In the Polynesian South Pacific, there was once a small group of islands known as the Tuanaki Islands. The Tuanaki was part of the Cook Islands group, origianlly discovered by James Cook, a British seafarere, in 1774. As with other South Pacific islands, Polynesians lived quite peacefully on this small island group, with a hereditary tribal chief. The people fished, built huts, and ate foods like coconuts, bananas, and mangoes. The Tuanaki residents received visitors who sailed throughout the many islands in the Pacific, and one of them was a British sailor who spent a total of six days with the natives. The sailor wrote an account of the hospitable people who lived there. Once he left, however, other sailors tried to find this group of islands but they couldn’t: the Tuanaki Islands mysteriously disappeared from sea level by 1844.(1) What happened to the island and what became of the Polynesians who once called this group of islands their home?
The Tuanaki Islands disappeared probably due to an earthquake. The Pacific Ocean floor constantly experiences earthquakes in addition to volcanoes rising up and creating new islands. With the Tuanaki Islands being volcanic in origin, they most likely disappeared this way. Once the earthquake hit this island group in 1844, a number of island residents sailed away in an outrigger canoe to a nearby island, Rarotonga. Here, the refugees found a new home, knowing that the old island was gone forever, not to be found ever again. Missionaries have tried to locate the island, including one by the name of William Gill, but his desperate search accumulated in finding nothing in the area per the island’s coordinates.(2)
One possible remaining remnant of the Tuanaki islands is a group of rocks called the Haymet Rocks. These rocks are located near Niue, a British crown colony, but the location of Tuanaki places it south of Rarotonga, which is the southernmost island of the Cook Islands. With the Haymet Rocks being too far off from this region, it has not been considered a realistic leftover from the once existing island group.(3) Those who immigrated to Rarotonga from Tuanaki remembered their home, but died during the early twentieth century.
As with other islands that have been seen then seems to have mysteriously disappeared, Tuanaki has not been forgotten as once having had a thriving culture in the South Pacific.