Nassau (Cook Islands)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Native name:
Te Nuku-o-Ngalewu
Nassau, Cook Islands.jpg
Nassau, Cook Islands
LocationCentral-Southern Pacific Ocean
Coordinates11°34′4″S 165°24′25″W / 11.56778°S 165.40694°W / -11.56778; -165.40694
ArchipelagoCook Islands
Area1.2 km2 (0.46 sq mi)
Population78 (2016)
Ethnic groupsPolynesian
Nassau is located in Pacific Ocean
Location of Nassau Atoll in the Pacific Ocean

Nassau is an island in the northern group of the Cook Islands. It is approximately 1,246 kilometres (774 mi) north of the capital island of Rarotonga and 88 kilometres (55 mi) from Pukapuka. Lacking an airstrip, it is accessible only by boat. It is named after a 19th-century whaling ship. Its indigenous name, Te Nuku-o-Ngalewu, means "Land of Ngalewu" after the Pukapukan who was put in charge of it.


Located 88 kilometres (55 mi) south of Pukapuka, Nassau is just 9 metres (30 ft) above sea level, with an oval sandy cay on a coral reef foundation and is surrounded by a narrow reef flat.[1] It is covered with palms, and is the only island of the Northern Group without a lagoon. The surrounding reef is 90 to 130 metres wide on all but the north side where it's narrower. The village is located in the north-west. Inland there are rich taro swamps and fruit groves, and offshore there is good fishing. It has a population of 78, according to the 2016 census.[2]

Nassau is governed by the Pukapuka Island Council. The Nassau Island Committee advises the Pukapuka Island Council on matters of Nassau Island. [3] Families live in thatched cottages called kikau. Elliot Smith, in the Cook Islands Companion (Pacific Publishing Company, Albany, California) describes Nassau as "a small garden of Eden".


Historical population
1936 18—    
1945 0−100.0%
1951 124—    
1961 109−12.1%
1966 167+53.2%
1971 160−4.2%
1976 123−23.1%
1981 137+11.4%
1986 119−13.1%
1996 99−16.8%
2001 72−27.3%
2006 75+4.2%
2011 73−2.7%
2016 78+6.8%

Nassau originally belonged to the islanders of nearby Pukapuka and was called Te Nuku-o-Ngalewu which means "Land of Ngalewu" after the Pukapukan who was put in charge of it. When the two islands fell out with each other, it was renamed "Deserted Island" (Te Motu Ngaongao), supposedly by the islanders of Manihiki who drifted to the island and found it deserted.[1]

The first European to discover the island was Louis Coutance of the ship Adele, who named it "Adele island" in 1803.[1] Other Europeans to encounter Nassau named it "Lydra Island" (1827), "Ranger Island" (pre-1835), and "Mitchell Island" (1834).[1] In 1835 the captain of an American whaling vessel, John D. Sampson, named it after his vessel, the Nassau. The following year another American whaler named it "New-Port island".[1]

In 1876 an American occupied the island for use as a coconut plantation, employing workers from Pukapuka.[1] From 1916 to 1926 it was leased as a copra plantation by the Samoa Shipping and Trading Company, using workers from Samoa and the Gilbert and Ellice Islands. It continued to be occupied intermittently until it was sold to the Cook Islands government in 1945. In 1951 it was purchased by the Island Council of Pukapuka, which sent annual expeditions to harvest copra.[4] The island became permanently settled around 1970.[5]

The island was severely damaged in February 2005 by Cyclone Percy, which destroyed every home[6] and contaminated cropland and water supplies with salt water.[7] Recovery work to the island's infrastructure (Health Clinic, School, Powerhouse, Telecommunications Network and Meeting House) was completed with the help of NZAID and the Government of the Cook Islands in October of that same year, a major feat due to the island's remoteness and infrequent shipping services. The Island now has a completely new school thanks to the NZAID Schools Refurbishment Programme, which is administered by the Cook Islands Investment Corporation.


The economy of Nassau originally depended on harvesting copra, with Pukapukan expeditions harvesting a third to a half as much as from the (much larger) Pukapuka.[4] As with Pukapuka, the economy was run communally, with foremen and leaders telling the expedition members what needed to be done, and everyone sharing equally in the proceeds.[4][8]

Because there is no airport, access is limited to inter-island ship from Rarotonga, a voyage of three days or more, or from Pukapuka. The service is infrequent. A harbour was planned in 2007,[9] and in 2010 a small boat passage and mooring wharf had been dynamited out of the reef top, and a second phase was underway in December 2010. The environmental impact was small after the initial blasting [10] A tender for the design of an improved harbour was issued in April 2020.[11]

In January 2017 the Taio Shipping vessel MV Moana Nui ran aground on Nassau's reef.[12] The wreck was left in place, and subsequently shifted to block access to Nassau's harbour.[13] A contract to salvage and remove the wreck was issued in November 2019.[14]

Nassau was connected to the other islands by telephone in 2004.[15] In 2015 a solar / battery power station was installed, replacing diesel generators and allowing 24-hour electricity.[16]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Alphons M.J. Kloosterman (1976). Discoverers of the Cook Islands and the Names they Gave. Cook Islands Library and Museum. pp. 29–30. Retrieved 19 August 2020.
  2. ^ a b "Cook Islands 2016 Census Main Report" (PDF). Cook Islands Statistical Office. 2018. Retrieved 19 August 2020.
  3. ^ "Review of Funding for Island Administrations" (PDF). Ministry of Finance and Economic Management. February 2006. p. 6. Archived from the original (PDF) on 14 October 2008.
  4. ^ a b c A. P. Vayda (1958). "The Pukupukans on Nassau Island". Journal of the Polynesian Society. 67 (3): 256–265. Retrieved 19 August 2020.
  5. ^ W. H. Percival (1 August 1974). "Pukapuka - remote, but changing". Pacific Islands Monthly. Vol. 45, no. 8. p. 71. Retrieved 19 August 2020 – via National Library of Australia. Nassau was bought by the Pukapukans in 1951 with money raised from copra sales and during the last few years has become permanently settled.
  6. ^ "PUKAPUKA TARO UNDER SIX FEET OF SEAWATER". Pacific Islands Report. 3 March 2005. Retrieved 27 August 2020.
  7. ^ "PUKAPUKA, NASSAU IN COOKS ON SHORT RATIONS". Pacific Islands Report. 21 March 2005. Retrieved 27 August 2020.
  8. ^ Jeremy Beckett (1964). "Social change in Pukapuka". Journal of the Polynesian Society. 73 (4): 411–430. Retrieved 19 August 2020.
  9. ^ "Harbour for Nassau" (Press release). Government of the Cook Islands. 14 June 2007. Archived from the original on July 1, 2007. Retrieved 1 July 2007.
  10. ^ White M (2012) Sea turtles in the Cook Islands ~ Volume One: 2009-2012. 360pp. Permalink:
  11. ^ "Nassau Harbour Improvement – Design Services". Government of the Cook Islands: Procurement Portal. 6 April 2020. Retrieved 19 August 2020.
  12. ^ "Grounding disrupts shipping in Cooks outer islands". RNZ. 1 February 2017. Retrieved 22 July 2020.
  13. ^ "Stricken ship washed into harbour". Cook Islands News. 8 February 2018. Retrieved 19 August 2020.
  14. ^ Melina Etches (19 November 2019). "$750k salvage job on remote Nassau". Cook Islands News. Retrieved 22 July 2020.
  15. ^ "REMOTE NASSAU IN COOKS GETS SATELLITE HOOKUP". Pacific Islands Report. 17 September 2004. Retrieved 27 August 2020.
  16. ^ "Energised Nassau looks inviting to Prime Minister". Cook Islands News. 26 March 2015. Retrieved 19 August 2020.

External links[edit]