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.