Islands bask in their big week in the NZ, Australia sun

By Dev Nadkarni

The Pacific Islands region owes it to New Zealand for the strong Pacific flavour imbuing the ambience of the main events centres in Auckland in the run up to New Zealand’s greatest ever show – this month’s Rugby World Cup.

New Zealand and the islands have strong ties stretching back to ancient times when seafaring islanders from Polynesia began making New Zealand their new home. As well, New Zealand has had significant roles to play throughout the recorded history of the islands – from managing the islands for colonial masters to being a close friend in the post colonial era.

Auckland is regarded as the world’s biggest Polynesian city. There are more Niueans and Cook Islanders living in Auckland than there are back in Niue and the Cook Islands. That is the extent to which New Zealand and Auckland are inextricably linked to the islands.

Naturally, the region and New Zealand have had a continuously thriving relationship spread across a wide spectrum of activities – from cultural exchange and commerce to rugby. New Zealand cannot be grateful enough for islanders’ contributions to the All Blacks’ successes down the decades and has always deeply acknowledged it.

That acknowledgement and the general sense of bonhomie that New Zealanders feel toward the islands comes through spontaneously in the manner in which the islands are being celebrated in and around the region’s most high profile event since the Sydney Olympic Games more than a decade ago.

The spanking new purpose built “Cloud” facility specially for the Rugby World Cup on Auckland’s spectacular waterfront will be thrown open to the public by Pacific Island events rather than those centering on New Zealand. The tastefully and functionally designed enclosure showcases a range of different aspects of New Zealand’s relationship with the islands.

The series of events start in the week of the kick off after the inauguration of a Pacific themed party for VIPs by New Zealand Prime Minister John Key on September 5.

A one-day investment summit titled “Oceans of Opportunity” coordinated by Pacific Islands Trade & Invest (PIT&I) in collaboration with the New Zealand Government’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs takes place at the convention centre in “The Cloud” on Tuesday, September 6.

The summit discusses the range of opportunities available for trade and investment in the resource-rich region while helping interested investors establish the next steps toward following up on exploring their chosen investment areas.

The event aims at exploring the range of opportunities that the Pacific has through discussion panels hosted by industry experts. The intention is to create interest and encourage people to view the Pacific as a potential investment destination.

The day long seminar will cover a host of investment areas including: infrastructure, tourism, agriculture, fisheries social enterprise and renewable energy.

A detailed bankable projects document designed to help international investors make decisions on investing in Pacific Island projects, published by PIT&I, will be released at the event. In addition, an exhibition area in the Cloud will also feature several Pacific Islands projects looking for investors. Many Pacific Island businesses have been flown to the venue to showcase their businesses and their wares.

On following days, a veritable food and cultural fest, put together by the Pacific Cooperation Foundation, follows. A live cooking demonstration of Pacific Island cuisine by award winning author and chef Robert Oliver takes place at the events centre. Oliver’s book Me’a Kai on Pacific Island cuisine was adjudged the best cookbook in the world at a world competition in Paris earlier this year.

Twenty-four of the Pacific’s most innovative food producers will be sampling and selling gourmet gastronomic treats such as spices, coffee, chutneys and jams, honey, noni juice and tropical fruit.

Incidentally, many of these food producers are also participating in a major event across the Tasman Sea in Sydney Australia at the huge Fine Foods Australia show. Some 10 players from the Pacific Islands are showing off their wares at a common booth facilitated by PIT&I in the same week. In fact, some of these players have had to split their teams to attend both the events, exhibitors told me in Auckland.

Fine Foods Australia is the largest gathering of international food, drink and equipment for the retail, foodservice and hospitality industries. The show gets under way on September 5 and runs until September 8 at the Sydney Convention Centre.

This is a milestone for the Pacific Island food industry because it is the first time that it is participating at a show of such an international profile. The high profile show is expected to bring considerable exposure to the participating companies, especially because of the novelty factor of Pacific food and cuisine and its reputation for being the home of some of the most wholesome of natural foods anywhere.

Millions of dollars of trade are concluded during the course of such shows and the Pacific food industry is looking forward to raising its profile in the international market while also establishing the industry as a revenue earner for the region.

Back at Auckland and the Rugby World Cup kick off week, visual and performing arts, live demonstrations of Pacific Island handicrafts like lei making, weaving, painting and sculpting is expected to regale crowds that will mill around the vast areas around the Cloud.

Plastic, performing art and handicraft from Niue, Tahiti, Samoa, the Cook Islands, Samoa, Tokelau, the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea will be showcased.

Visitors will have the opportunity to purchase artifacts and handicrafts from all these countries at a night market, which promises to be a hit being the first night event during the cup festivities. On sale will be fashion, jewellery, beauty, furniture and tourism experiences.

Most significantly, the Auckland event is in the same week as the 40th anniversary of the annual Pacific Islands Forum Summit, which will see the heads of government of the Pacific Islands Forum nations all in one place.

Auckland City and all of New Zealand has worked hard to make the big event happen. And much of the opening phase, indeed one of the most anticipated and charged with infectious enthusiasm, is dedicated to the Pacific Islands.

The Rugby World Cup in New Zealand is one big opportunity to further strengthen the already strong links between the Pacific Islands and New Zealand.

First appeared in Islands Business, September 2011