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19 Mar 2018 11:50
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  •   Home > News > Politics

    Baby gifts for charmed PM in Cook Islands

    The Cook Islands have laid on the charm for New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, including some gifts for her baby, which they say is one of their own.

    Standing on a tiny island in a lagoon off Rarotonga, Jacinda Ardern was handed a baby onesie by her hosts and told they were hoping for a girl.

    The gesture capped off a day in which the prime minister tried to charm the Cook Islands, only to be charmed right back.

    Thursday (NZT) marked Ms Ardern's first visit to the Pacific nation and the last stop of her tour of the region.

    Dressed in all white, the prime minister began her day with a vibrant, musical welcome from the House of Ariki (chiefs) at Atupare Marae.

    The heavens briefly opened as she sat on a stone throne in front of chiefs from around the islands following a kiriti marotai - a ritual for weary travellers.

    Locals insisted the downpour was a blessing.

    "When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was moved," Reverend Soatini said during the prayer that followed.

    "The Cook Islands has (been) moved because you have arrived, prime minister."

    Ms Ardern, six months pregnant, in turn spoke of the links - in culture and language - that New Zealand and Cook Islands shared beyond their governance arrangements.

    "As I was leaving, one of the ariki said to me, don't forget your baby now is Cook Island," she told the crowd.

    "I would have to say, that would be a very lucky baby.

    "This is my first visit here - it will not be my last."

    And New Zealand's delegation came with gifts.

    After a formal meeting with her Cook Island counterpart, Henry Puna, Ms Ardern and Foreign Minister Winston Peters - earlier looking dapper in a gifted bright hat and cloak - announced a loosening of pension rules for New Zealanders living in Cook Islands, Niue and Tokelau.

    The change means Kiwis in the countries - where New Zealand still has some policy input - will from next year no longer have to return to Aotearoa for five years after turning 50 to claim their retirement money.

    It solves an issue that's vexed the islands for decades - and Mr Puna made clear his pleasure at the new government's swift action.

    Returning to the lighter parts of diplomacy in the afternoon, Ms Ardern and the delegation made their way to Motu Oneroa, a small island in Muri Lagoon.

    The area has been suffering from algal bloom and coral bleaching amid booming tourism growth and New Zealand has been supporting the clean-up.

    "We hope it's a girl," she was told after being handed a white baby bodysuit and offered Cook Island "secrets" for picking the gender of her next child.

    This year's Pacific Mission will on Friday spend its last morning in Rarotonga.

    © 2018 NZN, NZCity

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