Each of the Cook Islands has something unique to offer tourists seeking a new, authentic travel experience. Mitiaro has a few things: lakes, freshwater eels, and a homestay programme that allows visitors to stay with locals and engage more deeply with their culture.
Populated by less than 200 people, the tiny island measuring 6.4 kilometres across, is one of the world’s last pockets of unspoilt paradise. It’s picturesque Polynesia with coconut palms reaching high into a strikingly blue sky, white-sand beaches, caves of sparkling stalactite.
It’s also a natural playground, featuring such attractions as Vai Tamaroa, a secluded swimming hole you can jump into from a cliff; Vai Nauri and Vai Marere, subterranean caves of mystery and sparkling stalactites; forests and swaps. On Mitiaro you can go fishing or catch itiki - an eel that’s a Mitiaro delicacy as sought-after as caviar, in one of the two lakes that comprise a third of the island’s area.
Ask a local to take you into the caves, but feel free to explore the rest of Mitiaro on your own. Traverse the makatea – fossilized coral – to get a sense of how difficult it is to pick maire, a vine used for ceremonial purposes which locals collect for export. Visit the limestone Cook Islands Christian Church or Te Pare, a fortress built in ancient times to protect the populace from marauding warriors from nearby Atiu.
It’s the homestay programme that really sets Mitiaro apart from other islands. Called ‘The Itiki Experience’, it’s an initiative supported by both government and the local community. Tourists can book a kikau hut, a thatched-roof structure built in the traditional style, and eat local food with families.
The people of Mitiaro are friendly, willing to share about local living – how it’s changed and how it hasn’t. They’ll tell you that tradition is still strong on Mitiaro, where people live communally and no one gets left behind. They’ll tell you that theirs is one of the country’s only islands that still favours the chief’s word over the court’s. They’ll tell you that each year, the community asks for God’s blessing during the cyclone season by temporarily restricting all boisterous activity, including construction.
Even as tourism encroaches, Mitiaro remains much the way it’s always been. The people are still some of the most hospitable you’ll meet and their sense of community is still strong. People share food, resources, time, gifts. They aren’t too busy for each other, and they aren’t too busy for you.