The Complete Travel Guide to Nassau© David Kirkland - Cook Islands Tourism
The Complete Travel Guide to Nassau

The Complete Travel Guide to Nassau

© David Kirkland – Cook Islands Tourism

How to Plan a Trip to Nassau

Tiny, remote and unique amongst the Northern Group of the Cook Islands, Nassau is a small coral cay sitting 8.5m (28ft) above sea level. Unlike its “surrounding” Northern Group islands (the closest is Pukapuka some 88km/55mi away), Nassau has no lagoon. The island is encircled by a tiny fringing reef, but the most striking thing about this island is its dense coconut forests and lush gardens, giving Nassau a reputation as a “Garden of Eden” in the Cook Islands.

Administered by the nearby Pukapuka island, Nassau is seen as a sort of “suburb” of Pukapuka which offers the only transport to Nassau. Those who make it to this gorgeous piece of paradise, however, will be rewarded with solidarity and simply living, away from all of the stresses of the modern world.

Plan your trip to Nassau using this complete travel guide to Nassau, including how to get there, where to stay and things to do.

Frequently Asked Questions About Nassau

We’re here to tell you everything you need to know about Nassau in the Cook Islands, so we won’t waste any time in this Nassau travel guide giving you the answers to the questions that most travellers have about visiting.

Where is Nassau?

Nassau is located in the Northern Group of the Cook Islands, approximately 88km (55 miles) south of Pukapuka and 1,225km (761 miles) northwest of the nation’s capital, Rarotonga. The Cook Islands is located in the South Pacific, which you can learn more about in Where are the Cook Islands Located?

What is the Population of Nassau?

The population of Nassau is around 75 people.

The Complete Travel Guide to Nassau© Turama Photography - Cook Islands Tourism

How to Get to Nassau

The only way to get to Nassau is via Pukapuka. There are boats running between the two islands, which are best organised once you arrive in Pukapuka. To see how to get to Pukapuka, check out The Complete Travel Guide to Pukapuka.

Locals run boats or “ferries” between the islands of Pukapuka and Nassau. The trip is 88km (55 miles) on the open ocean and takes approximately two to three hours.

For more advice on planning your travels to Nassau, check out the Northern Cook Islands Transport Guide: 9 Ways to Get to (& Around) the Northern Group.

The Complete Travel Guide to Nassau©

Where to Stay on Nassau

There is no formal tourist accommodation on Nassau, but you can arrange to stay with a local through the Pukapuka Island Administration, which is based in Pukapuka on the island of Wale.

Lodging on Nassau is very basic where many locals live in traditional kikau (palm frond) huts or concrete houses.

Whoever you stay with will provide food for the duration of your stay. The drinking water might not be suitable for all travellers – usually filtered rainwater – so take a look at our tips to improve the drinking water situation in our guide, Is the Water Safe to Drink in & the Cook Islands? 

The Complete Travel Guide to Nassau© Turama Photography - Cook Islands Tourism

Things to Do on Nassau

Visiting Nassau is experiencing a slice of life in a small community on an isolated island. Needless to say, there are no organised tours or dive charters. Anything that you do on Nassau will be arranged by your host family or whoever you’re savvy enough to get talking to. Just mingle with the community and see what adventure you get up to.

5 Best Things to Do on Nassau

  1. Learning from the locals – Find out what it means to live in a small community and be almost entirely self-sufficient.
  2. Fishing – Nassau has no lagoon so all fishing is out on the Pacific Ocean. Join the locals for a fun morning out on the water (remember to take some sea sickness remedies).
  3. Relaxing on the beach – A strip of sand encircles Nassau with the best bit stretching along the northwest of the village. Just sit, relax and enjoy the sunset in paradise.
  4. Walking – Nassau is easy to get around on foot. There is a network of trails through the village, palm groves and plantations.
  5. Seeing the Manuvai Shipwreck – This striking sight is a must-see on Nassau; a Tongan container ship that wrecked in 1988 then was pushed over the reef’s edge by a cyclone shortly after.

See more typical Cook Islands experiences in the 101 Best Things to Do in the Cook Islands: The Ultimate List.

The Complete Travel Guide to Nassau© Turama Photography - Cook Islands Tourism

The History of Nassau

Nassau has been known by many names, starting with “Te Nuku-o-Ngalewu” after the man that was put in charge of the island in Pukapukan legend. Later, the island became known as “Motu Ngaongao” meaning “Deserted Island” when Manhikians drifted to the island and discovered no one was there.

An Island of Many Names

The island was still uninhabited by the time the ship Adele discovered it in 1803, naming it “Adele Island“. Twenty years later it was named “Lydra Island” after another explorer stumbled upon the island, then “Ranger Island” after a whaling ship, then “Mitchel Island” in 1834. Finally, its present-day name was given by an American whaler, John Sampson, who name “Nassau” after his ship in 1835.

The Farm of Nassau

It is thought that Nassau only started to become permanently inhabited in the 1860s, which was by a group from Manihiki. An American farmer attempted to settle the land to grow coconuts in the 1870s, as well as other short-lived farming attempts by Europeans in the 1910s, ’30s and ’40s.

The New Suburb of Pukapuka

In 1945, the land was sold by the farmers to the New Zealand Government for around £2,000, who in turn, sold it to the chiefs of Pukapuka for the same price on June 2 1951. A group from Pukapuka landed on the island to live on the new “suburb”. The locals have been working the land ever since.

In more recent history, Nassau has experienced some devastating cyclones. Around 80% of homes were demolished during the 2005 cyclones but miraculously, no one was killed.

More About Nassau and the Cook Islands

That’s it for our complete travel guide to Nassau in the Cook Islands. For more less-explored islands to visit, check out the following guides:

Finally, plan the rest of your Cook Islands expedition using The Best Cook Islands Travel Guide and the 30 Tips for Travelling in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands.


Laura S.

This article was reviewed and published by Laura, editor-in-chief and co-founder of Cook Islands Pocket Guide. Since arriving solo in the South Pacific over 10 years ago with nothing but a backpack and a background in journalism, her mission has been to show the world how easy (and awesome) it is to explore a paradise such as the Cook Islands. She knows the islands inside out and loves sharing tips on how best to experience Raro’s must-dos and hidden gems. Laura is also the editor of several other South Pacific travel guides.

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