northwest of Rarotonga
Most westerly of the Cook Islands is Pukapuka atoll and its
tiny neighbouring island, Nassau. At 165º east, the pair of
isolated islands is closer to the Samoas to the south-west and
the Tokelaus to the north-west than they are to Rarotonga, which
lies 1,300 kilometres away.
Pukapuka was discovered by seafarers from the west about 700
years ago, and as a consequence its culture is much more closely
related to that of Samoa and the Tokelaus than the language
and customs of eastern Polynesia.
Pukapuka from the air
|For many years Pukapuka
was known as Danger Island, and still appears under this title
in some atlases. It was so-named by an Englishman, Commodore
Byron, in 1765. Neither Byron nor Pukapuka's first known European
visitor, the Spaniard Alvaro de Mendana, who approached the
atoll in 1596, were able to land because of the heavy seas on
the surrounding reef. Pukapuka's isolation and hazard to shipping
meant that it was the last of the Cook Islands to be Christianised,
in 1857, 36 years after Paheiha and Williams first brought the
gospel to Aitutaki.
The main island lies to the north of the triangle and is known
as Wale (House).
This hook-shaped island is divided into three village districts,
Ngake, Roto and Yato. Horseshoe-shaped Motu Ko is ten kilometres
south of Wale, separated from it by a string of cays, and to
the west is Motu Kotawa, the smallest of the three. The runway
of the airport lies along the southern littoral of Motu Ko.
Within the triangle formed by the islands is the lagoon of Pukapuka,
which is a rich source of seafood - clams, bonito and parrot fish
- for its people.
|Surprisingly on an atoll, there is
a sizeable taro growing area in the interior of Wale. Here soil
has been created laboriously by filling a depression in the
motu's coral with vegetation which over the years has become
composted until it supports the growth of the staple root crop.
It was in 1924 that Robert Dean
Frisbie, born in Ohio in 1896, came to Pukapuka to run a small
trading store for A.B.Donald.
After leaving the United States Frisbie lived in Tahiti, Moorea
and Rarotonga, but he yearned for the total isolation which
he hoped would fully liberate his artistic spirit and so help
him write a classic novel of the South Seas. Frisbie saw himself
as a successor to Herman Melville and Robert Louis Stevenson,
writers he greatly admired.
And so, much has been written about this fascinating island
and its culture.
It is now possible to visit Pukapuka on one of our regular
Northern Atoll Adventure charters or you could charter your own aircraft to visit this truly remote place, please see our charters page for chartering your own flight.