BY ROYAL APPOINTMENT
"GOD SAVE THE QUEEN"
Her Late Majesty Queen Elizabeth II visited the Islands in January, 1974 to open Rarotonga Airport. The Monarch of the United Kingdom - now King Charles II - is Head of State and the monarchy itself is held in high regard in the Islands. The Queen's visit was the only time the reigning monarch set foot on the Islands' shores, but she wasn't the only member of the British Royal Family to visit
Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II visited the Islands in January, 1974 to open Rarotonga Airport. The Monarch of the United Kingdom - now King Charles III - is Head of State and the monarchy itself is held in high regard in the Islands. The Queen's visit was the only time the reigning monarch set foot on the Islands' shores, but she wasn't the only member of the British Royal Family to visit
HM The Queen stepped off the plane on the morning of 28 January, 1974 to a welcome from 10,000 warriors including 100 high ranking chiefs. She was accompanied by Princess Anne (now the Princess Royal) and her husband at the time, Captain Mark Phillips
Her Majesty was carried to the airport terminal by burly wariors on a pa'ata, a portable throne reserved for high chiefs and royalty. There was also a two seater version for Princess Anne and her husband.
The airport was opened officially the following day with speeches from The Queen and the Premier, Albert Henry (Cook Islands goverment photos here and above by Billy Johnson). He also presented her with a commemorative medal which is now in the Royal collection in London (Photo used with permission of the Royal Collection Trust/All Rights Reserved). The Queen spent the night before the opening at the New Zealand High Commissioner's residence on Rarotonga where she planted a tree in the gardens
His (now Late) Royal Highness Prince Phillip, Duke of Edinburgh visited the Islands in 1971 arriving in Rarotonga on the Royal Yacht Britannia and headed into port on this smaller vessel. Accompanied by his uncle, Lord Louis Mountbatten, he visited the Cook Islands Library and Museum and schools and inspected uniformed organisations
But he's the only royal to have ventured further afield. He and Lord Mountbatten visited Palmerston 500kms/310 miles North West of the capital island. The Islanders have had a special affection for the Crown since Queen Victoria granted a lease to founding father, William Marsters at the end of the 19th century...but since the Duke's visit they've also claimed a direct link to British Royal Family.
According to the late Yolande Browne great great granddaugher of William by his first wife, the Royal visitors were astonished when they saw a photo of the patriarch. She told me...
"They went into his house and saw his photo on the wall. They stood in front of the photo and took three steps back and bowed to the photo and said this is our 'lost sheep'."
It may be they were joking about the bearded appearance being similar to that of other royals but we'll never know! Lord Mountbatten (who along the Duke sported a fine beard) is also supposed to have confided that there was a Marsters in his own family and the Duke is said to have acknowledged a probable connection.MORE ABOUT MARSTERS LINKS
Prince Philip's visit lives on in daily life on Palmerston. While he was on the island, he swam in a sea pool which is now called 'Duke's Pool'. I'm also told he had a go at eating paw paw (papaya) with his fingers and thoroughly enjoyed the fruit. Unfortunately, no photos exist of what must have been an entertaining experience!
When the Duke of Edinburgh died in April, 2021 all the islanders spent the day indoors as a mark of respect for him and the Royal Family. The Union Flag and the Royal Navy Ensign were also flown at half mast
The Cook Islands visit was commemorated with a set of stamps which included this one
The Southern group island of Mangaia has its own connections to the British Crown and there are some islanders who still call themselves British. It all dates back to the 19th century when King John of Mangaia (pictured here standing) paid Queen Victoria a visit
his audience at Buckingham Palace he was careful to walk backwards and so
continue facing the Queen. Victoria was so impressed at his courtesy that she
presented him with a Union Flag with her picture on it, and told him that
Mangaia would from that day forward forever be part of Great Britain.
The Cook Islands featured in another royal visit in 2023, this time by accident. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (Prince William and his wife, Kate, now their Royal Highnesses the Prince and Princess of Wales) were at an official dinner in the Solomon Islands 3,000 miles away celebrating that nation's culture. The Princess wore a sundress which she believed was by a local designer. It was actually the work of Cook Islands resident Ellena Tavioni Pittman, from her own label, Tav. The mistake was put down to an over-enthusiastic member of the Solomon's welcoming committee who laid out the wrong clothes in the couple's suite. But it got the Cook Islands on front pages across the world and publicity for Ellena that money can't buy.