Motu Akea Well, Tokelau

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Not a single person lives on this little islet. It’s mostly a quiet place. Yet in the middle of the tiny island is this – a shallow well lined with coral slabs. The water is brackish (a mixture of salt and fresh water), but one could be very glad to know about this indeed. Drinkable water is key for people to live anywhere, and on Pacific atolls it is often challenging to find.


Where: Motu Akea, southernmost islet of Nukunonu
What:  An excavated depression, lined with coral slabs on all four sides
When: Origin precedes contemporary memory
Getting there: 30-45 minutes by boat from Nukunonu Village
Water: Brackish, best at low tide

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Surviving in an environment like this is no small task. It makes for a pretty postcard but don’t wish yourself straight there just yet.

Atolls are more of the ocean than they are of the land. Fresh water, accordingly, can be tough to find. There are no rivers or streams, indeed no surface water at all unless it’s salty (in which case it is truly abundant). Drinkable water – except if it’s been shipped in from outside – can be found sparingly in two places: the sky and the ground.

Yet archaeology indicates that people survived – or even thrived – here for hundreds of years. During that time they must have obtained water, and regularly. This well is perhaps one such place, where a freshwater lens sits not far below the surface.

Other tricks included hollowing out the base of a coconut tree and carving channels into the trunk to collect rainwater. You still see ’em around on some of the motus (though the first one had to be pointed out to me). Ingenious.


Got a haircut today. Never gave instructions, just kinda nodded a few times. She knew exactly what to do. Big fan of the University of Hawai’i at Manoa campus barber shop!