Rakahanga location map
There are two main islands and seven motus or islets in the Rakahanga lagoon.    On the east these are: Akaro, Motu Ngangle, Huananul, Motu Mahuta and Motu Okakara.  On the southwest side the islet of Te Kainga ("the home") guards the widest passage in to the lagoon.  It's also the original dwelling place of the first residents.  
Aerial picture courtesy of Ewan Smith, Air Rarotonga


Coconut Crab
Population 77
1.6 sq. mls/4.1 sq. kms



Access: Very difficult.
Boat from Manihiki or inter island vessel



NATURE'S BOUNTY
Unlike other islands, the Rakahanga lagoon isn't suitable for pearls.  Huge coconut crabs (left) are its gems, and fishing is good on the outer reef.  Large sea turtles abound there too.  Each January, a tuna fishing contest takes place and boats return with 200 or more fish a day.

Vegetation is abundant, large breadfruit trees line village paths and coconut palms and pandanus trees thrive.  Women weave fine rito hats, mats and baskets from the pandanus leaf fibres.




Puraka or swamp taro
 
The puraka plant flourishes
Cooking Rakahanga Style?
A coarse dry taro called puraka or swamp taro is enjoyed by locals, but considered bland and starchy by foreigners.  One European who lived on Rakahanga passed on his favourite recipe which is reproduced in the "Cook Islands Companion" mentioned above.  Rakahangans please take note:  he was criticising  the puraka, not your wonderful island!  Anyway, here's what he wrote...

"Cut up the puraka into small chunks about the size of a thumb.  Put them in a pot of boiling water, along with a coral rock about as big as your hand, and cover the pot.  Cook it all for three hours, adding some salt and pepper every hour or so.   When the three hours are done, drain away the water, throw away the puraka and eat the rock.  It will still have more flavour than the puraka!"


Rakahanga Aerial
Up to date information about Rakahanga is almost non-existent, because it's very rarely visited by outsiders.  There's even doubt about who discovered it in the first place.   Some say it was the Portuguese navigator, Ferdinand Magellan in 1521, but academic research hasn't been able to confirm this.  


A SNAPSHOT OF ISLAND LIFE

 
"If there are places left where a man can grow old contentedly, it is on some such quiet, drowsy atoll, where today is forever and tomorrow never comes; where men live and die, feast and sorrow, while the wind and the waves play over the wet sands and gleaming reefs"
Australian author, Julian Hillas (aka Dashwood)  who lived on Rakahanga during the 1940s; from his book, 'South Seas Paradise'
Islands and motus of Rakahanga
The undiscovered country
Northern Group
775 miles/1,248  kms
North West of Rarotonga



American author, Elliot Smith is one of a few outsiders to have written* about a visit to Rakahanga.   He says the little settlement of Matara (also called Nivano) has a tiny wharf and boat landing.    The CICC church, primary school, a couple of shops and some government offices sit among well-made houses in what he calls "this sleepy town".   Tiny huts are erected over graves in the cemeteries, as is the custom on the island.  And possessions of the deceased are placed in them to help them in the world beyond.   Smith says the locals are more reserved than the neighbouring Manihikians, but most "warm up quickly".              *"Cook Islands Companion", 2nd edition, Copyright 1994  Elliot Smith.  Published by Pacific Publishing Co. Albany, California
Natural beauty
A well laid out island
Sunrise on Rakahanga
Rakahanga administration
Unspoiled beauty
Now read an account of Rakahanga through the eyes of a visitor
Click here to return to title page
Javascript DHTML Drop Down Menu Powered by dhtml-menu-builder.com
A fresh new look...but a less than certain outlook

Rakahanga was given a bright new look at the beginning of 2012.  Dilapidated roofs were replaced with new ones made from different coloured steel and new water tanks have been installed.   The school principal, Tuhe Pio said: "The island's looking really beautiful.  Now you stand back and instead of seeing rusty roofs you see a brand new village.  People just look at their homes and feel very proud because they're nice."

But the transformation may have come too late.   Over recent years, the population of this remote island has almost halved... results from the 2011 census show that the number of residents is down from 141 in 2006 to just 77. 



Matara - the main settlement on Rakahanga
Green turtle
Meanwhile, the future of the critically endangered green turtle - a long time tasty treat for Islanders - is looking brighter thanks to the island's school .   Students began taking an interest in them after they started wandering on to the school grounds in 2012.  The school principal contacted marine zoologist, Dr Michael White about the nests and asked him to answer questions from the children over a Skype link up with the Ministry of Education
Tips for homeowners from Home Advisor Reviews:  Home Advisor Reviews - building and remodeling  
Home Advisor Reviews - repair and renovation   Home Advisor Reviews - tree service



Dr White who's based on neighbouring Penrhyn (Tongareva) is now running a 'Turtle Rangers' course on Rakahanga with post-graduate student, Gemma Galbraith from York University in the UK.  They've also undertaken the first sea turtle survey on the atoll for 40 years.  Strenuous efforts are being made to protect nests and eggs and keep the beaches clean for the turtle which itself is now a part of the science curriculum
Picture: Cook Islands Natural History and Heritage website/Gerald McCormack
What is known though is that the island could disappear off the map forever.  Like its nearest neighbour, Manihiki 42 kms south, it's so low lying that it will get washed away if global warming causes sea levels to rise even a little
Top of the page
Bookmark and Share
Sign or read my guest book
Email the website author
Site visitor survey