Monday, March 21, 2011

Aere Ra Araura

Farewell Aitutaki. We are off to the airport in an hour, to fly to Raro, then Auckland, then Cairns. A few days in Cairns to buy a car, have a break and adjust to the 5 hour time difference, then off to Mission Beach.

Aere ra Araura enua. Meitaki atupaka

All our love, The Shahs

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

2 weeks gone, 2 weeks to go

This Month’s Blog by roving reporter and recently published writer Michael ‘Dostoevsky’ Shah.

To say the last 2 weeks has been crazy has been an understatement, but have they been any crazy than other weeks on Aitutaki? I imagine they will be less crazy than the next 2 weeks, which are THE LAST 2 ON THE ISLAND.  This evening I heard the drums beating (not an u
ncommon noise) but they got steadily closer… and then arrived at our house. This was the start of our Surprise Farewell. We climbed aboard the first truck as guests of honour with the second truck full of a seven piece drum band and were then ’Drummed Around the Island’. This is a wonderful tradition usually reserved for locals on their wedding day. We then spent the next 1.5 hours being driven around all the villages to the accompanying band and a growing entourage of motorbikes, It was amazing. People came out from their homes to give us gifts and dance. We stopped at all 7 villages with families who are involved with the resort in any way coming out. There were old mamas and young kids. We were given hundreds of pareus (sarongs) and flowers garlands (eis) It is quite an honour and very few ‘outsiders’ have had this treatment. Some of my colleagues have been amazed, but not surprised, that this honour has been bestowed on me.
We then had a HUGE bbq feast where all the staff brought food. Jen and I sat in the middle of it all like royalty. There was LOTS of dancing...we were given some beautiful hand made bed spreads (that is a real tradition here) and then one of my favourite managers had made us a hand carved set of 7 Cook island drums including some traditionally made out of shark skin (goat skin this time). This is something usually done for chiefs !!! The issue will be getting it all to where we need to go, so we have packed up ANOTHER set of boxes for the next ship.

Then Jenni made the Cook Islands News daily paper when she was one of the ‘Club paddlers’ assisting the local High School in their inaugural oe vaka (outrigger canoe) regatta . The four school houses competed in a series of sprint races, with an experienced steerer/paddler there to guide them. Lots of the students has never paddled before, but some a very experienced club paddlers that we know well. Jen was delighted to be involved with so many of our young family friends including some good friends from Bailey and Jamie’s 2010 class there too. Just another awesome day with our community of great friends from all areas of the island.
Saturday saw us enjoy what is probably our last day on the lagoon. We took a private charter with the would famous in Aitutaki Teking Tours and our favourite Captain Tai. It was another blissful day of snorkelling and swimming with lunch and crab racing on Maina Island. We started the day at the best spot in the lagoon – the Purple Coral with all three kids doing awesome snorkelling. Sienna is even fully into on now too – we have come a long way. After lunch Teking himself took the Shah Family on a private tour of his favourite spot with amazing stag horn and plate corals. We did our bit by spotting some Crown of Thorn starfish that have wormed their way into the lagoon somehow and are slowly killing patched of coral. With the help of a screwdriver and a useful washing basket these were removed to shore for ‘disposal.
Somewhere in amongst this we enjoyed another amazing evening watching the Aitutaki Sharks lose the Rugby League…again….but really who cares the crowd was singing, the chilly bin was full and it’s Aitutaki.
Ahhh Aitutaki and the Lagoon, it’s been putting on a show for us everyday this week. Perfect blue skies, turquoise water, white breakers and indigo seas to the horizon…should I cry now or wait another 13 days until we leave….

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Xmas, New Year, New Job...& Bread

Well now, Happy New Year! We celebrated in the resort, but the weather was dire, with an odd storm blowing in from the North. Oh well, just another part of the Aitutaki Adventure - mist flying horizontally through the restaurant! Christmas day was lovely, with pressies, a trip to Church, a LOT of champagne, and a yummo (an Aussie term, I believe) roast pork lunch with the Best Gravy in the world! Now for 2011...

January is the month of...job-seeking, school holidays and bread-baking. I'll tell you pretty quickly which one is much more fun than the others!

So, bread! Funnily enough, I had bought a bread-making book with us when we moved to Aitutaki as I didn't know that there was a bakery on the island (let alone 3!). Needless to say it has languished un-opened and un-loved until last weekend. The kids thought it would be a great idea, so we got the recipes of of mothballs and gave it a go. Many hours later we turned out an OK-kind-of-loaf - much kneading and several risings produced a well shaped, firm-but-not-too-firm loaf that was quickly devoured.

Being the researcher that I am, as soon as the loaf was eaten I was on the web searching for tips and hint. Maybe our dough had been too dry for the french load I had I need a steam oven to make it crusty...why on earth do American websites have to make so many disclaimers about stupid things such as "ovens are hot - you may burn yourself"...

Then I stumbled across the secret (or not) of the millenia - you can make bread Without Kneading it. Not only that, but it is better in every way!! The "NO KNEAD" method of bread making has probably been around for quite a while. Apparantly there was a recipe in the New York Times in 2006 which has oft been copied and tweaked online. The recipe I decided to follow came from a blog called The Italian Dish.

How basic is this - slap together some yeast, water, salt and flour and LEAVE IT. Then bake some of it. Then stash the rest of the mix in the fridge. Then bake it bit by bit over the next week or two. The result: light, crusty, rustic, 'artisan' bread, slightly chewey inside and a total dream.

The only problem I have seen is that once it comes out of the oven, the loaf only lasts half-an-hour before it has been devoured, dripping in melted butter.

So now, having made home made bread for the last few days, we are getting tricky, adding a few glugs of maple syrup/honey/golden syrup to the mix with some sultanas/fruit cake mix and some cinnamon and nutmeg. Voila! Divine loaves of fruit bread for breakfast toast. Heaven! And terribly addictive. In fact, it is currently 5.52pm, I should be cooking our dinner, but I have been waylayed by yet another slice...

And as for the job hunting...well there have been a few various things of interest...Canberra, Noosa and Melbourne. The thing is you have to immerse yourself in each possible opportunity to get the idea if you want live there or not. So that means researching schools, rentals, lifestyle and as soon you get into it, the opportunity goes past and the next thing comes along.

It's really just a waiting game while Michael sends off a few applications. Nothing happens quickly this time of the year.

In the meantime, we survive the holidays with a few swims and a lot of (or not enough) patience!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Vak Eiva 2010

The only proper way to start would be to say Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to friends, family and really, everyone!

To the right we have the 2010 Christmas effort - right tropical really!

It is a strange time for us on the island right now. The weather is hot and still, and we hope it isn't still like this in a few months. We keep a close eye on the weather websites and were delighted to note that last week, when we thought is was stinking hot, it really was: 33 degrees and 75% humidity apparently feels like 37 degrees. How true.

School is out, the shopping has been done, Xmas in the Park (island style) is this week along with the staff Xmas party, and the job hunt goes on.

Of course Christmas is less than a fortnight away, and the Advent calendars (kept in the fridge to avoid melting) are providing answers to that age old question 'how long is it until Christmas....?" The family gifts are under the tree (hiding places are few and far between in the house) and the kids are rattling them and wondering...

The chocolate truffles bought in NZ for Xmas eve have been demolished...woops! The brandy snap shells are still in one piece and I have found UHT whipping cream on the island too. The children have discovered Creme Brulee so that is the plan for Xmas day. That and I (Mrs Shah, that is) made Xmas mince pies! From scratch (mostly)!

I blame this frenzy of foodiness on Vaka Eiva - or the fact that it is over, I should say. The week long festival of Outrigger Canoe paddling bought 800 paddlers to Rarotonga from NZ, Aus Hawaii and Tahiti. Add in supporters and families and it would be fair to say the island was heaving! Thankfully Nana came to spend a week looking after the kids, which in hindsight was more relaxing than paddling and paddle-tix (paddleing politics).

Over the week long regatta Michael and I paddled in 12km marathon races, 500m sprints, and Michael in the 32km Round Raro Relay Race. At the start of the week it was awesome to be a part of the blessing of the canoes, with our club vaka representing the Aitutaki clubs. We had to decorate the canoe which was then blessed with canoes from the other countries and Raro clubs.

Saturday - the first day of the regatta had terrible sea conditions, and I had a lot of concern about how my mixed crew would handle those. Michael's men's crew was raring to go, and thankfully by Monday the seas had dropped a bit. Unfortunately their allocated canoe was of an unfamiliar shape and not rigged to suit them, which created stability issues and meant the men never hit their stride. Their time of 1:08 was 9 min behind the leaders brough them in 9th place - a disappointing result for them.

Micheal was the only one of the men's team to race with two teams, and after the mornign race had to rest up for another 12km later that afternoon with the mixed crew. He was concerned about being able to recover but the reality was that he is the fittest in the club, let alone fittest in the more social mixed crew! The 3.30pm Mixed race was delayed ... and delayed as the previous races ran later ... and later. The upside was the rough sea conditions subsided, the downside was watching everyone else have a beer as we sat around waiting to race.

Fortunately ourallocated canoe was the sister to our usual training canoe - very familiar and comfortbale. As it got laterand it became obvious we would be racing the setting sun as much as the other canoes, the race was shortened to 8km, and at 6.15pm we finallyset off with 28 other canoes, chasing flying fish and skirting the breakers on the reef.

Being in a race of 29 canoes was amazing, and we had an AWESOME race. Everyone was pumped up and gave their all, pulling together and cheering each other on. We surfed a few swells, steered a tactical race, holding our line against rival crews and blocking passing maneuvers. We over took our Aitutaki training partners (in yellow, below) and held out an Australian crew over the last 50m for a tough sprint finish. It was a fantastic reslt, and we yelled and cheered and ate pizza in the water as we waited an hour for all the canoe sot be carried up the slipway. We came home in 41min, 6 min behind the leaders and 15th out of 18 in our age group (Masters). We were stoked.

That was really the highlight for us. The Sprints day wasn't the fun occasion we were expecting, with personality clashes and bad race scheduling causing issues. Our men's crew was T-boned by a kiwi crew straying out of their lane for the only DQ of the regatta. That resulted in a late re-race for the men, which meant a back to back for a couple of our paddlers and impacted on the mixed crew (in the very next race). Given that the sprints were a fun extra, and weren't a focus for the club, the tensions were...unfortunate.

The week ended with the Round Raro Relay Race, where crews of 9 take turns to jump in and out of their canoes and chase boats to complete the 32km circumnavigation. The men had been training hard for this event and had a race manager, Mena, from Rarotonga lined up for their chase boat. Mena asked me onto the chase boat to help with drink bottles and crew changes, which unfortunately turned me into an instant tall poppy ready to be mown down. Despite that, Mena and I worked well together and the crew went well for the first part of the race.

For the last half of the race the conditions on the eastern side of the island were sloppier, and fatigue started to set in, resulting in a near capsize ('huli', below). 20 minutes later, just after passing Pacific Resort Rarotonga, the canoe did capsize, and we had to watch 3 crews go past before recovering. At that point, Michael had gotten into the chase boat and suffered from severe cramps. Just as I was about to call in the safety boat the cramps started to ease and feeling returned to his face and hands (!)

But the week wasn't all about paddling. we managed to get some family time in too (and Michael had to work one day of course). We took advantage of the rare occasion of having 3 adults available and arranged a Quad Biking adventure into the inland mountains. With Nana paired with Bailey, Sienna with Jen and Michael with Jamie, the adults had their work cut out. Acting more like mudguards than drivers, we raced up rocky trails, across swollen streams and through huge puddles of muddy water. It was an impressive ride from Lorraine and Jen bearing in mind the state of their shoulders, wrists and bones.

It was nice to be away, but good to get home. And despite training so hard for the paddling, somehow we ar eboth glad it's all over ... on to the next adventure 2011.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

A quick trip home...

Here we are, on the eve of Vaka Eiva, the outrigger canoe regatta that we have been training for for the last 8 months. We leave Aitutaki for Rarotonga at 8.30am tomorrow for a week of races (and Other Events) and really, packing awaits.

So paddling has consumed us the last few months; and home school; and the library; and work; and the What's Next question; and of course a short trip for Jenni and the kids to Auckland and for Michael to Australia for his 25 year school reunion.

So here are a few pictures of our stay in Warkworth, which started with HALLOWEEN and an awesome party hosted by the wonderful Garcey Mirus which had the kids all reved up:

We met with the cousins as much as possible during our stay:

And finally made it home with big smiles to meet Michael, 3 weeks after he had left the island on his own trip:

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

15 minutes of fame....

About 3 months ago Pacific Resort was lucky enough to host the crew from Maori TV’s Hunting Aotearoa program. The crew were in the Cooks to visit Aitutaki, Raro and Atiu to film a couple of episodes for the program. I did an interview with the surprisingly charming Howie Morrison Jnr which lead the episode on Aitutaki (episode 26 just screened). The crew had a blast, saying it was one of the best trips they’d ever had.

They hooked up with some local characters including the hilarious Peckham Maoate who took them spear fishing for eel, coconut crabbing and CHICKEN TRAPPING – yes a bizarre Aitutaki sport where you put an onion on the end of a very long pole with a noose attached and then try to snare the sleeping chicken 15 ft up in a tree!! Even more bizarrely on Raro the crew went shooting for Fruit Bats, which Howie actually eats bbq’d !!! Taste’s like pigeon apparently.

There’s been lots to tell and I know many people will have already heard the news. I was delighted to get an early morning text to tell me that I had won the South Pacific General Manager of the Year Award at the HM Awards in Sydney. The HM Awards are the premium awards for hospitality and Accommodation excellence in Australia, NZ and South Pacific.

There were as record 1300 nominations for the 35 awards, which were presented at a dinner for 500 in Sydney, with Ray Martin as host. Sadly I couldn’t be there but one of my colleagues accepted the award for me. Sounds like he was almost as excited as I was, with the table of industry folk he was sitting at offering a huge cheer when my name came up.

It is a delightful to be recognized in this way. My fellow GM in Sydney Marcus Tait suggesting this adds 10 – 15% my future salary – now that’s the money!!

Jen and I got the chance to celebrate in advance when on the night prior pacific resort hosted a wine dinner in conjunction with our always friends from Pernod Ricard to showcase their Jacob’s Creek Reserve wines. Chef James designed an exceptional five course dinner and with matching wines I don’t think Aitutaki had seen anything like this for a while.

The Toa Moana Masters Vaka crew helped the dinner numbers by booking the largest table, which coincided with the departure of the women’s #1 stroke, Tanya back to NZ. As if any excuses was needed this meant much excellent St Hugo’s and Steingarten wines were consumed but the killer stroke was the whiskey with Pernod Riacrd supplying bottles of Chivas Regal, Jamesons and The Glenlivet 12 year old to go with coffee…with the expected result.

It was quite a week as the day after that was Michael’s Birthday. The family took an extra day off to get on the lagoon in a much anticipated cruise with Lawton on the Glass Bottom Boat (funnily enough it’s actually the old one from Goat Island). The weather was great and Lawton gave us a wonderful tour both in and out of the lagoon (a first for the kids). The glass bottom gives a great perspective, snorkeling without getting wet…and lunch was a feast with a wonderfully genuine flavour. Big Thumbs up for Uncle Lawton – highly recommended.

Jenni’s month has been all about the school library, with her new designation as Librarian. Jen’s been imprisoned in the stifling heat of the new school library several hours a day sorting, labeling, counting, censoring (no books with dragons allowed at the Seventh Day Adventist school) and getting to grips with the idiosyncrasies of the Dewey Decimal system. My favourite report has been the Bible filled by Author under ‘G’…for God. But the reports are all positive, with our donated mats coming into good use when some kids ACTUALLY CAME INTO THE LIBRARY OF THEIR OWN ACCORD TO SIT AND READ SOME BOOKS – a breakthrough!!

She’s a star that Jen.

So that’s September – Part 1…with Jamie’s birthday on the horizon September Part 2 will surely feature a cake of some sort…standby til then.