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The Pacific Islands Forum is a political grouping of 16 independent, self-governing states in the Pacific Ocean...and its 2012 meeting in Rarotonga was the biggest event in the islands since Her Majesty The Queen visited over 40 years ago to open Rarotonga airport.    The attention it received was down to a decision by US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton to lead the highest powered American delegation to the Forum in its 41 year history.  The purpose of this page though is not to report on the politics, but to reflect on an event which Islanders will be talking about for many years to come.





The essence of islands in a hand made basket
Pacific Islands Forum commemorative coin
Islanders themselves provided the Forum attendees with a lasting memory of their visit to Rarotonga.  Delegates were given pareu bags which were hand sewn by some of the islands' mamas.  They were filled with pens, paper and postcards bearing brand-new Pacific Islands Forum stamps designed by the Philatelic Bureau in honour of the occasion. 

And what were dubbed 'Kia Orana baskets'  (above left) woven from palm fronds went into the the rooms of the leaders at the Edgewater Resort .  Each contained his and hers pareus, soaps, oils, playing cards and dried bananas.   There was a special NZ$10 coin minted by the Philatelic Bureau too, and similar to the NZ$5 one above which is on general sale.   The Forum VIPs also received highly prized Tiare Maori and ara (pandanus fruit) eis which were specially created by Mauke businessman, Taratoa Metuariki and flown in from the neighbouring island for the opening ceremony. 
Photos left and right: Cook Islands News

Mrs Clinton was garlanded with flowers as arrived in Rarotonga
Dancers played their part in welcoming HIllary Clinton to the Cook Islands
Hundreds turned out at Rarotonga airport to welcome Mrs Clinton.   The honour of greeting her off her plane fell to the reigning Miss Cook Islands (second from the right, above right picture).  Photos: US State Department
Specially designed neck eis for the Pacific Forum leaders
Meeting nuns
Mrs Clinton pledges to help women
Mrs Clinton arrived for the post forum meetings.  As she made her way to a session with the regional leaders at Trader Jacks, she did a U-turn to greet three American nuns who called out 'God bless America'.   Photo: Reuters
During her visit, she also met with women's group leaders and pledged to promote gender equality across the region.  She announced a contribution of US$200,000 to the UN Women's Trust Fund to help tackle violence against women
Picture: US State Department
Mrs Clinton ties on a necklace of Manihiki black pearls
A PEARL OF A PARTING GIFT
Prime Minister, Henry Puna (left) presented Mrs Clinton with a necklace of top quality Manihiki black pearls and a pair of matching ear studs set in white gold.  They were given to her by the Cook Islands Pearl Authority in gratitude for her support of the country's marine conservation initiatives. 






Planting a tamanu tree on behalf of Australia
Pacific Forum leaders on Aitutaki
The beauty of Aitutaki and its lagoon stunned the Forum leaders when they travelled there for closed discussions on One Foot Island.  Each of the country representatives was also invited to plant a young tamanu tree.  Cook Islands Prime Minister, Henry Puna said it was a symbolic gesture to drive home the importance of discussions about the environment.    Australia's parliamentary secretary for Pacific affairs, Richard Marles planted the one for Australia on behalf of Prime Minister, Julia Gillard who returned home after news of five Australian soldiers being killed in two separate incidents in Afghanistan.
Photo credits: Left, US State Department  Right, ABC News, Australia
Part of the new Cook Islands marine park
The biggest news of the Forum was an announcement that the world's largest marine park is being created in the southern waters of the Cook Islands.   An area twice the size of France will include a core area where all fishing is banned and special zones where tourism and carefully monitored fishing will be allowed.  Prime Minister Henry Puna said it was the Islands' contribution "to the well-being of not only our peoples, but also of humanity".   And he called on other Pacific islands nations to follow the lead and create an enormous protected zone across the region.
Photos: Cook Islands News



PM announces marine park plan
WORLD'S BIGGEST MARINE PARK ANNOUNCED
RAROTONGA...'AS RECOMMENDED BY HILLARY CLINTON'
Hillary Clinton gave the Islands an endorsement money can't buy.    The local liasion officer for the US delegation to the Pacific Islands Forum said Mrs Clinton would like to come back.  Gwen Welland explained: "I think when she said that she meant not in an official position but when she is just Hillary Clinton - if a woman like that can ever just be Hillary Clinton."   
Forum leaders had an official dinner at the Tamardind House restaurant (above).  And Mrs Clinton enjoyed it so much, she chose to go back there the following night.  She told owner Sue Carruthers that she never eats at the same restaurant twice, but this time she made an exception.  "She said she loved the food and the ambiance and the location, and we were so pleased with that."  Sue (to the right of Mrs Clinton) chatted with her about the Islands and presented her with a copy of her latest cookbook.   And in return, she and her husband Robbie (far right, above) have a memorable entry in their photo album.
Not a good bye but a "see you again soon" from HIllary Clinton
A fond farewelll from the Cook Islands
Photos: US State Department
A PHOTOGRAPHIC RETROSPECTIVE
Tamarind House, HIllary Clinton and owners Sue and Robbie
Pacific Islands Forum 2012 logo
Read the final communique from the Forum here
 
 
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