Cook Islands map
Just six of the 15 Cook Islands are in the Northern Group, and they've been described as "the stuff that dreams are made of". 

They include the largest atoll  in the Cooks, PENRHYN -  also known as Tongareva - and the island with the smallest population, SUWARROW where there are just two resident caretakers (and even they leave during the cyclone season)! 

PUKAPUKA and its tiny "suburb" of NASSAU are nearer to Samoa than the capital island, Rarotonga in the Southern Group.  Pukapuka even has its own language.  But don't visit Nassau in July and August,  because everyone leaves for two months to join in the annual constitution celebrations on Rarotonga. 

The other islands in the Northern group are MANIHIKI and RAKAHANGA

MANIHIKI comprises dozens of small islets surrounding a triangular lagoon, but it's real claim to fame is its stunning black pearls which are farmed in their hundreds of thousands, albeit the industry has been in decline for many years now.   RAKAHANGA completes the Northern Group, and is just a mile and half wide by three miles long.  Both of these islands are so low lying that if climate change continues unabated and sea levels rise even a little, neither island will exist any more.
Above:  Pukapuka - closer to Samoa than the Cook Islands capital.  Below:  Suwarrow - a real treasure island!
Getting to the Northern group islands is the biggest challenge.  Manihiki and Penrhyn are five to six hours flying time from Rarotonga and the air fares are horrendously expensive.  There are also occassional flights to Pukapuka, but they really are few and far between.  The other islands in the north are accessible only by boat with services described as "very occasional".  But the determined traveller will be rewarded with an unforgettable experience of unspoiled paradise.
The Cook Islands pearl industry dates back to 18th century when black lipped Mother of Pearl Shell was collected from Manihiki and Penrhyn by European traders for use in buttons and inlaid furniture. 

Today though, it's the pearl itself which is traded and less than 15 years ago, Manihiki was the second largest producer in the world.

A devastating cyclone in 1997, fierce competition from countries such as Tahiti and China and poor government support and marketing have all but destroyed the industry.  But many experts still say the black pearls farmed in the crystal clear lagoon waters of the Cook Islands are the finest in the world.

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Manihiki          Nassau
Penrhyn          Pukapuka
Rakahanga     Suwarrow

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