Manihiki location mapt
According to many, Manihiki is the most beautiful of the Cook Islands.  43 tiny islets encircle a lagoon about 8 to 10 kilometres (5 to 6 miles) in diameter and 72 metres (236 feet) at its deepest.  And this completely enclosed body of water is the source of the island's greatest pearls. 

Part of the stunning reef of Manihiki
Another part of the Manihiki reef
Polynesians are believed to have lived on Manihiki since at least 1500 AD.  It was discovered on 13 October, 1822 when the US ship "Good Hope" sighted it.  Its commander, Captain Patrickson, named it Humphrey Island.   The four photos above are courtesy of Ewan Smith, Air Rarotonga

Population 212
2.1 sq mls/5.4 sq. kms

The unspoiled beauty that is day and night.   These pictures were taken by Andrea Richichi, a scientist at the European Southern Observatory in Germany who, like me, enjoys travelling for the sake of it.   I am grateful for his permission to reuse them on this site.  If you're thinking of a visit to the island, I would recommend you  read Andrea's personal account  They're unformatted notes but still, in my opinion, very useful.

Access: Weekly flights from Rarotonga. Inter-island air services

Island of Pearls
748 miles/ 1,203 kms
North West of Rarotonga

The best swimming spot on the island
What a catch!
And you should see the one that got away! The fish is a Napolean Wrasse - males can grow up to 2 metres (6ft). Photo: Kora and Nancy Kora. Manihiki  Lagoon Villas

Tapuaeka, Manihiki
The two villages on the island
Aerial views of Tukao - the smaller of the settlements (left ) - and Tauhuna

Unspoiled Manihiki by day
Moon rise over Manihiki
While the island is justly famous for its black pearls, one of its unihabited islets or motu has a pearl of its own.   An enclosed lake on Porea is used to farm milkfish (ava), a notoriously boney but - I'm told(!) - extremely tasty species.  

You can visit Porea and other islets on a lagoon cruise which also includes a chance to snorkel among clams, oysters and a wealth of other marine life in the crystal clear lagoon. It costs NZ$55.

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View across part of the Manihiki lagoon
Manihiki from the air
Like its sister island of Rakahanga 44 kms (18 miles) north, Manihiki sits on top of an underwater mountain which rises 4,000 metres (13,000 feet) from the ocean floor.  But the island itself is flat and only 4 metres (13 feet) above sea level at the highest point. 
Air Rarortonga operate flights every Tuesday from the capital island.  It takes about three and a half hours to reach the island, and you need to dig deep to pay the fare.   A standard return from Rarotonga costs nearly NZ$1,600, There are also inter island flights from Manihiki to Penrhyn and also to Pukapuka.    Check the airline's website for details if you are thinking of visiting more than one island.   And be aware that flights to these remote northern group islands can sometimes be cancelled at short notice - either because there aren't enough passengers to make the trip viable, or if there isn't enough fuel at the destination airport
Crushed coral road
Quite a catch
School playground
Learning Rito hat making
A single road of crushed coral runs into and out of Tauhuna
Parrot fish are abundant and make a tasty meal
Football fun on the school playground
A stunning rito hat
Rito hat making is a skill handed down through generations (left).  Each hat is unique and worn for Sunday worship and special events (centre).   Quilting or tivaevae (right) is another traditional craft at which islanders are highly skilled
Find out more about these crafts
Photos courtesy of the former Cook Islands Pearl Authority
Pearl farming, centred at Manihiki atoll, involves cultivating  the special black-lipped mollusk otherwise known as the "Pinctada Margaritifera", or black-lip mother-of-pearl. 

A black pigment is naturally secreted by the mollusk and provides the resulting pearl with a basic colour ranging from black to gray.  It takes 18 months to 2 years for the pearl to reach the required size, and the outstandingly clear water of the Manihiki lagoon is vital to the growth and quality.

Pearl Farm
One of Manihiki's pearl farms
String of black pearls
Spat line
A survey for the Ministry of Marine Resources in Rarotonga in 2000 calculated 1.5 million oysters were being cultivated.  This survey also recorded 111 farms with a total of 690 culture lines and 424 spat collection lines (such as the one pictured left).  The total length of these farm lines was 160 kilometers, with the farms themselves covering seven square kilometres.   A quarter of a million black pearls were being produced each year. 

But the industry has been at a low ebb for sometime now,  and its estimated that as few as a dozen farms remain.  Stiff competition from China and Japan, a big fall in world prices and a lack of government support are blamed for the crisis.  And the latest blow is a decision to close down the Pearl Authority which was set up to help the industry and transfer its marketing function to the Marine Resources Ministry.

Manihiki swimming spot
Where the only footprints are yours
One report* described the terrifying day:  "Housing was flattened, public facilities destroyed, crushed coral roads washed-out, and virtually all of the off-shore accommodation and equipment relating to the lagoon pearl-fishing industry was destroyed. Small boats, timbers and household contents were strewn everywhere, and sheets of cast-iron roofing were wrapped like tape around high trees. Sunken debris littered the edge of the lagoon to a distance of about 30 metres."    And at one stage, there were serious discussions about abandoning the island altogether. 

For years,  pieces of boats, tyres, trees and even fridges lay on the bottom of the lagoon, but a big clean up in 2017 removed much of the debris, along with a lot of abandoned pearl farms, lines and other equipment

* Extract from "Observations from a Cyclone stress/trauma assignment in the Cook Islands"
AJW Taylor Ph.D,  Victoria University, Wellington, New Zealand.  Photo: Cook Islands News
On the afternoon of 1 November, 1997 - the first day of the hurricane season - cyclone Martin smashed huge waves through the villages and lagoon of Manihiki.  19 people died and 400 were evacuated to Rarotonga by the Royal New Zealand Air Force. 10 others were missing and in 2004 they too were officially declared dead. 
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Air Rarotonga has created a video about the Island.   It's on YouTube and you can watch by clicking here
Manihiki Lagoon Villas
This is where you can stay....a villa on the very edge of the lagoon.  Manihiki Lagoon Villas are in the village of Tauhunu which is about  20 minutes from the airport and the village of Tukao.  Visitors are are transferred to Tauhunu by boat.  

All meals, airport transfers, kayaks and snorkelling gear are provided, but you're advised to take your own favourite snacks as shopping facilities are almost non-existent.  Nancy and Kora who run the Villas can also arrange fishing, diving, snorkelling and pearl farm visits for you.

Make sure also that you take plenty of cash...plastic money isn't accepted and there are no ATMs!

Journalist, Emmanual Samoglou is one of few outsiders to have visited this remote outpost of the Cook Islands while working for Cook Islands News. Find out what he discovered
ISLANDS: NORTH  Manihiki    You might also like: An insight into Island life