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The Farthermost Seas of the South Pacific

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The Cook Islands

The South Pacific appears on my desktop globe as a swathe of blue speckled with distant dots of land. The 15 Cook Islands are some 2,000 miles northeast of New Zealand and 3,000 south of Hawaii. 700 miles east lies the nearest neighbor, Tahiti. These isolated outposts at the end of the Earth make the great expanse of South Pacific, if nothing else, a convenient location for the mapmaker’s logo.


My wife, Jessie, and I visited three of the Cook Islands on our honeymoon. The main island, Rarotonga, and two outer islands: Aitutaki and Atiu.
The islands are not crumbs of continents that drifted over a Tectonic timescale. Bursting tens of thousands of feet from the ocean floor, these volcanoes are among the highest peaks on Earth. (Mauna Kea, the Big Island of Hawaii claims the title for tallest mountain in the world, from base to peak.) 
Some of these volcanoes receded into the ocean over tens of millions of years and no longer exist. Atolls, ring-shaped islands composed of i…