Penrhyn location map
Population 226
3.8 sq. mls/9.8 sq. kms

Penrhyn comprises a ring of coral 77 km (48 miles) around, and just 4 metres (13 ft) above sea level at the highest point.   Its superb lagoon covers 233 sq. kms (90 square miles) of which 62 sq. kms (24 sq. miles) are covered with pearlshell.  That, and mother of pearl jewellery are among the main sources of income.  Islandrs also dive for golden pearls.  The aerial view gives you a feel of the vastness of the lagoon, which is surrounded by 53 motus or islets.  But you need to get closer to appreciate its real beauty, captured  above left in a stunning photo by Marcus Gleinig of Air Rarotonga.

Penrhyn (Tongareva) aerial
This is the only island in the Cooks without any ariki or paramount chiefs.   The entire hierarchy disappeared in the early 1860s when Peruvian labour traders arrived on the island and shipped 472 women and children to the mines of Peru with the blessing of the island's missionaries.  Just 88 people remained....the rest were never seen again.

Some of the finest rito hats  are woven on the island and bring high prices on Rarotonga.

According to one author who spent some time on the island, ping pong here is a type of group date, where a man and a woman each invites a "team" of four friends to the beach.  They then pair off in couples if  they feel so  inclined.  The "Christmas Games" are allegedly for "cleaning, cooking and dancing", and usually involve unattached residents. First the women move one village west for a week. After the new year, the men move one village east for a week.  When the "chores" are done, all return home.
Source: Cook Islands Companion. Elliot Smith.Pacific Publishing Company, Albany, California.
The birth rate on Penrhyn is the highest in the Cook Islands.

Access:  Difficult
Inter-island boat and occasional flights

Stay with Soa's family in their home
Visitors to the island can stay with Soa's family in their three bedroom home in the main village of Omoka.  The host, Soatini takes guests fishing and organises tours of his pearl farm.
Black tip shark..and friend?!
Penryhn pearl farm
The lagoon is teeming with sharks - mostly the black tip species which islanders say won't harm humans.  They should know as they dive among them to harvest precious black pearls which are farmed in the warm, clear waters.
Part of the Penrhyn lagoon
Read the fascinating story about the tradition of rito hat- making in the Islands

848 miles/1,365 kms
North by North East of Rarotonga

Also known as TONGAREVA
The island has an airfield, thanks to American GIs.  About a thousand of them arrived on the island on 8th November 1942 and stayed untl 20th September, 1946.  They built a 10,000 foot (3 kms) long runway as part of an alternative supply route from Hawaii through to Australia and New Zealand in case hostilities in the Pacific reached this far east.  It's since been shortened to 1700 metres. 

The remains of a crashed B24 Liberator bomber called 'Go Gettin Gal' are evidence of the bygone era.  Four engines and a bit of fuselage which rust away in the lush landscape...the rest of the plane has been picked over and the metal used to make combs and the like.  Much more interesting than what's left though is...

Penrhyn lagooon sunset
Javascript DHTML Drop Down Menu Powered by
Click here to return to title page
Polynesian voyagers discovered and settled the island at least 800 years ago.  Those settlers called it Tongareva, a name still used to this day, and translated variously as " upgrowth of coral", "land floating in the south" and "south of the empty space".  And there's a lot empty space around it. The nearest neighbours are Rakahanga, and Manihiki 322 kilometres (200 miles) to the southwest. The modern name comes from the ship, Lady Penrhyn which passed by the island on 8 August, 1788. The first contact between the islanders and explorers didn't happen until 1816 though, when crew of the Russian vessel, 'Rurick' commanded by Otto Von Kotzebue traded with the locals
Another part of the stunning lagoon
Captain Curry and his Go Gettin' Gal
Go Gettin' Gal
The true story behind it
Ashley C. Curry from Alabama, USA wrote to tell me that  his father was the pilot of the plane  And he generously shared some family photos which have never been seen publicly before. 

Below are his father, Lt. (later Lt. Colonel) Benjamin P Curry, left, with a Mr Campbell who was airport manager on Rarotonga and right standing in front of the ill-fated bomber.   The plane itself in all its former glory is pictured left on Rarotonga. 

Ashley wrote: "My father, now deceased, told me that he was on a bombing mission and that the plane received extensive damage from anti-aircraft fire, and that he landed the plane with the crew on board.  He sustained minor injury to his ankle, but all survived.  He continued his service and piloted another B24 named the 'Shady Lady'. He served throughout the war and returned home when the war was over."

Islanders live in two main villages, each on their own island in the lagoon. Omoka (top left) is considered the main island and it's home to three quarters of the population. It's where the government, shipping and air service offices are located. The vast airstrip (below left) dominates. Tetautua is about 10.5 kms (6 miles) away across the lagoon and has around 50 residents. 

Robert Broussard was one of the first outsiders to visit Omaka after Penrhyn was designated as an official port of entry to the Islands and he has kindly provided the Omoka picture.  You can see a larger version on  his Flickr photostream

Omaka village, Penrhyn, Cook Islands
It's neither easy, nor cheap!   Air Rarotonga has only a guideline schedule and you need to visit their website to find out when and if they are flying.   Even then, flights can be cancelled at very short notice if there aren't enough passengers to make the trip viable, or if there's insufficient fuel at Penrhyn to enable the return trip.   It takes four to six hours to reach the island.   And you'll pay around NZ$1,6000 for a standard return. 

Alternatively, you could try getting there by sea, either from Rarotonga or one of the other northern group islands (assuming you can reach them as well).   There are inter island vessels, if you don't mind very small boats!   If you want to explore that possibility, speak to the harbour master at Rarotonga for information on sailings, which are few and far between.

Floating in empty space
Penrhyn is the most far flung of the Cook Islands. It's just 9 degrees below the equator. And at 11.2 kms (7 miles) wide and 24.1 kms (15 miles) long, it's also the largest atoll in the Group and one of the largest in the Pacific.  According to scientists who visited in June, 2019, it's also the island most under threat from rising sea levels caused by climate change. Penrhyn's executive officer says there's daily evidence of coastal erosion and homes are being moved back from the seafront to avoid further damage to them. At it's highest point, the island is only 5 metres above sea level


Air Rarotonga has created a video about the Island.
 It's on YouTube and you can watch by clicking
Top of the page
Bookmark and Share
Sign or read my guest book
Email the website author
Site visitor survey
The island most under threat from climate change
ISLANDS: NORTH  Penrhyn    You might also like: More about the Northern islands

Penrhyn airstrip from the air