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If you hadn't heard of the Cook Islands at the start of 2012, you've no excuse for being in the same position at the end of year!  The Islands were catapulted on to a worldwide stage thanks in part to the British Royal Family, Hillary Clinton, Islands' culture and history and some ground breaking environmental achievements.   This is look back at that year in the limelight.
KIA ORANA MRS CLINTON

Pacific Forum 2012 leaders with HIllary Clinton
US Sectretary of State, Hillary Clinton thrust the Islands on to the world stage in September when she led the largest and most powerful American delegation to the annual Pacific Islands Forum meeting of regional leaders in Rarotonga.  It was a reflection of the political and strategic importance the US now places on the Asia-Pacific region.

She pledged US support for the establishment of a shark sanctuary in Cook Islands territorial waters, announced US$200,000 of aid to help tackle violence against women, liked the Tamarind House restaurant so much she dined there twice...and said she'd love to come back to the Islands for a holiday.
A RIGHT ROYAL MIX UP
Think of fashion, and you think of London, Paris, Rome...and maybe now Rarotonga.   And it's all thanks to an alleged mix up over clothes worn by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge - William and Kate - at a VIP dinner during their visit to the Solomon Islands in September.
The dress and shirt were the work of Cook Islands designer, Ellena Tavioni (above right), and some how they ended up in the bedroom of the Solomon's hotel where the royal couple were staying. 

It sparked a dipolomatic row and an an official royal apology which said Kate thought they were from the Solomons and she felt bad about the confusion.   But for Ms Tavioni, it meant a massive boost in sales from the world wide publicity.

Prime Minister, Henry Puna (above) has committed the nation to having 50% of electricity needs met from renewable energy by 2015, and 100% by 2020. 

He's also announced the southern waters of the Islands - an area twice the size of France -  will become the world's largest marine park, including a core area where all fishing will be banned.  Puna said it was his country's contribution  "to the well-being of not only our peoples, but also of humanity".  And thanks to concerted international efforts, the Islands'  1.9 million sq. kms (750,000 sq. mls) of territorial waters have been designed the world's largest shark sanctuary.
 

 


Part of the new Cook Islands marine park
PM announces marine park plan
White tip shark is now protected
While the world continues to talk (and disagree) about how to improve the environment, the Cook Islands government has been getting on with doing something about it in its own back yard.   

FOR THE ENVIRONMENT AND 'FOR HUMANITY'
WORLD BEATING CULTURE
The Cook Islands cultural viillage family
For 24 years, this family has been sharing its knowledge of and passion for the Islands at the cultural village they created on Rarotonga.  And on 11 December, it was voted the world's best cultural attraction at the 'Oscars' of the travel industry, the World Travel Awards.   They beat off competiton from seven other countries to take the top honour. 
  
More about the cultural village and their own website
"Awesome and amazing" was how the tiny team described the welcome  as they paraded in front of an 80,000 strong crowd in the Olympic stadium and more than two billion people watched on TV around the world.  

And there were plenty of celebrations too at the closing ceremony with Cook Islands flags catching the attention of the world's tv cameras
...and the  ecstacy!
Waving the Cook Islands flag at the close of London 2012
Parading in front of 80,000 people
There were no medals for any of the 8 athletes in Team Cook Islands at the London 2012 Olympics, but 18 year Luisa Peters set two new national records in the weightlifting and received huge cheers from the crowds for her remarkable efforts.
Disappointment
Luisa Peters attempts 105 kgs in the clean and jerk
The agony...
LONDON 2012 OLYMPICS
A piece of Cook Islands history made history of its own in February.  This rare and important pole-club weapon (akatara) from Atiu attracted worldwide interest and sold for a record price at auction.  The undisclosed buyer paid US$146,500 which was nearly double the initial estimate by prestigious London auction house, Bonhams.  It was carved from the heart (taiki) of the sacred toa (ironwood) tree
A CLUB RECORD
Atiu pole-club
The Queen is the Islands' head of state and the dancers said it was an honour and a privilege to share in the spectacular "All the Queen's Horses" event in the private grounds of Windsor Castle. 
And there was no doubting Her Majesty enjoyed it too.

Dancing is THE national passion in the Islands, and in May a national team travelled to London at the invitation of Her Majesty the Queen (Queen Elizabeth II) to help her celebrate her diamond jubilee as monarch. 
DANCING FOR A DIAMOND QUEEN