Manihiki is a favourite place for tourists, as much because of its stunningly beautiful scenery as it is the home of it’s most famous export, the Black Pearls. It is unusual in that it comprises of 40 tiny islets encircling the 2.5 mile (4 km) wide lagoon.
Growing pearls is a highly delicate process - highly skilled pearl seeding technicians are often booked up for years in advance, mostly Japanese, they are probably the highest-paid workers in the world, the best of them earning over a million dollars a year.
The seeding process involves a nucleus, a tiny sphere of crushed Mississippi freshwater clam specially farmed for the purpose and which is carefully placed into the oyster’s mantle, part of the oyster flesh which lays down the mother-of-pearl coating, or nacre.
The mantle creates a pouch around the nucleus and, over two years or so, puts thousands of very thin layers of nacre over it.
The result, if perfect, is a perfectly spherical black pearl. The sister island of Rakahanga, Manihiki is flat and only a few feet above sea level. In an unusual twist of survival, Manahiki was traditionally a food source for the people of Rakahanga.
When food ran out the entire population crossed the 25 miles (42 km) of open sea in canoes and stayed in Manihiki until Rakahanga replenished its natural resources.
This enevitably resulted in frequent loss of lives and the missionaries abolished the practise in 1852. Since then, the population has been divided between the two islands. Polynesians are believed to have lived on Manihiki since at least 1500 AD. It was discovered by Europeans on October 13 1822 when the US ship 'Good Hope' sighted it.
Its commander, Captain Patrickson, named it Humphrey Island. The island is rich in oral history and legends. Air Rarotonga flies regularly to Manihiki each Thursday from Rarotonga with a brief stop at Aitutaki. Flight time is three hours forty minutes.