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.