Rakahanga is Manihiki’s sister island, although smaller in size and population than that renowned Island of Pearls.
About 90 people – 10 of them elderly and 30 of them kids – inhabit one village. The school’s student body numbers about 25. For people on Rakahanga, Rarotonga feels like the big city.
A sense of community pervades every aspect of island living. Women weave mats of pandanus together, in plastic chairs beside the sea, as the kids swim and the babies sleep on mats in the sand. Football matches involve everyone, young and old – students, principal, parents, pastor.
The island has one crushed-coral road that winds through fishponds and taro swamps, pigpens and thickets, past white-sand beaches and houses with pareu for doors. It leads to a cemetery with tombs big as houses, and past undisturbed territory where the only sounds you can hear are birds and breaking waves.
On Rakahanga, it’s back to the best kinds of basics – fresh fish, peace, air that smells like sea salt and flowers. This is a paradise that feels like a journey through time.
To reach the atoll, you’ll have to take a four-hour flight from Rarotonga to Manihiki, then arrange with a local to take a two-hour boat ride across 45 kilometres of open ocean. Before you go, notify Rakahanga’s island council or ask someone on Manihiki, who can get in contact with relatives on Rakahanga.
Inhabitants of both islands derive from the same lineage and speak the same dialect. They’re all related; before the 1850s, their families moved frequently between Rakahanga and Manihiki. After settlement, they maintained strong kinship ties.
On Rakahanga, take time to be at peace and appreciate the natural beauty of the South Pacific. Watch the coconut crabs and ask a local to take you fishing. Visit the limestone Cook Islands Christian Church in the centre of “town,” which hosts three services on Sunday. Be changed by the hospitality of a people whose generosity knows no limits.
Fall in love with an island Australian author Julian Dashwood described in the 1940s as a place where “tomorrow never comes; where men live and die, feast and sorrow, while the wind and waves play over the wet sands and gleaming reefs.”
Take pictures and collect memories you’ll never forget.