Ramblings of a Tampa engineer
Photo by Luciano Ragivaru (2021)

A bit ago I was looking at the California coast and I kept moving in Google Maps further out into the vast ocean. I stumbled upon a little strip of water that was labeled "Disappointment Islands" and I thought it had to be typo. It was quite an odd name for some islands, but I continued on interested in these islands.

When you zoom out these islands don't even exist on the lower zoom levels. It didn't take long to learn that the islands I stumbled upon were part of the 100+ islands part of French Polynesia. It must be where I'm geographically located, but I feel like I learned nothing about these islands in school.

Orange Smile Map of French Polynesia

A few of these islands are immensely popular tourist locations and look like locations out of those fancy techno beach music videos. Places that make our Earth look so beautiful without the huge amounts of industrialization.

I'm more interested in the islands so small that require you first land on a larger island, then take a boat/flight to a smaller island.

That would be some of the 3 islands that make up the Disappointment Islands:

  • Tepoto
  • Napuka
  • Puka-Puka

The population respectively

  • Tepoto with 61 residents in 2012, with 54 in 2002.
  • Napuka with 234 residents in 2017, but 257 in 2002.
  • Puka-Puka with 163 residents in 2017, but 197 in 2002.

With exception of Tepoto it seems these other islands have lost roughly 30 residents a piece over ~15 years. These are tiny little communities when you think that your own neighborhood sits above 300 people.

Could it be all these islands are classified as arid? Thus not being the best place for humans to reside? I remember enough of my old classes to remember that arid means basically no water available. Paired with these islands surrounded by salt water and right on the equator probably makes a hot climate.

Now it makes sense after a bit of research of the name of these islands. Way back in 1520 when Magellan went on his expedition - he stumbled upon some of these islands. He couldn't find a water source there to replenish from, so called them Islas Infortunadas which translated over the years to Unfortunate Islands then Disappointment Islands.

So how does a random guy living in Tampa Florida find modern photos or information about these islands? Off to Google we go.

We can find via Richard Konn that he traveled there in March of 2011. Based on his photos watermarked it looks like they weren't made with a cellphone camera.

Its quite difficult to find information about this island, because most searched will give you results about Pukapuka, which is part of the Cook Islands.

Google Maps wasn't much help here presumably because the residents of these islands don't have the technology to add information for the buildings for Google to index. We must rely on the rare visitors to these islands who wish to document this journey and share it for the world to see.

Many times in this research I saw this one user who had reviews for all these islands. I was quite excited when I viewed their profile to see pins everywhere.

However, every single review or piece of information said:

If you are reading this review, then you are bored and will need to do something like call relatives or talk to friends.

So yep I got pranked. I wonder what led this user to making reviews on these near hidden islands off the worlds to make useless comments on them. So I reported their profile and every single review that was off-topic to feel better for that user wasting my time.

So if we pop back over to NASA - we can find satellite imagery for all 3 of these islands.

Such tiny little islands and I went on a journey on viewing information on each one. Once again I hit this odd behavior where every single review looked to be some joke. Reviews and images of memes or completely unrelated images uploaded to the various buildings on each island.

It takes some effort, but then you find a real person. This time I stumbled upon Jacques Hoiore with some very recent reviews! This user looks very legitimate with photos all over the islands.


This person has donated and contributed over 500 images that have been viewed over 2 million times of all these islands. I'm not sure how large the market is for people looking for images on these really isolated islands, but this user has a large collection of I presume information and images.

If I can find a blog called "Have Pension - Will Travel" documenting reviews and destinations of the Cook Islands, maybe there is a helpful market here of providing details of these islands. That user might consider a passive revenue angle of providing all that information for researchers online.

So I went on this journey just from curiosity of some isolated island and left with confusion on why people put fake reviews on locations. Thankfully, discovering a few interesting people who travel to all corners of the world while doing so.

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