A bust of the Cook Islands first premier, Sir Albert Royle Henry, with shell necklace, petal headgear and spectacles...

The bust of Albert Royle Henry is always fondly accessorised. Photo My Bathroom Wall

The person: Albert Royle Henry was the first premier of the Cook Islands, and a much loved local figure. He became leader of the island nation in 1965, aged 58, after living for some years in New Zealand. It's common for the islanders to be drawn to the bright lights of Auckland, and while the population of the Cook's is about 20,000, the number if islanders living in New Zealand is estimated at around 60,000.

The gold painted inscription on his funeral plaque has him as 'Sir Albert Royle Henry', as he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1974 - the Cooks being a member of the Commonwealth.

There was a snag though. The 1978 election was the first in which the Cook Islanders living in New Zealand weren't allowed to vote in the home elections. Things got murky, as his CIP party used money from the sale of postage stamps to charter Air New Zealand aircraft to fly a select few hundred islanders back home to Raratonga for a free holiday.

As it happens, the day of the trip was the day of the election, and the happy holidaymakers went to vote, overwhelmingly for the CIP and Albert Royle Henry.

The coral built Avarua CICC church; the main church in the capital of the Cook Islands.

The fraud was unearthed and the election was eventually handed to the opposition. Later Henry was taken to court and found guilty of electoral fraud, and robbed of his knighthood in 1980.

His health suffered after the scandal and the loss of his title, and he died on the 1st of January 1981, aged 73.

The peaceful and tropical graveyard by the CIC Church in Avarua. Photo My Bathroom Wall

The Statue: the bust of him is in the cemetery beside the Avarua Cook Islands Christian Church (CICC). The CICC's roots go back to the arrival of the London Missionary Society in 1821, and are said to include almost half of the Cook's population.

It's endearing to see the respect in which Henry is held. You'll usually find glasses on his head and shell necklaces over his coat lapels.

If you are on Raratonga, it is well worth stopping by the church on a Sunday morning, when islanders arrive in their Sunday best and sing Pacific Island harmonies like you've never heard before.

Filing out of church in their finest, one Sunday morning in Avarua. Photo My Bathroom Wall

The place: 15 islands cover a land area of just 240 square kilometres in the South Pacific between Tahiti and Tonga. The capital is Avarua, a small seafront cluster of buildings with a population of just 5,000. The main island of Raratonga is where all international flights land, so many people holiday here for a few days before flying to the northern group of islands and the famous Bora Bora like loveliness of Aitutaki.

One more thing: the Cook Islands are a great introduction to the super friendly and laid back Pacific Island lifestyle. Though there's only really one road on Raratonga, which circumnavigates the island in about 30 kilometres of tarmac, if visitors want to hire a moped and aren't licenced to do so in their home countries, they need to get a local licence. I did this, which meant a cursory written test, and then being watched by a smiling police woman as I put-putted from the Police Headquarters about 150 metres to the country's only traffic island and back. I didn't fall off and so I passed. 

Go with the island flow and the Cooks are sure to warm your heart. On one occasion I went to a political rally by mistake, which was low key on politics and high octane on alcohol. Another evening a night time knock at the guest house door was a couple of blokes with a pick up who asked if I could help them look for an escaped prisoner. I sat in the back with a torch unsuccessfully scanning the foliage for felons, received ebullient thanks, and went back to bed. 

The Banana Court Bar, built in 1905, and still the best place for Pacific nightlife. Photo Tobias Kreuzlinger

And everyone's stay on Raratonga should include a night at one of the South Pacific legendary nightsopts - the wonderful Banana Court Bar. Apparently a spring behind the building was a traditional gathering place for the early inhabitants. The first building on the site was a clinic, which then became the island's first hotel, before its current incarnation as a club. When I was there is was customary for local girls to present blokes that caught their eye with a lei of hibiscus flowers. I'll swerve the obvious puns, but I left extremely drunk and not without several lei's of white and yellow flowers around my neck. 

Getting there: Raratonga International Airport has flights Air New Zealand to Auckland, Los Angeles and Sydney, Air Tahiti to Papeete, Jetstar to Auckland, and Virgin Australia to Auckland. Air Raratonga flies domestically to Aitutaki, Aitu, Mangaia, and Mauke.

An Air New Zealand 777 on the tarmac at Raratonga International Airport. Photo Robert Linsdell

Further information: see My Bathroom Wall's guide to the South Pacific, and the Cook Islands Tourism Corporation