|Itiki (caviar to the islanders), bream and prawns fill the crystal clear pools and marine life abounds around the beaches of Mitiaro. Once part of the Nga-Pu-Toru – or “The Three Roots” – along with Atiu and Mauke, Mitiaro was also once a volcano that sank to become a coral atoll, then 10,000 years ago thrust up by 20ft – making it the flattest island in the Cook Islands.
Mitiaro Homestay - A Unique Way of Life
Does sleeping under a kikau thatched roof with the sound of the waves and the stars shining above sound like the ultimate Pacific escape? What better way to live island style than to stay in a traditional Cook Islands hut with a local family welcoming you into their home? Mitiaro Homestay is a unique first-of-its-kind programme with three villas available on this beautiful remote island; with more due.
For more information visit www.cookislands.travel/MitiaroHomestay
Point of Difference
Although Mitiaro is set in 4500m of water and just over 6km wide, this did not stop the island’s coral ring dying to form a belt of the razor sharp makatea – typical of the southern group. But the sunken pools in the inevitable subterranean limestone caves that are part of this fossilised coral formation are a different and cool alternative to the lagoons that are so much a part of the Cook Island way of life.
Stunning Underground Caves
Mitiaro has probably the most beautiful of all the underground caves and pools to be found in the Cook Islands. Fed by the island’s underground water reserves, Vai Nouri – a deep clear cool lake – is reputed to have healing powers and is a definite must-see. Te Pitakare, an underground freshwater cavern, is still used today for drinking water, so no bathing allowed! But along the island’s sandy coastal track, tiny coves of pretty and secluded sandy beaches welcome you for a dip in the sea and explore the fascinating reef.
Rotonui & Toto Iti
The plateau-like centre is quite flat and swampy – and the freshwater lakes provide a unique perspective to this beautiful little island. Rotonui (‘Big Lake’ and half the size of the island) and Toto Iti (‘Small Lake’) between them make up a large part of Mitiaro. Startling in size for such a small island and fringed with lush greenery, the lakes harbour a teeming population of sea life - the Itiki in particular is a delicacy and, when wrapped in leaves and baked in the umu, vanishes in a flash at any umukai.
Life on Mitiaro
With a population of 180, the gentle warmth of the community and the pride in their island is a marque of these island people. They live in one settlement on the west coast, although if one were discussing the point, technically it is four villages – including Atai in the north to Auta, Mangarei and then Takaue in the south. The villages are tiny and with virtually no way of telling when one starts and the other ends, the government regime is in Takaue so inevitably the settlement is often referred to by this name.
The high school is in the principal village of Atai. Like most of the other inhabited Cook Islands, Mitiaro is deeply Christian and the singing in Betela, the CICC, on a Sunday is an unforgettable experience for any intrepid visitor who has managed to step onto this little island secret. Flaming orange Pumarumaru and fragrant frangipani line the crushed white coral streets of Mitiaro with superbly tended gardens lining either side. Even the shoreline reflects the pride of its people with the traditional fishing boats lined up perfectly side by side near the sea.
Inland, a rich yield of kumara, taro, corn, bananas and watermelons are testament to a gardening technique that includes neither pesticides nor fertilisers. Limes drop off the trees all year round and provide a succulent citrus finish to many a traditional dish. Inevitably, the much prized maire vines – fragrant and darkly green – grow wild in the central makatea. They are regularly collected and plaited into the long garlands which are used for chiefly ceremonies and are a mark of respect for recipients.
With less than ten cars on the island, the pace of life – languid and lovely – is something to be cherished in a world propelled by machines and money. It wasn’t always so, however.
Te Pare, an ancient fort built by the forefathers of Mitiaro was used as protection against the marauding Atiu warriors with whom there was a fierce rivalry. The walls stand up to six metres high and were built intentionally close to the coast, under the auspices of the great warrior Maaro, to provide a 360 degree visibility.
Te Pare is the only known fort in the Cook Islands and, walking over the makatea, it takes 20 minutes to reach. Anyone who has experienced this coral platform knows it has danger written all over it. Sturdy footwear is definitely required. But for keen trekkers exploring this little paradise, six kilometres at its widest point, is a blissful experience.