|One of the most isolated Cook Islands, Rakahanga – the sister island to Manihiki – lies 42km south of the latter. Shaped by a rectangular reef which circles a large shallow lagoon – it has two main islands and seven motu or islets – to the East are Akaro, Motu Ngangle, Huananui, Motu Mahuta and Motu Okakara. On the southwest, guarding the widest passage into the lagoon is the fabled Te Kainga; believed to be the original dwelling place of the first islanders. And a place much revered and loved by the local communities as well as the sister islands.
South Seas Paradise
Lush with abundant vegetation, large breadfruit trees line the paths. The traditional art of weaving is strong and the thriving coconut palms and pandanus trees provide materials for the fine rito hats and mats and baskets made from the leaf fibres. A rich marine life guarantees a livelihood for the 150 or so people who live here.
Rakahanga is described by Australian author Julian Hillas (aka Dashwood) who lived there during the 1940s, as a place where “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" from his book ‘South Seas Paradise’.
Little Known Cook Island
Little is known about this elusive island because of its inaccessibility. Reached only by sea, a two hour ride on the irregular inter-island open boat that ferries people and cargo from Manihiki. There’s even doubt about its original discovery. Some think it was the Portugese Magellan in 1521 but there is nothing to confirm this.
Life on Rakahanga
There is also doubt about how much longer it may continue – for it is so low-lying, the possibility of it being washed away, if global warming causes further rise in the sea levels, is strong. But in the meantime life revolves around the little settlement of Matara, or Nivano, with its tiny wharf and boat landing – which was the anchorage for the original boat planes – standing in its rickety dignity at the shore edge as the entry point to the island. With a CICC church refurbished some 10 years ago, a primary school, two shops, and the inevitable government offices – it is as American author Elliot Smith (one of the few outsiders to have written about the island) describes it, “a sleepy town’.
Interestingly, unlike its close sister, this lagoon has huge coconut crabs as its gems rather than pearls. Sea turtles swim around the outer reef and the tuna strike in January is one of the best when a fishing contest reaps returns of 200 or more fish a day.
Yet despite its almost impossible remoteness, the Rakahangan people provide a wonderful community spirit and a warm welcome to anyone who is independent enough to overcome the lack of transport and embrace the life of this untouched island.