AUNTY Nane’s chuckle is a cross between a garrulous gecko and a violently erupting volcano, the type of which formed the island of Rarotonga, on which I find myself. Aunty, a Cook Islands Tourism Ambassador, is here to tend to my every need, including collecting me at the airport upon my 2am arrival from Brisbane. So dedicated is this generous soul to her role, I am certain that if I asked her, she would also stroke my hair while I surrendered to a deep slumber and sing me a lullaby. She may possibly even spoon me. I decide she is the perfect wing woman to assist me in finding a Cook Islander husband. Yes, I have crossed the International Date Line, or dating line, so to speak, and figure I may as well try my chances at finding love over this invisible border.
Aunty loves to chatter as much as she loves to eat, and over freshly-caught tuna sandwiches on my first day in her idyll island, she gives me the run down on dating, Cook Islands style.
“Cook Islander women are strong minded and determined. We are modern now because in the past everything was about men and the women were in the kitchen and at home. Today, nah, ah,” she says, waggling her finger.
“Women have a big role in the community, at home, at church and wherever they go. Men are having that respect for women now.
“There are a lot of mixed marriages here. There are no taboos about mixed marriage. You have some of these young men who are like ‘I have a white chick, check it out’. I’m like ‘guys, don’t break their heart’.”
Aunty tells me my best chance of finding a Cook Islander husband is to accompany her to church on Sunday. Regular readers of this blog will know I have attempted many unorthodox methods around the world to secure a boyfriend, but I’ve never had a date with God, and so we schedule this in for several days time.
The next day, on a Tuk Tuk trip with Uncle Mata from Tik-E Tours, I learn that the Cook Islander man is “very quiet, very humble, very reserved and they support their women.”
“He is hard working and looks after the family. Whichever woman you pick they are all strong. Men have good values of bringing up their children,” Uncle Mata says.
Uncle’s advice on Cook Islands dating is similar to Aunty Nane’s.
“Don’t go to the pub, they’ll be too drunk and talk a lot of rubbish. Go to church and have a look,” he says.
“Just go up and talk to him. Just say ‘Kia Orana’ and whatever happens after that happens.”
Not since I first learned they gave out free wine have I ever been so excited to go to church.
Onwards I travel, to the island of Aitutaki, best known for its stunning lagoon. Here, my tour guide Aunty Mii tells me she loves her husband “very much” but spends her days trying to avoid him because he is “very stupid”.
“My stupid husband broke the washing machine and now he has to wash his own clothes,” she says.
“In ancient days women had to choose their partners. They had three of four because they had to breed the warriors for the tribe. But when Christianity arrived that ruined everything.”
I avoid asking Aunty Mii whether I should go to church to find a husband, partly because of her views on Christianity, and partly because I am very scared of her. Instead, I ask her if there’s a marriage counsellor on this remote island.
“Yes, that’s me,” she says, breaking into a toothless grin.
Two days before church, I am back in Rarotonga, having dinner with Geoff, 34, who provides me with a contemporary view on dating, Cook Islands style.
“For me, it is not dating per say. I have a couple of girls on the roster and it is a mutual understanding. We wait for the tourist season because the ratio of girls to guys will be in our favour,” he says.
“And white women tend to like Cook Islander guys. You’ve got this revolving door of visitors to keep the bachelors happy and in between you go back to the roster.
“Cook Islander women get complacent real quick. You date them for a year and after that you can’t do right by them. They’ve got that really strong personality.
“A lot of girls are always telling me ‘you are impossible to please’.
Geoff tells me there is also Tinder on Rarotonga but he is yet to find the “ideal woman”.
“The whole idea about the perfect woman I don’t understand yet. Someone with fair skin is quite exotic to me,” he says.
“I’ve had to defend my thoughts on dating many times. Until this system comes crashing down around me, it works.
“One of my best features is not my appearance, it’s because I can talk. I’ve really honed that to a fine art. If I was interested in you normally I’d square off and make sure I touch you on the arm at some stage. It’s all these little nuances you pick up on.
“Then I need to move you to a setting where I’m the alpha male. There will be drinking and dancing. It is so fluid. It’s the meeting, setting up, trying to close and then the logistics.”
Geoff, who has been operating on the same dating scheme for 20 years, has it down to a fine art, even having a draw full of sarongs and toothbrushes for any lucky ladies who happen to spend the night.
“It is a game of numbers. You run the strategy that yields a higher return,” he says.
He admits he sometimes lies to get what he wants and that it can be disrespectful.
“I’ve got four older sisters and they don’t know about this. If they found out they’d try and sit me down and say ‘hey’. I don’t think mum would understand.”
Sunday finally arrives and I dress in a floral frock and place on my head the gorgeous garland of flowers or traditional “ei” that Aunty has bought me from the markets. It’s D-Day. Divinity. Dating. Or Disaster. I enter the church and the congregation is packed, but they all seem to be aged either 5 or 85 with a distinct lack of the middle-aged men I was promised. There’s a visiting Samoan missionary, a huge hunk of a man, but the priest promptly describes him to his parishioners as “married to God”, which, frankly, is a hard act to follow. At one point a sprightly octogenarian breaks free from a prayer line to kiss me on the cheek. There’s lunch with the churchgoers afterwards but alas, no husband.
In the early evening Aunty drops me at dinner overlooking the ocean, paying for my meal before she heads back to church for the evening. I resist the urge to join her again. The only thing I took away from this morning was apparently it’s “Up, Up Jesus, Down, Down Satan.” Instead, from where I sit, the sun is setting, I have a glass of New Zealand wine in my hand, and I can smell the salt in the air. I am alone in possibly the most romantic spot on the planet when it dawns on me, I don’t need a Cook Islander husband, I need a Cook Islander wife. And I can’t wait for Aunty to get home from church to tell her.
The Global Goddess travelled as a guest of Cook Islands Tourism. To plan your own adventure go to https://www.cookislands.travel
The Resurrection of Christchurch
THERE are seven men to every woman in Christchurch. A salacious fact onto which I clutched as tightly as my passport as I flew across the Tasman at the weekend. Six years ago, I saw my first ever fortune teller who emphatically predicted that not only would I meet a man who was either younger than me or young at heart, but I would meet him in New Zealand. At the time I was ecstatic, given I was flying to Queenstown that very weekend, convinced my luck was about to change. It was my first trip across the ditch and it was incredible, but all I managed to do was meet a male editor who, like me, was stuck all alone in a luxurious alpine lodge with a bunch of honeymooners. We overcame this awkward fact by pretending we were newlyweds who didn’t spend any time together except over dinner at night, which confused the smug, happy couples, and is a story about which we still laugh to this day.
A year or so later I won another trip to Queenstown, a jaunty journey on which I invited my sister and about which I have previously blogged the perils that awaited us at our destination. We escaped white outs, igloos, icy mountains, a narcoleptic and a randy ram just by the skin of our teeth and with the assistance of copious amounts of whiskey. The only bloke I met on that trip was on the flight home and whom I wrongly accused of sitting in my seat, which made for some rather awkward hours back to Australia. I returned to New Zealand a year or two later, this time to attend a conference in Rotorua, where I vowed I could never marry a man who smelled strongly of sulphur.
But last weekend I went back, lured by a girl’s weekend and the firm fact that there are now seven men to every woman in Christchurch, the odds surely on my side. I should explain this mathematical impossibility by letting you know that the reason there are so many men in town these days is that they are rebuilding this pretty city after the devastating earthquake of February 2011, in which 187 people were killed, 1000 buildings destroyed, and about more of which I will write later.
As per usual, my story begins before I even board the plane when a 60-something man at Sydney International Airport leans him arm against my body, before jumping in surprise and exclaiming: “Oh, I’m sorry, you looked like a table.” Now, I know my universal sex appeal holds no bounds, but even for me, this was a new low. A piece of furniture? A table wearing a leopard-print scarf, clasping an orange handbag and drinking a glass of red wine? Things have leapt off to their usual sterling start.
The clock is pointing glaringly past 1am when I arrive in Christchurch with my four new female friends and when we attempt to check in, the receptionist asks whether we are “here for the wedding?”. “Well, I am looking for a husband”, I reply, before scuttling away to my room. Half an hour later, there’s a knock on my door, and just as I’m mentally praising the hotel for their prompt delivery of the man of my dreams, I open the door to find the receptionist who has decided that since one of asked for a toothbrush kit, all of us must have forgotten our toothbrushes. I ponder this logic into the wee small hours of the morning.
Breakfast is at C1 Espresso café with owner Sam Crofskey, 37, who not only lost his original café across the road in the quake, but his house as well. Sam was working in his high street café when the earthquake hit.
“I was a little bit confused. The coffee grinders fell off and landed on my legs and the power went off and then I could hardly stand,” he says.
“We needed to get rid of the customers, the staff and then ourselves. We had more than 100 people in the café at the time.
“Out on the street everyone was distraught and I thought everyone was over-reacting. I thought we’d come back tomorrow and clean everything up. It took a lot more for me to understand the city was actually gone. When you are here with no power or phone you have no idea what’s going on.
“I was like, my business if fucked, my house is fucked…that’s annoying.”
Sam moved C1 across the road to the old post office – the first reinforced concrete building built in Christchurch – and reopened in November 2012.
These days, the café retains the old post office vault – now used for a coffee machine; sparkling water is poured from a dentist tap; a sliding bookcase leads to the toilet; and burgers are delivered to patrons via tubes which run from the kitchen to tables.
And on the rooftop there’s a vineyard and beehives with plans to build an eight-room boutique hotel here in the near future.
“We wanted to rebuild it as a legacy. There are lots of really cool things in Christchurch. We opened the doors and people flooded in. They really wanted to connect with the central city,” Sam says.
“Christchurch was a broken city before the earthquake full of old, white people. It had no young people. But now people are doing cool stuff and are proud to be here.
“The lights are on and people are home now. The old rules are gone.”
It’s at this early point in my trip that the story I thought I would write about Christchurch starts to change. We head over to the CTV site where 115 people – the majority of victims – were killed in the earthquake. There’s nothing there now but a simple plaque, dedicated to the dead. In the background, there’s a colourful mural of a naked woman from the Calendar Girl’s Strip Club, one of the first buildings to reopen, and presumably going great guns with so many labourers from around the world in town.
Across the road from the CTV site sits the Cardboard Cathedral, constructed from, among things, 96 gigantic cardboard tubes, as a gathering place for the devastated community. But one of the most touching sites in Christchurch sits just across from the cathedral – 187 white chairs to commemorate every person who died in the earthquake. Visitors are invited to spend time there, reflect and even sit on a chair with the simple words: “choose one that speaks to you.”
In the badly affected Anglican Cathedral, locals say when the quake hit, a statue of the Virgin Mary spun around and faced towards Christchurch. Outside here, there’s a pile of “sorry stones” on which visitors have penned their condolences. Colourful Buddhist prayer flags flap in the breeze nearby.
But there’s also hope among the rubble. In the aptly-named Re:START sector, businesses are blossoming out of shipping containers. New Zealand fashion designers are peddling their wares alongside cafes and craft stores. In New Regent Street entrepreneurs such as Rekindle are turning waste wood from demolished homes into edgy jewellery, art and furniture.
Just out of town, other businesses, such as The Tannery Boutique Retail and Arts Emporium are finding previously hard-to-secure council approval for businesses is much easier these days, as the city rebuilds. There’s even a Ministry of Awesome in Christchurch these days, where some of the city’s creatives gather to discuss ways to recreate devastated areas.
It’s a city of gap fillers and anchor projects. Colourful graffiti art adorns massive walls, impromptu gardens are planted everywhere and street installations are a delightful discovery around every corner. The town clock, which stopped at 12.50pm – the precise moment the earthquake hit – still stands in the town.
As for the men, to be honest, I’m so enraptured by this city’s story of resilience and resurrection, I forget to look. The earth moved for me in Christchurch, just not in the way I expected.
The Global Goddess travelled as a guest of Christchurch and Canterbury Tourism. To book your own escape, go to http://www.christchurchnz.com
Speaking of sex and rolling on the river
IF such a thing exists, it’s a “bad champagne day”, according to Kirsty Patten, who is steering a boat through a windy patch on the Noosa River. But while the weather is cool outside the vessel, the talk inside is steamy. You see Kirsty, co-owner of Noosa’s new luxury electric boat business Malu-os, is also a member of the Australian Sex Party. And so passionate is this woman about the Party formed by her sister Fiona Patten, Kirsty ran (unsuccessfully) for a Senate seat in the recent Federal Election. And so our conversation, like the boat, zig zags between her new business and sex. It’s as simple as that.
“Our main platform is your body/your rights. It’s about marriage equality, euthanasia, abortion. We believe the church and religions should be taxed like any other organisation. We think marijuana should be legalised,” Kirsty says.
“When the Party first started, former Australian Democrat leader Don Chipp said ‘your biggest challenge is going to be getting noticed’. So Fiona called it the Australian Sex Party.
“I don’t get the whole concept that sex is bad but violence is acceptable. I think sex is a fantastic emotional thing that we should be enjoying because it makes us good.”
Kirsty, the former principal at the ten-child school at Hayman Island, established Malu-os three months ago with her business and life partner Linda Boyes, a former special education teacher at Proserpine High School. There’s three luxury electric boats – 16ft duffys – from which to choose – the Lady Anne, Lady Isabella and Lady Mary – named after an 86 year old Noosa woman. The business name, Malu-os means seahorse in the Torres Strait, where both Kirsty and Linda worked. And it’s fabulously fitting for this eco-friendly tourism business.
“We came down here on a holiday and just liked it. Noosa felt big enough for opportunities but still had a small country feel. I’ve always had this love of boats,” Kirsty says.
“We knew Noosa wanted clean and green and found these three boats in Sydney. And all of a sudden our lifestyle is so much nicer. I want people to enjoy the river at a non-frantic level.
“I think they are a great product for Noosa. They’ve got a little bit of class but they are also environmentally friendly. They have zero emissions while on the water and cost about $1 a day to charge the batteries. There’s no wash, no swell and they are quiet.”
The number of strong, smart, sexy and spiritual women in Noosa these days is building into the mother of all swells. Along Hastings Street, you’ll find the sassy Miss Moneypenny’s – a spunky restaurant and bar with an impressive cocktail menu. Miss Moneypenny’s is the only place in Queensland to source authentic coconut cream – coco lopez – used in original pina coladas. And if you are looking for a grand dame here, stroll to the original French Quarter which has a new mantra, quite literally. Six months ago the Mantra group took over this accommodation and it’s now the Mantra French Quarter. You won’t find French fuss here, rather the colour and cheer of the coast captured in its one and two bedroom apartments which are punctuated by a central pool.
Want to meet another superb Sunny Coast sheila? Wade over to Noosa Stand Up Paddle and meet Donalee Halkett who started this empowering enterprise six years ago.
“This is a great way to get out on the water and get back to nature. You are getting fresh air and sunshine and it’s very meditative,” Donalee says.
“It’s not like going to the gym and thinking you have to work up a sweat. The thing that I’ve loved about it is that everybody can do it. You see some people quite fearful and they overcome that.”
Such a great teacher is Donalee that she not only got The Global Goddess to her feet but to the point of being able to do a one-legged yoga pose on the board, while floating. (Regular readers will remember I have no physical balance and once smashed two vertebrae in my back simply from tripping over my own feet, so this was quite an achievement).
Donalee also works with a local psychologist and uses her Stand Up Paddle trips to assist others relieve anxiety and deal with issues such as eating disorders.
“With these sorts of issues there is a lot of fear involved. Being in nature is quite healing but it also builds confidence. A lot of women are quite fearful and don’t have any self-esteem,” Donalee says.
“This goes much deeper than the paddle itself. It is very spiritual.”
But unfortunately, not everyone likes the idea of women paddlers.
“I had one experience out in the surf one day and some bloke was trying to shake me off my board,” Donalee says.
“I knew the board I was on was too small for him, so I offered him a go and it was like a bucking horse, he just kept falling off.
“I thought that was pretty funny.”
Donalee, who has always worked in the health sector, is about to turn 50 (stand up paddle boarding is clearly good for you), and is currently penning a book 50 Fabulous Things for women in their 50s.
“Every day, every minute, we have a choice. We can choose the negative or the positive. Life can be a blessing or a curse,” she says.
“I’m celebrating life.”
The Global Goddess travelled as a guest of Tourism Noosa and stayed at Mantra French Quarter. http://www.visitnoosa.com.au and http://www.mantrafrenchquarter.com.au. Visit Malu-os at http://www.malu-os.com.au and Noosa Stand Up Paddle at http://www.noosastanduppaddle.com.au