Saturday, December 19

Pukapuka – the Cook's most isolated island

Pukapuka was once known as Danger Island; John Byron, commodore of a British naval ship named it when he sighted it in 1765 but couldn't land because of rough seas, high surf and reefs.

The other name, the Island of Beautiful Girls, is a different matter. 'Other Cook Islanders' are supposedly the people who call it that but it only appears in blog posts, the earliest from 2004, and none written by a Cook Islander. It could be the tropical island version of an urban myth.
John Roberts of the Kia Orana Cook Islands website says he found the comment in Elliot Smith's book, 'The Cook Islands Companion' which was first published in 1991.
By the way, John's website is packed with information about all aspects of life in all of the Cook Islands. It's a wonderful resource for anyone interested in this part of the world.


Our plane had no problems landing after the two hour flight from Rarotonga. We had a good view of the beautiful two-tone blue lagoon and three palm-covered islands with thin strips of yellow sand.

The airstrip is on Motu Ko where the mayor Levi Walewaoa and our island tour guide Edson greeted us
and we had a welcome drink of refreshing sweet nu, the first of many on this trip.

The main settlement is on the largest motu, Wale.

Coconut crabs

The three northern group atolls we visited have big lagoons and the normal mode of transport is an aluminium dinghy with an outboard motor so we walked across Motu Ko to pick up a boat on the lagoon side, pausing while Edson winkled a coconut crab out of its hidey-hole.

This was a medium sized crab, about 15-years-old with a lovely black, brown and orange carapace. It didn't have the enormous claws of a fully grown crab – they can live up to fifty years.
Pukapukans are very conservation-minded and are careful not to over-harvest or take small crabs.

A boat, a swim, a tiki tour

It took about half an hour to cover the 10km north to Wale where we had time for a swim before hopping aboard a pick-up truck for a tiki tour of the village.

The roads are rough coral with neat houses set close to the road edge. Women and small children sitting on verandas waved as we passed by but we saw very few people out and about.

Pukapuka has the largest population of the northern islands at about 425 – and growing according to the mayor – so the CICC church is a substantial building with colourful carvings and painted motifs.

Government offices are located at the administration centre in Ngake village and staff were smartly dressed in pareu uniforms although they didn't look particularly busy.

The area also housed the BCI bank and Vodafone offices, the agriculture department and the solar power array. All the northern group islands have 24 hour solar power.

Wowolu, the Shark Bait Hotel sits near the admin centre.
It looks like a concrete water tank that's been converted into a jail with a ventilator on top and a barred door.
Kora said it was where miscreants could be incarcerated but it's not currently in use! Still the threat of it apparently keeps youngsters on the straight and narrow.

Eating in style

We had lunch in a room at the centre.
A long trestle table was laden down with plates of food; fish, coconut crab, raw fish, uto pancakes, taro. Also sausages, rice and potato salad all of which have to be imported - you can't grow potatoes in this climate.

The taro was definitely home grown.
The road snakes through a large taro growing area in the interior of Wale. Over many years people have filled a depression in the coral with vegetation that has rotted down and become compost, very good for growing the important staple root crop.
Fresh sweet nu, served in the shell of course, washed our lunch down.  Delicious.

We ate heartily but with only seven of us there was plenty left over. That's not a problem though. The locals would finish it off or take it home once we left. Nothing goes to waste after a feed like this.

Time to say goodbye

Our original schedule called for an overnight stay on Pukapuka but the usual accommodation was being used as a hospital while a new hospital is being built so we had just the day tour before flying on to Manihiki. Later tours were put up in the nurse's house I believe.

All too soon it was time to cross the lagoon back to Motu Ko and the airstrip for our flight to the island of black pearls – Manihiki.

Beautiful, peaceful, friendly, laid back; the real danger in Pukapuka is not wanting to leave.

Monday, December 14

The Northern Group Discovery Tour

Tourists are few and far between in the Cook Islands at the moment (because of Covid-19 travel restrictions) so Cook Islands tourism, Air Rarotonga and Island Hopper Vacations got together to organise packages to some of the Pa Enua.

The idea was to keep tourism alive on the outer islands and to give locals on Rarotonga the chance to see some of our less visited destinations.

It was a brilliant idea and heavily discounted prices had people flocking to join a tour.

Initially there were just three trips to the northern group (Pukapuka, Manihiki and Penrhyn) and four to the southern group (Mangaia, Mitiaro, Mauke, Atiu) but all of them sold out almost as soon as bookings opened - for the northern group within half an hour and a waiting list of well over a hundred.

We managed to get the two of us on the first trip to the north, a four night tour, leaving on Monday 16 November and returning on Friday 20 November.

A trip to remember

This video is a general one featuring all three islands and a look at the plane, a Cessna Citation jet that cuts travel time dramatically, from over four hours to Penrhyn, the most distant island, to about two-and-a-half.

The weather was dull as we left but at least the rain stopped.

The Citation had two pilots, Munro and James, our guide, Kora Kora, and six passengers, Cathy and Kevin, Jo and Mark plus Phil and me.

Kora served up tea and coffee plus a variety of snacks as we flew. Wine was also available but 8am was a bit early for that.


The original plan was to spend one night on Pukapuka, two on Manihiki and one on Penrhyn but there was no available accommodation on Pukapuka for this first trip. (That changed for later tours.)

We still visited the island and had a good view of its beautiful lagoon as we flew in.

From the airstrip on Motu Ko we took a half-hour boat ride to the main settlement of Wale where we had time for a swim, a tiki-tour and an enormous, delicious lunch.

A trestle table was laden with plates of local fish, ika mata, coconut crab, taro, uto pancakes as well as rice, sausages and potato salad. Fresh sweet nu to drink, served in the shell of course.

Then, sadly, it was time to head back to the airstrip for the flight to Manihiki.


We had a good view through the clouds as the plane approached Manihiki but it was raining when we landed. Fortunately the weather was fine for the rest of our stay and we had brilliant weather for the visit to Tekake William's kaoa (large coral head) and pearl farm.

Manihiki is famous for its black pearls; Tekake William started peal farming there but the bottom has dropped out of the market now, due to oversupply world-wide and a lack of tourists on Rarotonga because of Covid-19.

Lunch was spectacular. Barbecued tuna slices and other sorts of fish, paua, crayfish, coconut crab as well as rice, poke, taro and bananas.

This gave us the energy to go crab hunting on a pig-free motu later on – but not for eating purposes, just to see how they live. The locals are conservation-minded and don't take young crabs – they can live up to 50 years.


Penrhyn is the furthest north of the Cook Islands, only about 9 degrees south of the Equator.

The lagoon is enormous, brilliantly blue and dotted with coral outcrops.

We didn't need a boat to get to our accommodation, it was just a few hundred yards past the end of the runway.

The lagoon is famous for its shark population and feeding them in the morning was a fascinating experience.

Black tip reef sharks and nurse sharks turned up; according to the locals neither of them are dangerous and apparently the nurse sharks don't have teeth but that didn't stop them grabbing the offered food (left over bits of fish).

A boat trip of about an hour across the lagoon to a fishermen's campsite gave us the chance to swim and snorkel – and admire the scenery and bird life.

We also had the opportunity to buy beautiful woven hats made by Mama Saki who is probably the best weaver on the island.

Back to Rarotonga

All good things must come to an end and after four fabulous days on the Cook Islands' most remote, beautiful and little known islands it was time to return to Rarotonga.

We left at about 10am for the two-and-a-half hour flight but the holiday atmosphere continued with snacks and a celebratory wine (or two) as we winged our way south.

The weather was cloudy and dull by the time we landed, as it had been when we started.

But in between we'd had sun, sea, sand and wonderful experiences.

If you ever get the chance to go on this discovery tour … take it!

Watch out for the posts and videos on Pukapuka, Manihiki and Penrhyn.