Manihiki — The Island of Pearls
The sister island of Rakahanga, Manihiki is a beautiful atoll — according to many people the most beautiful in the Cooks group — comprising 40 tiny islets encircling the 2.5 mile (4 km) wide lagoon. This completely enclosed body of water is the source of the island’s greatest asset– its black pearls.
The atoll sits atop an underwater mountain rising 13,000 feet (4000 m) above the ocean floor. In common with most atolls, Manihiki is flat and only a few feet above sea level. The island was traditionally a food source for the islanders of Rakahanga. When food ran out the entire population crossed the 25 miles (42 km) of open sea in canoes and stayed until Rakahanga replenished its natural resources. This voyaging resulted in frequent loss of lives and was discontinued at the insistence of missionaries in 1852. Thereafter, the population has been divided between the two islands. Polynesians are believed to have lived on Manihiki since at least 1500 AD. It was discovered by Europeans on October 13 1822 when the US ship “Good Hope” sighted it. Its commander, Captain Patrickson, named it Humphrey Island. The island is rich in oral history and legends. The myth of the famous Polynesian folk hero, Maui, in particular, is analysed in detail in the excellent “Oral Tradition in Manihiki” by Kauraka Kauraka.
Air Rarotonga flies regularly to Manihiki each Thursday from Rarotonga with a brief stop at Aitutaki. Flight time is three hours forty minutes.