The island of Aitutaki in the Cook Islands, with a population of just over 1,800 people is leaving no stone unturned as it prepares to welcome Pacific Leaders and officials on Wednesday, 08 November 2023.

The second most visited island in the Cook Islands after Rarotonga, Aitutaki, referred to as a ‘gem in the Pacific,’ will host the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) Leaders Retreat as part of the 52nd Pacific Islands Forum Leaders Meeting (PIFLM52) to be held from 06 – 10 November 2023.

Guided by the theme, “Our Voices, Our Choices, Our Pacific Way: Promote, Partner, Prosper,” PIFLM52 will bring together Pacific Leaders, Pacific Regional Organisations, Forum Dialogue Partners and Forum Observers, and special guests to talanoa, and promote genuine Pacific Partnerships that will ensure the resilience and prosperity of our Pacific people.

PIFLM52 opens in Rarotonga on Monday, 06 November 2023, with subsequent meetings held on Tuesday and Wednesday before Leaders take a 50-minute flight from Rarotonga to Aitutaki for the Leaders Retreat, where they will further reflect on issues discussed.

Karen Ngamata and Mereana Bishop, who form part of the PIFLM52 logistics team, have been liaising closely with the Mayor, Executive Officer, Island Council, Members of Parliament, accommodators, and businesses alongside the PIFLM52 logistics team based in Aitutaki to ensure things run smoothly.

“Members of the PIFLM52 logistics team have been liaising with Leader representatives of Aitutaki for a few months now, and those engagements have picked up in recent weeks as we get closer to the Leaders Meeting,” said PIFLM52 logistics team member, Karen Ngamata.

“The Cook Islands last hosted the Forum Leaders Meeting in 2012 when the Leaders Retreat was also held in Aitutaki, and the learnings from then have provided a solid platform for us to prepare for next month. The island of Aitutaki is extremely proud to again be hosting Pacific Leaders, and they are looking forward to once again showcasing the best of their culture and hospitality.”

Secluded, the island of Aitutaki possesses one of the world’s most beautiful lagoons, where visitors can look forward to languid, leisurely days with jaw-dropping surroundings.

Aitutaki will be the backdrop of the Leaders Retreat that will deliver the PIFLM52 Leaders Communique that will direct the regional work of the Pacific Islands Forum for the year. In true Aitutaki style, the Leaders Retreat discussions will be held aboard a vaka within the lagoon – the perfect setting for confidential and open discussions between Pacific Leaders.

“Out on the Aitutaki Lagoon, away from the noise of global tensions, we can re-connect our Leaders to our ocean identity and what’s most important for our Pacific people,” said Ngamata. “This is a fitting setting for our Leaders to chart and agree on the regional collective actions for the year ahead and how we might mobilise efforts and resources together for our Blue Pacific and her people.”

As the countdown to PIFLM52 continues, led by the Cook Islands Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Immigration (MFAI), the Cook Islands Government has been working tirelessly to ensure everything is in place, with the programme and arrangements optimising time for Leader’s discussions and Leaders’ direct engagements with heads of Regional Organisations, Forum Associate Members, Forum Dialogue Partners and Forum Observers and special guests.

“The challenges of organising have been multifaceted given the resources on the island and global supply-side constraints,” said Ngamata. “However, Cook Islanders, like Pacific people elsewhere around our region, are resilient, innovative, and community-centric, so we’re confident that the arrangements in place will avail quality meeting arrangements for our Leaders and memorable Cook Islands hospitality.”

So, what can the Leaders expect in Aitutaki? Leaders will arrive in Aitutaki following three days of meetings in Rarotonga. The programme arrangements for Aitutaki have been developed in close consultation with the PIF Secretariat located in Suva and with Aitutaki leadership to ensure the hosting obligations of the Cook Islands as stipulated by Forum procedures are met.

Air Rarotonga, will transport Leaders to Aitutaki, where Leaders and their delegations will stay at Aitutaki properties, sample Aitutaki delicacies, utilise lagoon tour services, and be welcomed at Orongo Marae in the main township area by the island.

“We’re confident Aitutaki will be ready and are looking forward to continuing to work closely with our counterparts in Aitutaki,” said Ngamata.

The 52nd Pacific Islands Forum Leaders Meeting will be hosted in Rarotonga, Cook Islands from 6 – 10 November 2023 with the Pacific Leaders Retreat to take place in Aitutaki. The theme of the PIFLM52 is “Our Voices, Our Choices, Our Pacific Way: Promote, Partner, Prosper”.