Up there on the side of The Needle, with nobody else within cooee, we sat quietly in the spring sun and watched the beautiful rakoa, the white-tailed tropicbird, swoop by. We listened to the squawking of its red-tailed cousins, courting high above us.
And we looked around us at the sharp green outlines of the ridges and spurs and deep dark valleys cutting their ways down to the distant sea.
It was a reminder of the privilege, and the responsibility, vested in the landowners of Rarotonga and the Cook Islands. For despite how small these islands are, there are still big areas in the southern group that are uninhabited by humans.
We know how seriously the traditional leaders take this responsibility – both to protect the mountains, valleys and seas for the country’s plants and birds and marine life, and to protect them for future generations – but also to enable their careful use for their people, today.
Debates around taking and treating fresh water at Rarotonga’s 10 mountain intakes, and around disposing of the waste of 10,000-15,000 residents and tourists every week – these are just the start of some tough discussions.
If this were Auckland or Wellington, or Sydney or San Francisco, there would be houses clinging to every hill, to every cliff-side. And those pressures will come here too, as this growing population of this shrinking planet cause an inevitable reverse to Cook Islands’ population decline.
David and I trod gently across the island of Rarotonga, I hope. But many more people will come, not just as tourists, but seeking to stay here. Some, sadly, will have little respect for the environment and the heritage of these islands.
For the government, the challenge is to manage tourism and migration numbers. For landowners, it is to manage with far-sighted vision and restraint the careful development of the coast, the valleys and perhaps ultimately, the mountains.