Manuae is an uninhabited island about 100 kilometres east from Aitutaki.
It’s an important breeding ground for turtles and seabirds, and boasts excellent fishing. Often locals from Aitutaki visit Manuae to catch dinner.
Manuae was the first island Captain Cook sighted; initially he named it Sandwich Island, then changed its name to Hervey Island. At the time, about 600 people were living there. Half a century later, the population had plummeted to 40; historians believe people left because of a tribal dispute. Later the atoll was used as a penal colony administered by the British, and a copra plantation for exporters.
The population peaked at about 30 in the 1950s, and in 1965, swelled temporarily to about 120, when teams of scientists came from all over the world to witness a total eclipse. Later, the Cook Islands government would issue stamps to remember the eclipse and Manuae’s time in the spotlight.
The island was abandoned in the seventies. Now it’s inhabited by abundant marine and bird life, including the Bristle-thighed Curlew whose migration journey begins in Alaska, more than 9,500 kilometres away.
It’s a protected paradise that few humans have the privilege of exploring. Travellers must seek permission to visit Manuae from Aitutaki’s island council, and arrange to make the four-hour trip with a local who owns a boat.