Locals and Visitors Enjoy Eco-friendly Transport Alternatives

On islands, climate change is conspicuous.

In continental places, the concept is sometimes dismissed as political, a hoax; on tiny landmasses surrounded by ocean and reef, the impact of rising seas and coral bleaching is difficult to overlook.

Though the Cook Islands’ contribution to climate change is infinitesimal, in recent years residents have bent themselves toward mitigating its consequences.

The government delivered on its promise to halve the use of fossil fuels by 2016. Twelve solar farms are now operating across the islands.

At the community level, residents have begun importing electric vehicles. The bikes came first, offering a fuel-free alternative to the motorbike, a popular form of transportation. Electric bicycles gave locals and tourists a healthy, eco-friendly way to get around Rarotonga.

In 2017, the government-owned power station installed a charging station. Today, wholesalers are retailing electric cars. Hotels and resorts offer fleets for hire. A mechanic is training to work with fuel-free vehicles.

There’s also an association of 40-odd electric vehicle owners from the islands of Rarotonga, Aitutaki, and Atiu that meets to discuss challenges, such as how to dispose of old batteries. They intend to create a digital database of private homes with charging stations, in order to make driving an electric vehicle more convenient.

“At 32 kilometres around, this is a very small place,” says electric vehicle owner Tim Meyer, who manages a Rarotonga hotel. “There’s always a power point nearby.”

Owning electric vehicles allows businesses to satisfy requirements for eco-certification programme Mana Tiaki, an initiative designed recently by a nonprofit and the government’s tourism bureau. Mana Tiaki is a nod to age-old local values centred on environmental stewardship; mana translates as prestige or honour and tiaki, as guardian.

So far, nearly 50 businesses have achieved this certification.

Heeding messages sent by the natural world is engrained in the cultural DNA of the Cook Islands. For thousands of years, islanders have had no choice but to pay attention. Today, environmental problems look different and so do their solutions, but the principle hasn’t changed much: in being a tiaki, there is mana.