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Pacific Mission 2024: A diary - Day 2 in Rarotonga ends in a surprise song from a minister

Grace Tinetali-Fiavaai

From saying Malo ‘aupito to Kia orana in less than 24 hours.

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

After a long first official day in Tonga, it’s been a whirlwind trip already as we touch down in Rarotonga ahead of the second official day of the Pacific Mission.

Today’s itinerary begins at the opening of a new farmers’ market, where the wild wind has people having to hold down a few marquee poles - and their skirts.

Uncle Winston, as he is affectionately known by even the Cook Islands locals, is always subtle but direct when it comes to the media pack’s questions - like a front-row hooker running straight through for a tackle.

And almost in response, members of the media are always rushing forward for photos and videos, like wild animals pouncing to eat their prey.

As the morning sun beats down hard, Peters and Reti stick out among the crowd in their suits and ties; leaving me wondering if they are not sweating in this island heat.

A journalist later asks him how he’s feeling in his suit, to which he replies that this is how they always dress and will not “dress down” here.

There are more announcements and bilateral meetings today, this time focusing on the impacts of climate change in the Cook Islands.

Cook Islands PM Mark Brown and the rest of his Cabinet officials are not the suits and ties type - rocking up in what we call island formal wear: bright island shirts, colourful patterned dresses and flower crowns known as ei katu.

A big mango tree out the front of Brown’s office proves to be the perfect spot for filing stories for many of the journalists; laptops on the grass and the odd juicy mangoes rescued from the ground to be enjoyed.

The hospitality in the Pacific Islands is unparalleled and once again, the “aunties,” or drivers, greet everyone with a smile and offer chilled water and the odd island banter.

There are several events throughout the day, with the two ministers, whose Māori roots are acknowledged by the locals throughout the day, separated for their respective ministerial events.

As Reti visits Rarotonga Hospital, it’s now time for Reti to shine. He looks calm and collected because he’s in his realm of expertise. This is his hood.

At last, a breath of fresh air, as Reti makes jokes about being in the Cook Islands explaining how he sends photos back home to his wife and family about being in the tropics.

He’s also sporting an island shirt - blue, of course - which is the first time he or Peters has worn anything Pasifika on the trip up to this point.

The last event is a special Waitangi Day celebration. It’s another display of colourful dresses, flower crowns and bright island shirts - except for Peters and Reti.

Surprisingly, however, there is a show of colourful talent from Reti as he bursts into song to end his speech; before members of his team join him in acknowledgement the good old Kiwi way, singing a loud rendition of: E Papa Waiari.

Hero Image: Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters arrives at a Waitangi Day reception in Rarotonga tonight. Photo / Grace Tinetali-Fiavaai

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