A RECTANGULAR atoll with a land area the same as Pukapuka, Rakahanga is the sister island of Manihiki, 26 miles (42 km) to the south. It comprises a lagoon surrounded by two islands and seven small islets or "motu". It has the distinction of being the first of the Cook Islands to have a recorded landing by Europeans. This was on March 2 1606 when two ships from Spain, the "Capitana" and "Almiranta", under the command of Pedro Fernandez de Quiros arrived. Their voyage was the last of the great Spanish voyages of exploration.
A Spanish friar, Juan de Torquemada, was so impressed by the physical attributes of the islanders that he named it the Island of "Gente Hermosa", the Island of Beautiful People. Other crew members gave the island names ranging from Pilgrim to Slaughter. In 1820 Russians named it Grand Duke Alexander Island and Americans called it Reirson Island and Little Ganges Island. Other names were Francis Island, Princess Marianne Island and Alliconga Island. Thankfully, none of these have survived.
There are few written accounts of life on Rakahanga. An Englishman, Julian Dashwood, who went there for a year in the early 1930s, reported that food was frequently a problem since it consisted chiefly of coconuts and fish. In his book which he wrote under the nom-de-plume of Julian Hillas, "South Seas Paradise" he said:-
"I spent a year on Rakahanga and put on 18 pounds, which I lost again within six months of leaving. I developed a marvellous appetite and have never felt better than I did during that period."
He attributed this mainly to the fish and coconuts which formed 80 per cent of his diet, as well as a complete absence of worry in any form. He wrote in 1964:-
"Looking back over nearly 30 years, I still give Rakahanga top rating. If there are places left where a man can grow old contentedly, it is on some such quiet, drowsy atoll, where today is forever and tomorrow never comes; where men live and die, feast and sorrow, while the winds and the waves play over wet sands and gleaming reefs."
Air Rarotonga flies regularly to Manihiki from where connections can be made to Rakahanga.
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Revised: February 6 2015