NASA picture of Manihiki
LocationCentral-Southern Pacific Ocean
Coordinates10°24′S 161°00′W / 10.400°S 161.000°W / -10.400; -161.000
ArchipelagoCook Islands
Total islands43
Major islandsTauhunu, Tukao
Area4 km2 (1.5 sq mi)
Largest settlementTauhunu
Ethnic groupsNu-matua, Tia-ngaro-tonga
Manihiki is located in Pacific Ocean
Location of Manihiki in the Pacific Ocean
Map of Manihiki Atoll

Manihiki is an atoll in the northern group of the Cook Islands known informally as the "Island of Pearls". It is located in the Northern Cook Island chain, approximately 1,299 kilometres (807 mi) north of the capital island of Rarotonga, making it one of the most remote inhabitations in the Pacific Ocean. Its name has two possible meanings: It is believed that the original name of the island was Manuhiki, inspired by the aboriginal discoverers, Manu coming from the word Rua Manu (a kind of canoe) and Hiki meaning ashore, so the literal translation would be canoe carried ashore. The second interpretation is that the original discoverers were from Manihi, an island in Tuamotus, so the name of the island would mean Little Manihi.


Manihiki is a roughly triangular-shaped coral atoll, consisting of approximately 43 islets (motu) surrounding a deep, nine kilometer wide lagoon, which is almost completely enclosed by the surrounding reef. The atoll is located on top of an underwater mountain rising 4,000 meters (13,000 ft) from the ocean floor. The inhabitants are divided between the two main islets of Tauhunu on the west coast (where the government administration is based) and Tukao in the north, (where Manihiki Island Airport is located). Each settlement has a school, churches, stores and a few pickup trucks. The total land area is approximately 4 square kilometres (1.5 sq mi).

The major islands of the atoll (listed starting clockwise from the northernmost point of the atoll) are:[1]


Polynesians are believed to have lived on Manihiki since at least 900 or 1000 AD.[2] According to local folklore, the atoll was discovered by Huku, a fisherman from Rarotonga, who noted a shallow area of sea and claimed it as his fishing ground. Later, this area was fished up by Māui, becoming the atoll of Rakahanga. Huku then returned and fought Māui for the land he considered to be his. Māui was driven off, but during the struggle part of the new land broke away, becoming the atoll of Manihiki.[3] Another legend says that Kupe, the explorer of Aotearoa, came from Manihiki, also known as Fakahotu Nui, or Niiva Nui. His canoe was named by the ancient name of Tukao Village known as Te Matafourua. On his return from Aotearoa he renamed the Marae in the Village of Tukao (Te Matafourua) Te Puna Ruki o Toi Tu Rahui Te Rautea as Te Hono O Kupe Ki Aotea, shortened as Te Marae Hono.

Manihiki was originally used as a food supply by the inhabitants of nearby Rakahanga. Every few years the entire community would make the dangerous inter-atoll crossing, allowing the vacated atoll to restore.[4] While they lived together in a single village on Rakahanga, when on Manihiki, the tribal groupings lived on separate motus under their ariki in separate villages.

It is believed that Pedro Fernandes de Queirós first sighted the island in 1606 and called it Gente Hermosa (Beautiful People).[5] However, on 13 October 1822, when it was sighted by the U.S. ship Good Hope it was named Humphrey Island by Captain Patrickson.[6] In 1828 the whaleship Ganges spotted the island and named it Great Ganges Island, as other whaleships named it Liderous, Gland, Sarah Scott and Pescado. Despite repeated renaming by explorers, the island now retains its aboriginal name.

In 1889, a portion of the population opposed missionaries and made an agreement with French colonial authorities stationed in Tahiti to annex the island. In response a ship was sent, but the missionaries on Manihiki hoisted the British flag, causing the ship to withdraw without sending a landing party.

The island was claimed by the United States under the Guano Islands Act, but the United States never acted on this claim, and the island was proclaimed a British protectorate by Commander A. C. Clarke, captain of HMS Espiegle on 9 August 1889. It was placed under the administration of New Zealand with the rest of the Cook Islands in 1901. Per the 1980 Cook Islands – United States Maritime Boundary Treaty the United States recognized Cook Islands sovereignty over Manihiki and three other islands.[6]

In August 1963, a small boat, Tearoha, set sail from Manihiki to Rakahanga for food. On leaving Rakahanga on 15 August 1963, the boat was blown off course in a storm, and eventually came to land again on 17 October 1963, at Erromango in Vanuatu. Four of the seven men on board survived to arrive at Erromango, but one of them died soon after. Teehu Makimare, of Tauhunu village, was later awarded the gold medal of the Royal Humane Society of New Zealand for his leadership and courage in this epic unintended voyage. The story has been told in Barry Wynne's book, The Man Who Refused to Die. The Original Chief (Ariki) is known to be the Whakaheo Ariki. It is believed that the Whaingaitu Ariki title were the family of which were prayer warriors of the Whakaheo. In later years, families have been fighting for positions and titles of the land. It is believed that the first born daughters of the Whakaheo were not to succeed to Ariki, this title was given to the first born son. The title of the first born daughter is known as Whakatapairu.

In 1997 Cyclone Martin devastated Manihiki. Almost every building on the island was destroyed by the storm surge, 10 people were killed, and 10 more persons reported missing and were later declared dead by the Cook Islands Coroner.[7][8] 360 people were evacuated to Rarotonga,[9] with most never returning.[10] Martin was the deadliest known tropical cyclone to affect the Cook Islands in over a century, after it caused 19 deaths within the Islands.[11][12]

In February 2009, the mayor of Manihiki, Kora Kora, stated that the world economic crisis had driven up the price of essential goods to such an extent that it was provoking significant emigration to New Zealand and Australia. He said that the population of Manihiki at that stage was just 280.[13]



Historical population
1849 1,200—    
1906 521−56.6%
1911 444−14.8%
1916 493+11.0%
1921 432−12.4%
1936 487+12.7%
1951 816+67.6%
1961 1,006+23.3%
1966 584−41.9%
1976 266−54.5%
1986 508+91.0%
1996 668+31.5%
2001 515−22.9%
2006 356−30.9%
2011 239−32.9%
2016 212−11.3%
Source:"Ethnology of Manihiki and Rakahanga". New Zealand Electronic Text Centre. [14]

There are two villages: the larger village is Tauhunu which is on the Islet of Tauhunu on the western rim of the atoll. The second village, Tukao and also known in the olden days as Te Matafourua, is at the northern tip of Ngake or Te Paeroa motu, which runs along the northern-eastern side of the atoll. The island is politically controlled by the Island Councils and a Mayor elected every three years by the inhabitants.[15]


The atoll is inhabited by two Fakaheo tribes, the Matakeinanga and Tukufare. Each tribe has 7 subtribes or groups:

Matakeinanga Tukufare
  • Te-pu-tauhunu
  • Purenga
  • Kaupapa
  • Hitiki
  • Popo-iti
  • Nga-hoe-e-fa
  • Fati-kaua
  • Vai-a-Matua
  • Ngaro-Tapaha
  • Nga-fare-ririki
  • Tuteru-matua
  • Tianeva-matua
  • Tihauma
  • Hua-tane

The languages spoken on the island are Rakahanga-Manihiki and English.


The economy of Manihiki is dominated by the cultivation of black pearls and there are pearl farms dotted around the lagoon. Tourism provides a secondary source of income, although facilities are rudimentary. The reef provides excellent swimming and snorkeling among colourful tropical fish and coral, making scuba diving a major attraction for visitors. Visitors are allowed to snorkel or free-dive but not scuba dive without a permit. Visitors can obtain a permit at the administration office either from the Island Secretary or the Mayor or the Deputy Mayor. There is good fishing in the open waters beyond the reef, including catches of Yellow-fin Tuna and Flying fish. Tours of the pearl farms can also be arranged.

Flying time to the island by Air Rarotonga takes about three and a half hours, and there is a flight every 2nd week Thursday from Rarotonga; however, flights are sometimes cancelled due to lack of passengers or lack of fuel at Manihiki.

The Tukao solar farm and Tauhunu solar farm provide 136 kW and 147 kW respectively.[16]


  1. ^ Te Rangi Hiroa (1932). Ethnology of Manihiki and Rakahanga. Honolulu: Bernice P. Bishop Museum. p. 6.
  2. ^ Chikamori, Masashi (1996). "Development of coral reefs and human settlement: Archaeological research in the Northern Cook Islands and Rarotonga". Bulletin of the Indo-Pacific Prehistory Association. 15: 45–52. doi:10.7152/bippa.v15i0.11533. Retrieved 21 August 2020.
  3. ^ Te Rangi Hiroa (1932). Ethnology of Manihiki and Rakahanga. Honolulu: Bernice P. Bishop Museum. pp. 14–17. Retrieved 12 August 2020.
  4. ^ Hiroa (1932), p. 4
  5. ^ "Olohega | Atafu Tokelau Community Group". Matauala Hub. Retrieved 13 May 2023.
  6. ^ a b Alphons M.J. Kloosterman (1976). Discoverers of the Cook Islands and the Names they Gave. Cook Islands Library and Museum. pp. 19–20. Retrieved 12 August 2020.
  7. ^ Cook Islands Government (20 June 2007). "Coroner confirms Cyclone Martin Victims". Archived from the original on 22 May 2010. Retrieved 30 April 2010.
  8. ^ Carr, Tara (20 June 2007). "Missing Northern Cooks Islanders declared dead". Pacific Islands Report. Archived from the original on 22 November 2015. Retrieved 22 November 2015.
  9. ^ "Cook Islands Tropical Cyclone Martin Situation Report No . 2". UN DHA. 18 November 1997. Retrieved 13 August 2020.
  10. ^ "Manihiki remembers Martin". Cook Islands News. 1 November 2018. Retrieved 13 August 2020.
  11. ^ De Scally, Fes (2008). "Insights provided by a historical database of tropical cyclones and their impacts in the Cook Islands". Island Climate Update (88). National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research: 6.
  12. ^ De Scally, Fes (2008). "Historical Tropical Cyclone Activity and Impacts in the Cook Islands" (PDF). Pacific Science. 62 (4): 443–459. doi:10.2984/1534-6188(2008)62[443:HTCAAI]2.0.CO;2. hdl:10125/22721. ISSN 0030-8870. S2CID 198148871.
  13. ^ "Manihiki in the Cooks faces population loss as economy wanes". RNZ. 2 February 2009. Retrieved 15 July 2020.
  14. ^ "Cook Islands 2016 Census Main Report" (PDF). Cook Islands Statistical Office. 2018. p. 46. Archived from the original (PDF) on 31 October 2020. Retrieved 19 August 2020.
  15. ^ Pearl Oyster Information Bulletins
  16. ^ "Cook Islands solar energy projects opened". Scoop. 13 May 2015. Retrieved 16 July 2020.

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