For the more spirited and adventurous traveller looking for traditional island culture – Mitiaro offers an exceptional experience

For the more spirited and adventurous traveller looking for traditional island culture – Mitiaro offers an exceptional experience

Ok, some weeks have passed and you may be wondering where are the updated stories from my journey to the Cook Islands. It was an extraordinary journey and experience. The only fall back was the access to my page. So I will take you on the journey with all my memories fresh in my mind. Firstly, my trip with my nephew Oliver to Mitiaro – one of the more remote southern islands was an adventure of a lifetime.

For the more spirited and adventurous traveller looking for traditional island culture – Mitiaro offers an exceptional experience

Looking for an escape and adventure of a lifetime, Mitiaro – one of the Cook Islands most beautiful, yet relatively unknown and remote islands – offers a unique travel experience like no other. Sleeping under the stars in woven pandanus tree Kikau huts hosted by local Mitiaro families and listening to the waves breaking nearby, you step back in time and experience the customary living and kind hospitality of the Mitiaroans.

This is escaping to a remote island at its best and exploring the true Mitiaroan culture, eating fresh fruit and fish, swimming and walking across the little beaches and the coral reef, is an experience like no other.

Mitiaro, unlike other Cook Islands, has its own dialect language, cooking and culture and the Mitiaro islanders’ way of life is like stepping back fifty years to the old days of island living. The islanders live in much the same way as their ancestors – farming, fishing and trading with nearby islands.

Flying into Mitiaro, the view of the island appeared deserted with swamps, lakes, plantations and a rugged terrain of a raised coral reef – a makatea – surrounding the island. Physically, Mitiaro is flatter than other Cook Islands as a result of a sunken volcano forming the swamps and lakes known as Te Rotonui (big lake) and Te Rotoiti (small lake).

As the tyres of our small 12 seater Air Rarotonga aircraft hit the Mitiaro tarmac – a barren, sand airstrip – we realised this is an island escape was unique to any adventurous holiday. The airport – an old cement open hut – was abuzz with all the Mitiaro Islanders greeting us with great fanfare. There are only three flights per week and the islanders are very happy to come and greet visitors to the island. Women and children were everywhere and all the men sat under the trees on their scooters smiling at the new arrivals. My twelve year-old nephew, Oliver, accompanied me on a trip and upon our arrival he couldn’t believe what he was about to experience. The look on his face was priceless and so overwhelmed by the attention from all the children greeting him.

Visiting this island you are treated to the warm, friendly hospitality and vibe of the Mitiaroans that permeates all visitors. Their spirit is infectious, particularly the children. Only 160 people live on the island and you soon get to know everyone.  All Mitiaroans are related to one another or have some form of connection through marriage. They form a very strong community spirit sharing and looking after one another.

Our visit coincided with the island’s recently launched homestay programme dubbed the Itiki experience. We were met by our homestay host  – Inangaro ‘Vivienne’ Taia – who owns the Kovea Kikau Hut. Producing a Nei (the Mitiaro version of a Lei) and a warm-hearted greeting, kisses and hugs all around, we immediately feel part of the Mitiaroan family.  Only one van exists on the island belonging to the Missionary’s wife, Rangi, and we were escorted to our host’s place of paradise on the beach and harbour with the villagers following and escorting us on scooters.

The Mitiaroans are proud of their culture and traditions and maintain these through their own way of cooking and different dialect language.  At our homestay, Vivienne cooked up feasts for breakfast and dinner using local produce such as paw paw and lime, kumara and taro cooked in different ways and the eggs and meat come from the local ‘free range’ farming of the chickens and pigs or beef flown in from New Zealand via Rarotonga.

Across the island, the Mitiaro people were very friendly and always free for a smile and chat. While watching Oliver fish with the local boys on the harbour shore, Ronald Powell, our other host, discussed all the sorts of stories, myths and customs including the Vakas used for fishing. Vaka boats are moored at the edge of the harbour and, according to Ronald, no women are allowed near the boats, particularly when the men are fishing as superstition ruins the fishing! Ronald, originally from Palmerston one of the northern Cook Islands, settled easily into the life on Mitiaro some years ago. As he discussed the way of life on this tropical island of dreams, I understood how easy it is to get into the rhythm of Mitiaro life, relax and enjoy.


Scooters are the only true mode of transport. While we travelled around the island going through the banana plantations, visiting the natural beauty of the inland lakes, taro and kumara plantations and swamps, we witnessed so many different sites and vegetation particularly the rugged coast line of the north.

Exploring the island by scooter was enormous fun. Watch out for the roaming pigs and chickens as plenty cross in front of you on the dirt roads. All the locals in the little village wave and welcome you as we motored along – slowly as the scooter is only capable of reaching 60km/h.

Surrounding the island are fine little beaches made up of broken up coral and the best beaches are on the western side near our Ikaku Hut. Swimming and walking around the coral reef we witnessed many fish and crabs. However, the best swimming is inland in the most beautiful underground pools – some in limestone caves.  Oliver and I found the best – Mitiaro’s huge natural swimming pool Vai Nauri situated in a large limestone cave. The water is fresh and the blue-green colours of the limestone dance on the water which was just magical.

The Mitiaro children were thoroughly excited to have visitors on the island and took Oliver fishing using Mitiaro iron tree rods and fishing lines and swam in the harbour pool. Oliver had trouble keeping up with their energy.

On our second day, the Principal of the local school invited Oliver to visit and tell them all about his life in Denver, Colorado.  Also, a local school in NSW, Carcoar Public, sent a package to the Mitiaro school kids so they too can learn about my country village. But the highlight was watching the kids rounding Oliver up to play soccer and how they looked after him as one of their own.

Mitiaro is now part of a ‘green tourism’ programme. For $50, we were invited to plant a special native or fruit tree with all proceeds going to the school nursery, the women’s association and the agricultural association. Oliver and I chose a custard apple and star fruit tree and plant these outside our Kikau hut. Vivienne has promised to look after these happy little trees and, according to our Mitiaro contact in Rarotonga, Temu Okatai, a GPS devise is now placed near the hut so we can watch the tree grow over the years.

Driving our scooter around the little villages and island, we couldn’t help but notice some of the more challenging and historical nature of the landscape and buildings.

Abandoned houses destroyed by hurricanes reminded us how isolated and exposed this island is to the elements. Mitiaro is the most remote of the southern Cook Islands and is open to the northern wind elements. The locals take further measures to protect their houses by placing bricks on the roofs. Thanks to the Red Cross, there are now solid roads inland and around the island to help the Mitiaroans escape inland from any threat.

Due to the remote nature of this island, fresh water is a problem. Thanks to the support from the Red Cross, with the Cook Islands Government, a major spring water well was established to cater for all fresh water needs. Only one truck is on the island to cart large containers of water to individual homes.

One little store exists on the island to cater food and necessities for the locals and is the only food and petrol petrol. Don’t expect to find fresh fruit and vegetables here but you do have basics. Flying and shipping food into the island is improving.

Historical sites and history are very important to the islanders. Sacred areas to the Mitiaroans are protected and only accessible with an official Ariki guide. Prior to the arrival of the Reverend John Williams and the Missionaries in 1823, the Mitiaroans lived in inland villages and the missionaries moved them to two villages on the western coast. The Mitiaroans were constantly at battle with the neighbouring island, Atiu. The Coral fort – Te Pare Fort – is built on top of an underground cave and is the original site for defence against the raids of the Atiuan warriors by the famous Mitiaroan Warrior Maaro.  The Mitiaroans gathered there in times of danger and according to our guide, there was a lookout tower for which you could see approaching canoes.

Nearby is the Takero Mare – an ancient open air meeting ground and historical site built to hold meetings for the local Ariki and tribes.

One of the more prominent buildings is the beautiful Christian Church which is decorated in the traditional Christian church white with blue trimmings. When the missionaries arrived, they built these churches and moved the islanders to the coast to be near their church.

Back at our Ikaku Hut, we turned in for the night and slept soundly under our mosquito nets with the only sounds coming from the many geckos eating mosquitoes or other bugs. The island was a peaceful oasis. The only disturbance comes with the drums and bells that wake us at 5am to get the villagers to church by 6am – a tradition that comes with the Christian faith to have an early morning service every second morning.

When it came for us to leave, all the locals gathered at the airport to wave us goodbye. Unbeknown to us, Vivienne stayed up all night making very special Neis for us wear around our necks for our journey back to Rarotonga. They are made out of very special local trees and flowers and the smell is so powerful. As we climbed into the plane and settled down to taxi out of the island, I look down and realise there are no other extraordinary experiences and holidays like we had on Mitiaro. The homestay experience made it a memorable time unlike other experiences on other islands or anywhere in the World. Our memories will stay with us and I hope to return to this island soon to do something for the local people.

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