele’ā F. Tauafiafi APIA, Samoa (Samoa Observer, Dec. 28, 2010) – In Samoa at 9:30am yesterday, the two-boat flotilla set sail for Nassau and Pukapuka.

[PIR editor’s note: Nassau is a small island located about 90 kilometers south of Pukapuka, a coral atoll situated in the northern Cook Islands.]

Sixty-eight smiling passengers waved goodbye to Matautu wharf, their dream trip a reality.

"This is the first time in history that a group is sailing direct to Nassau.

It’s fantastic and places Samoa firmly in the history of the Northern Cook Islands group as the place that made it all happen", stated Nuku Rapana, global leader for Pukapuka in New Zealand.

The historic feat was not easy.

It involved many people plus a visit by the Cook Islands Consular, Luna Paul to Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi to seal the deal.

However, plugging all the legal requirements and other ministerial gaps may have been a coup for Samoa.

"Having gone through all the logistics and avenues to get these groups to Nassau and Pukapuka makes us realize Samoa can be a base to travel to the Northern Cook Islands group," said Mr. Rapana.

The Northern Cook Islands group is 543 miles from Samoa compared to over 1,000 miles from Rarotonga.

"It costs a Pukapuka passenger leaving from Rarotonga over NZ$3,000 [US$2,300] and that’s on a trip of up to 8-days. From Samoa it’s less than 2-days. So in terms of trade, the cost of a corn beef through Rarotonga will be much more expensive than through Apia. This is something we want to take further with the Samoan government."

The talk with the Samoan government will be along similar lines resulting in the bequeathing of land and facilities by Samoa to Tokelau at Lotopa, Niue at Aai-o-Niue, Solomon Islands at Sogi.

"If we have a similar block of land we can build a base for Pukapuka here", says Mr. Rapana.

Trade and tourism are obvious benefits to Samoa.

"For the 2007 trip to Pukapuka to commemorate the 150 years of the good news, we bought over NZ$60,000 [US$45,000] worth of goods from one wholesaler here. We bought goods from the other wholesalers as well. So if we establish a base here, there will be regular trips to the northern Cook Island group with obvious benefits."

The Pukapuka community in New Zealand is firmly established. Mr. Rapana as their global leader runs the Pukapuka Academy full time.

"We have five properties in Auckland and run an academy which gives us an annual turn-over of NZ$2million [US$1.5 million] per annum. Our overseas community is focused on achieving the objectives why we left home in the first place. For our children to have better education, to have a chance at a better life. In achieving that our central objective as elders is therefore ensuring we don’t let ourselves be lost about who we are and where we came from, he said. And that’s why we have a very close Pukapuka network in New Zealand, Australia and the Cook Islands so we should never lose touch with who we are and our home on Pukapuka."

The two-boat flotilla will arrive at Pukapuka and Nassau early tomorrow morning.

The Pukapuka group will return to Apia on 16 January while the history making Nassau contingent return to Apia on 21 January to catch their flight on 22 January 2011.

"This would not have happened with the help of so many people. A special acknowledgement to the Prime Minister of Samoa and his officials, as well as to the Ulu-o-Tokelau Kuresa Nasau, who was born on Nassau, for all their help and hospitality in hosting our group", stated Mr. Nuku Rapana.

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