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By No owner — last modified May 23, 2013 09:42 AM

 Cook Islands - Southern Group

Southern Group

Rarotonga

Rarotonga is the vibrant centre of the Cook Islands. It's circular shape is dominated by high mountain peaks from which lush rain forests cascade to a palm-fringed shore. The island is almost completely encircled by a reef, which harbours a lagoon of clear turquoise waters and many inviting white sand beaches. Beyond the reef, the indigo blue of the ocean provides a vivid contrast and a bountiful supply of fish. The harbour at Avatiu has now reopened to visiting yachts (March 2013).

Aitutaki

A visit to the Cook Islands is not complete without seeing the beautiful island of Aitutaki. The breathtaking allure of its crystal clear turquoise waters and sparkling white beaches is an essential ingredient in any Cook Island holiday. This is a place of unsurpassed natural beauty and tranquillity, providing a simple tonic to sooth away the pressures of the outside world.

Aitutaki is 220 kilometres north of Rarotonga and less than an hour's flight away. It is partly volcanic and partly of atoll origin. It's highest hill, Maungapu is said to be the top of Rarotonga's Raemaru Peak, brought back by victorious warriors. The spectacular lagoon (45 kilometres around) is abundant with coloured fish of many varieties; it's perimeter sprinkled with many small and charming uninhabited islets (motus).

Atiu

The island of Atiu is the third largest in the Cooks group, located 215 kilometres northeast of Rarotonga. Atiu is a small volcanic island, with central elevated flat-topped mass of volcanic rock incised by sharp edged gullies and surrounded by a raised coral limestone reef called a Makatea. The makatea runs around the island ranging in width from anywhere between 50 to 100 metres. Low cliffs, 3 to 6 metres high surround the island, but there are many recesses in which small sandy coves are found. There are limestone caves all over the makatea and some are used as ancient burial sites.

Atiu is part of the Ngaputoru (three roots) group. The three roots consisting of Atiu, Mauke and Mitiaro. The fertile interior is farmed for coffee and pineapple. Atiu is famous for its cave dwelling Kopeka (Atiu swiftlet) bird and Tumunu bush beer parties. Atiu has a varied and interesting bird population. Most of the bird population are resident in the Makatea Forest found on the costal area of Atiu. The Kopeka birds live inside limestone caves and are never seen anywhere outside the caves.

Located 16 kilometres northwest of Atiu is Takutea, a Bird Sanctuary. The island supports one of the largest colonies of red-tailed tropic birds (Tavake) in the Cook Islands. Takutea also supports four seabird species (White Capped Noddy, the Red Footed Booby, The Great Frigate and the brown Booby), which do not breed anywhere else in the southern group.

Palmerston

The unique social fabric of this atoll arises from the last century when Englishman William Masters settled here with his two Rarotongan wives. The resulting small population now share the same surname and speak a local dialect, itself a mixture of Cook Island and English languages. Accessible only by sea, a few adventurous travellers visit the island each year to experience life on this remote outpost.

Mangaia

The island of Mangaia is the southernmost and the second largest of the Cook Islands. The oldest island of the group, renowned for it's "ei pupu" (shell neck garlands/leis). It lies at a latitude of 21o 53'S and 157o 50'W in the South Pacific and it is approximately 176km south east of Rarotonga. Believed to be about 19 million years old, Mangaia is a raised atoll surrounded by layers (from 2 to 6 layers in several places) of jagged limestone coral known as Makatea. The makatea in some places are 60 metres high and about a kilometre wide. Numerous trees, shrubs and plants grow between the coral limestones forming as a result the makatea forest that surrounds the exterior of the island. Linked to a running stream in the valley is a brackish water lake formed against a makatea cliff. Numerous limestone caves are scattered throughout the makatea forest some of which have been used as ancient burial sites.

Lush Taro plantations and vegetation are located in the centre of the island at the bottom of the makatea and in the central valley. Mangaia has many caves scattered over the makatea and private properties. Many of which can be reached via a short trek over the makatea to yawning openings and run deep into the interior. The Mangaian Kingfisher (Tanga'eo) bird is unique to the island of Mangaia while the Mangaian Reed Warbler (Kerearoko) is endemic to Mangaia.

Manuae

Contract workers employed on copra production once inhabited Manuae, 50 miles east of Aitutaki. Declared now as a marine reserve, the island is occasionally visited by residents of Aitutaki who travel by small boat or aircraft.

Mauke

Uncommercialised and with a relaxed pace of life, Mauke offers peace and seclusion "off the beaten track". Three villages, Areoa, Ngatiarua and Kimiangatau are close to the western coast of the island leaving the arable inland area for a variety of food crops and other farming activity. A rugged Makatea is evident around some sections of the coastline containing interesting water caves and forming secluded white sand coves.

Mitiaro

The small tight-knit community shows its pride in the neatness of the villages, Takaue and Arai. The two brackish lakes cover much of the centre of the island; host to a plentiful supply of itiki (eel), a local delicacy. The island also produces tiporo - a fragrant lime. Life in Mitiaro very much revolves around the village, the community activities include sports and handicrafts.

Takutea

Takutea, a sanctuary declared to protect the breeding site of a number of seabirds, lies 50 miles northeast of Atiu. Members of the Atiu community make regular trips to the island to monitor the sanctuary's condition.

Aitutaki *

Atiu Island *

Palmerston

Rarotonga *

* indicates port of entry

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