Rakahanga location map
Rakahanga is traditionally called Tapuahua.  There are two main islands and seven motus or islets in its 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
Unlike Manihiki and Penrhyn, 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.  

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 - just 4.2 metres (13.7 feet)  above sea level at its highest point - that it will get washed away if global warming causes sea levels to rise even a little


Islands and motus of Rakahanga
American author, Elliot Smith is one of a few outsiders to have written at length* about a visit to Rakahanga. Although that was back in 1994, little if anything has changed. He said 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. Pacific Publishing Co. Albany, California
Natural beauty
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.   In recent years,  the population of this remote island almost halved... results from the 2011 census showed that the number of residents was down from 141 in 2006 to just 77.  The latest census shows a tiny increase to 83.

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
Dr White who's based on neighbouring Penrhyn (Tongareva) also ran a 'Turtle Rangers' course on Rakahanga with post-graduate student, Gemma Galbraith from York University in the UK.  They undertook 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
Top of the page
Bookmark and Share
Sign or read my guest book
Love the Cook Islands on Facebook
Email the website author
Site visitor survey
The island is heavily reliant on imported supplies such as food, fuel and building materials, but cargo ships visit only two or three times a year.  The main source of drinking water is rain water. Each household has some water storage capacity and there are also community water tanks. There is a hospital in Rakahanga with a nurse practitioner and also a public health office.  The environment is largely untouched and is generally in a pristine state. The island is covered with thick lush coconut trees.   Summary of extracts from a 2012 report by the Cook Islands National Environmental Service
Journalist, Rachel Reeves paid a fleeting visit in 2015 and called it "a community that showers you with love and kindness".   Here's how she described Rakahanga: "This atoll ....has one crushed-coral road.  It winds through fishponds and taro swamps; pigpens and palm trees; colourful houses with pareu for doors; a cemetery in the forest with tombs big as houses; dense thickets you can get lost in and white-sand beaches you can have all to yourself"
You can read her full report here
ISLANDS: NORTH  Rakahanga    You might also like: A rare visit by an outsider
Young Rakahanga residents on the main street
"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) lived on Rakahanga during the 1940s.
From his book, 'South Seas Paradise'
775 miles/1,248  kms
North West of Rarotonga

Population 83
1.6 sq. mls/4.1 sq. kms

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