On his first visit to the Cook Islands, Bill English was met with a kiss, a telling-off for an over-enthusiastic adoption of 'island time' and a perilous suggestion of a looming Pacif-Exit.

The kiss came at a welcome for English and his delegation at the House of Ariki (the traditional chiefs). A stoked English, alongside ministers Gerry Brownlee and Alfred Ngaro, were led up to the marae and met by a line of young woman with garlands and kisses at the ready.

The telling off came soon afterward. English was about half an hour late for the welcome and the ariki did not hesitate to point it out - three times over.

Added to that, there was almost more fuss paid to English's Pacific Peoples' Minister Alfred Ngaro - the first Cook Islander to hold the position.


The Pacif-Exit note came during the press conference after the meeting when a local journalist asked about New Zealand's constitutional oversight of the Cook Islands and the country's push to be a UN member in its own right.

English didn't seem to care about such diplomatic potholes. Clad in a blue island shirt, he was a world away from New Zealand where the election looms in just three months' time.

His press conference was outside, with tivaevae [quilts] flapping in the breeze behind him - at one point so vigorously he had to flap it away.

Labour leader Andrew Little was out of sight and out of mind, back in New Zealand campaigning. But a reminder of that campaign was ever present with NZ First leader Winston Peters.

Peters is potentially the man between English and a fourth term for National. So he was quick to flatter Peters when he spoke during the welcome at the marae, pointing him out for specific attention as the "most senior Member of Parliament."

It was a slightly double-edged piece of flattery - but English later insisted, with a bit of a grin, that he had simply been acknowledging Peters' experience and wisdom to the elders in the Cook Islands.

He later tried to make up for it at his state dinner, saying he would like to acknowledge some MPs "who we may well have to negotiate with" - Peter Dunne and Winston Peters.

English won over his audience in the Cooks with some more sincere flattery.


He said the Cook Islands often thanked New Zealand for its aid to the islands - and he wanted to thank them back for the difference their people made in New Zealand.

English defended his decision to go on the tour just three months out before the election, describing it as "a diplomatic thing that must be done" because of the relationships in the South Pacific.

"There will be plenty of time for election campaigning when we get back."

If he thought there might be votes to snare in the Pacific Islands, he needed to meet the sceptical man in a van outside the telecommunications centre. The man asked why English was in town: "Does he want us to vote for him? Nah!"