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Wednesday, 17th August  2022 11:01:pm

In the  book, “Eastern Pacific Lands”, published in 1910 we read on page 194:

"The Rarotongans (Cook Islanders) are the most advanced of all the South Sea Islanders in European Industrial civilization. They have become efficient artisans and mechanic; they build houses after the colonial type; they work extensive plantations and cotton gins.

They cultivate largely oranges and limes; of the former they export vast quantities on the monthly steamer to New Zealand. From the limes, as they used to do in Tahiti, they press the juice and ship it in small barrels, some 2000 gallons yearly being sent from the island.

They also export cotton, coffee, dried bananas, arrowroot and copra. They thrive and are happy because they are free and un-oppressed and at liberty to enjoy the fruits of their labour."

Today, 115 years later, with a vastly diminished local population (since just about 90’000 Cook Islanders live in New Zealand and Australia) none of the mentioned industries exist anymore.

Cook Islanders these days work either for Government or in the Tourism Industry.   There are now not even Paw-paw exports and people live mostly on imported canned or processed food. Indeed a very unhealthy way of living resulting in a staggering number of people with “non communicable diseases” such as Diabetes and High Blood pressure. This is indeed a sad state of affairs and will not change until Government and the people change their attitude and revert back to planting their own food, whether it is vegetables or fruits.  

Mango plantation in the “Secret Garden”, 2010.Mango plantation in the “Secret Garden”, 2010.Unfortunately on Aitutaki, it is quite hard to find good, productive and rich virgin soil these days, as many of the less than 15 square km have been extensively planted, over the last 40 years, with Bananas which require big amounts of artificial fertilizers to produce good crops. These bananas were exported to the New Zealand market on the monthly steamer from there, and helped to bring much needed export earnings to the Cook Islands.

And since the fertilizers used have only 4 – 5 trace elements, compared to 15 in natural humus, the many years of this indiscriminate use of fertilizer has depleted the soil and is only now built up again to its former health.

Fortunately, the soil of the Secret Garden has not been planted for hundreds of years; and its humus-rich virgin soil provides the fruit- and flowering trees planted there with enough nutrients to flourish and be fruitful.


See Flowers and Fruits

lycheeThe Lychee is basically a sub-tropical, rare but delicious fruit.

Fruits of the Lychee plus Grandson and daughter in front of a fruiting tree in the 1980's in Rarotonga.

Back in the early 1970's, Lychee trees produced huge crops on Rarotonga. However, with Aitutaki and Tahiti being both approx. 2 degrees latitude further north than Rarotonga, the climate became too hot to produce lychee crops. Although the lychee trees grew very well in latitude 18 degrees south, no fruits were produced on these islands.

Being able to pick good crops on Rarotonga every year carried on until the mid 1990 at which time we discovered the Lychee yield per tree got smaller every year until the year 2000, when there were no fruits at all on my trees. This, I deduced, must be a result of Climate Change with the temperatures increasing at least 2 degrees Celsius over the previous 30 years.rarotonga 1980Grandson and daughter in front of a fruiting tree in the 1980’s in Rarotonga.

Moving to Aitutaki in late 2002, the realisation set in that it would be useless to plant Lychees in the Secret Garden, due to the hotter climate here. A very good friend from Thailand then suggested growing Longan, which is a very tropical fruit in the same fruit family, and would do well in Aitutaki's tropical climate. (After all, these delicious fruits grew to perfection in Siam, Vietnam and Laos.) My friend's advice has proven to be correct and instead of the Lychee we now grow very successfully three rare and delicious Longan varieties from Thailand, Vietnam and Laos, on Aitutaki. During the last few years, the Agriculture Dept. of Thailand has begun successful work on a tropical strain of Lychee, called 'Khom'. It is hoped that this cultivar can be grown on Aitutaki and grafted onto existing subtropical Lychee trees.

Aitutaki Lagoon