Many of the students from a small Northland school had never been on a plane, let alone out of New Zealand.

But that changed for nine Te Kura o Otangarei pupils after a trip to the Cook Islands led to several firsts.

First time overseas for all but one, first time in a plane for seven, first time making an umu (a ground cooking pit similar to a hangi), first time doing the hula and the first time swimming with giant clams and giant trevally.

After spending six days in Aitutaki and four days in Rarotonga, the group arrived back to Otangarei and were wishing the school pool was the clear blue Cook Island waters.


"We just want to go back, aye guys," said principal Myles Ferris.

"I want to go live there in my future," said 11-year-old Damien Samson.

Te Kura o Otangarei are back from their trip to the Cook Islands but are still dreaming of the clear blue waters. PHOTO/JOHN STONE
Te Kura o Otangarei are back from their trip to the Cook Islands but are still dreaming of the clear blue waters. PHOTO/JOHN STONE

The school pupils were able to go on the trip after receiving 10,000 in Airpoints Dollars as part of Air New Zealand's Airpoints for Schools programme where people donate their airpoints.

While on the trip the students and the five accompanying adults learnt about the similarities between the Maori and Cook Islands culture. They visited the place where the Tainui and Te Arawa people had their marae and learnt about how their waka came down from Aitutaki. They also talked about the ancient traditions of the people of the time.

"We had a talk by this anthropologist who started off by giving us a pe'e which we call a pepeha. He started off giving this tauparapara, which is this introduction, and it is almost exactly as we give it here in New Zealand. You're talking over 800-odd years that has been in New Zealand, and that was up in Aitutaki," Mr Ferris said.

The students also visited Araura College, where they learnt about Cook Island Maori, learnt some songs and performed.

Mr Ferris said pupils also visited the Marine Centre, where they became reef keepers and planted coral, performed at a traditional island night, went on a lagoon vaka tour, and a cultural tour.

"Going to the school was my favourite," said Teremoana Hau-Hotereni, 12.

"I liked the vaka cruise," said 11-year-old Darius Vincent.

But the main activity was swimming and in true Kiwi fashion they also jumped off the wharf.

"Those big fish, they were scary. The giant trevally was the biggest. The female [fish] - takes it too hard, takes it serious," said Damien.

Damien was still dreaming he was in the Cook Islands as he sat in an office at the school.

"The beautiful blue sea, the long trees. Oh man," he said.

Asked who planned to live in Aitutaki, they all put their hands up.