The northern Cooks are far more traditional than the southern Cooks. Their location closer to the equator makes them much hotter than Rarotonga or Aitutaki. All of the northern atolls except Penrhyn sit on the 3,000-meter-deep Manihiki Plateau; the sea around Penrhyn is 5,000 meters deep.
These low-lying coral rings are the very image of the romantic South Seas, but life for the inhabitants can be hard and large numbers have left for New Zealand in recent years. Reef fish and coconuts are abundant, but fresh water and everything else is limited. Now a commercial cultured pearl industry is bringing prosperity to several of the atolls.
All of the scattered atolls of the northern Cooks except Nassau have central lagoons. Only the Penrhyn lagoon is easily accessible to shipping, although yachts can anchor in the pass at Suwarrow. Until recently these isolated islands were served only by infrequent ships from Rarotonga, and tourist visits were limited to the ship's brief stop, as to disembark would have meant a stay of several weeks or even months. Air Rarotonga has flights to Manihiki and Penrhyn, taking four and a half hours each way.
Anyone desiring a fuller picture of life of the northern atolls should read Robert Dean Frisbie's The Book of Pukapuka, serialized in the Atlantic Monthly in 1928. Though interesting, Frisbie's book may seem distorted to some contemporary eyes, catering to European stereotypes.