Sunday, November 3, 2013


After our week in Raratonga, we flew to a second island, Aitutaki.
Our hotel in Aitutaki is just so beautiful, and we have a beach-front bungalow with a large verandah where we can look out over the lagoon surrounding the island and just relax. There are only 27 bungalows in the hotel, so it's nice and peaceful.  It's a hardship, having to be in such a beautiful place, but someone has to do it.
Our Room
Our Balcony/Verandah

View of the Lagoon from our Balcony
Our little bungalow from the beach

Resort pool


We took a day trip on Aitutaki's famous lagoon.  We chose not to go on one of the bigger boats, even though one former passenger happily informed us that they had toilets on board, but instead chose a small boat which took only eight passengers.  Our captain, Captain Fantastic, could not have been better.  One of our passengers was an elderly man who was not very mobile, and the captain constantly helped him in and out of the boat. We snorkelled in two places, and visited seven islands.  There was some rain, but the afternoon cleared up, and it really doesn't matter if it rains when you a snorkelling. Those who know Andy know that he needs to wear glasses - without them he can't see a thing.  But the strange thing was that when snorkelling, even though he had no glasses on, he could see perfectly, and even see down 10 meters or so to the bottom of the lagoon.
We had a really nice lunch on one of the islands we stopped at. A fantastic day, though I got very sunburnt.
Andy snorkelling
Lunch stop
Lunch being prepared
Lunch is ready
The location for Survivor Cook Islands
Andy contemplating the view
One Foot Island

Free-range chickens, DIY cemeteries and sea cucumbers

The three things that will stick most in my memory about Rarotonga (main island in the Cook Islands Group) are free-range chickens, DIY cemeteries and sea cucumbers.  Oh, and the beautiful beaches and magnificent mountains, of course.
Chicken and Rooster in the main town on Rarotonga

Everywhere you go around the island, chickens and roosters roam free. Some of them are very attractive looking birds, some are scrawny ones.  Many of the toddlers staying here in our hotel are more taken by the chickens (and the dogs that also roam wild) than anything else.  The only other birds I have seen are those blasted Indian Mynahs, which are as much (or perhaps more) of a pest as that are back in Australia.

What about these 'DIY cemeteries'?  Here in the Cook Islands it is possible to bury your loved ones on your own property if you own the freehold to that property. This means that there are small family cemeteries all over the place, and even the odd grave underneath a carport-type of structure in someone's front yard!  As a genealogist I'm not sure if this would find making graves easier or more difficult.  One thing a guide told us, though, is that you won't find any from the 1700s or early 1800s, because at that stage the Cook Islands were still cannibals, and had not been converted by the missionaries to the need to bury the remains of their loved ones.

Grave in the front yard
And what about the sea cucumbers? Well, our resort here is on Muri lagoon, and all throughout the lagoon are sea cucumbers, which look like giant slugs (or something more unpleasant!).  They are perfectly harmless, and actually keep the lagoon clean, and they proliferate all over the lagoon.

Amongst the seaweed are several sea-cucumbers
The hotel we are staying in, Pacific Resort Rarotonga, is very nice.  We've been on a very interesting cultural tour, followed by an evening show and buffet at Te Vara Nui village, which was really interesting and enjoyable. 

Making local medicine on the cultural tour

Evening show
I've also been on a safari tour around the island, but sadly Andy had to miss it as he was not well that day (something he ate, I suspect). That was a pity, as it was really enjoyable.  Our driver, Mr Useless, took us to see a famous waterfall (which had no water falling!), some of the native crops growing, the Noni factory, to see where the seven canoes departed Rarotonga to go and settle in New Zealand and then up into the volcanic mountains to see the most wonderful views. After that it was a delicious lunch and then back to the hotel for the afternoon.

The settlers of New Zealand set off from here

Some of the glorious scenery on the island
All the people on the island have been very friendly and it's been a great holiday destination.

Barefoot Bar and Restaurant

Resort Grounds

Resort Grounds

Muri Lagoon



Tuesday, April 9, 2013

I recently visited to Salt Lake City in Utah.  While I was primarily there to attend the Rootstech conference and do some research in the Family History Library, I did take the opportunity to do a little sightseeing.

First I will make some general comments on Salt Lake City. It is in a valley surrounded by glorious mountains.  When I was there most of them were snow-covered, so there were fantastic views around most corners. It is also very clean.  Unbelievably so.  In fact, there we several places where they had free dispensers of plastic bags to allow people to clean up their dog mess.  But it wasn't just the lack of dog mess that made it so clean.  Only once did I ever see any litter on the streets. Another point is that the streets seemed almost deserted.  There weren't crowds on the footpaths (or sidewalks as they call them there), and I never saw heavy traffic on the roads, all of which make is a pleasant place to walk around.
The city was established in 1847, so it does not have any 17th century buildings (or other early structures). The earliest building that is there is a pioneer log home that has been relocated next to the Family History Library. 

But the lack of any lengthy history doesn't mean there isn't plenty of interesting and attractive things to see.
The heart of Salt Lake City is Temple Square. This is where the Salt Lake Temple is located, and also the Tabernacle (home of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir). The best way to start this is to go to one of the visitors' centres. There is a north visitors' centre and a south visitors' centre.  I went into the north one, and there were some very interesting displays about the building of the temple (bringing the huge blocks of granite in from the mountains to the place where the temple was to be built). I also got a little pamphlet there which gave a map of temple square and information on the buildings there.
Another interesting building that is outside the temple square precinct is the Joseph Smith Memorial Building. You can go into that building and take the lift up to the 11th floor to see the views of the city.  But the building itself is very beautiful and well worth a look.
On the Thursday night we were privileged to be able to attend a special concert by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir put on especially for Rootstech.  They get hundreds of requests for special concerts throughout the year and rarely are able to accede to those requests, so we really were privileged.  
I got there early (along with a couple of other Aussies - Liz and Peter Pidgeon), and we got to hear their rehearsal.  That was very interesting, hearing them keep repeating certain parts of a piece of music until the conductor was happy.  Then the concert started.  It was called "Land that I Love - The Immigration of Irving Berlin".  It was a really wonderful experience in a building with wonderful accoustics.
Then on the Sunday after the conference, when the library was closed, a few of us joined up with Jan Gow's "Hooked on Genealogy" tour group to do some sightseeing outside the main town area. Jan has been to Salt Lake City many times, so she knew where we should go, and could fill us in with what we were seeing. 

We started off with most of us attending the regular Sunday performance of Music and the Spoken Word at the Tabernacle.  What I found most interesting was that some of the pieces that were performed were those that we had heard being rehearsed on the Thursday night.  Great to hear how they finally came out in their entirety.  I have to confess, though, that the piece I enjoyed most was Bach's Fugue in G Major, which was a pure organ piece - no choir involvement
Then we got our mini-bus and set off on our sight-seeing tour.  First thing we went and saw was the great salt lake.  It wasn't what I expected. I had thought it was a dry salt like, rather like Lake Eyre. But what we saw was a lake with water. Very salty water, admittedly (it's seven times saltier than the ocean and saltier than the dead sea). The only thing that lives in the lake is the briny shrimp. It turns out that I was thinking of the Bonneville Salt Flats.  They were both originally part of Lake Bonneville, which in the Pleistocene era was nearly as big as Lake Michigan, but are now separate.  
Bonneville Salt Flats (left) and the Great Salt Lake (right)
All the driving around took us very close to those glorious mountains,  very spectacular.  We also drove past the copper mine, but couldn't go in as the visitors centre is not open in the winter.

After lunch it was time to visit the outlet shops for some retail therapy. Enough said.

A big thank you to Anthony from the Salt Lake Plaza Hotel who was our driver for the day.