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The view from Lyn’s house is breathtaking.

Saturday July 21, 2018 Written by Published in Weekend
The narrow track leading to the cave. Photo: Siva Gounder. 18072019 The narrow track leading to the cave. Photo: Siva Gounder. 18072019

Italian Tiziana Margarito has been living in the Cook Islands for three years. Based in Rarotonga where she works as a travel agent, Margarito spends her free time exploring the outer islands. Last weekend, she visited Mangaia for the first time and documented her experience in this article

 

The green peaks of a once upon a time crater give space to an empty mind. All you can hear is the wind sweeping through the vegetation and the bleat of Ruby, a cute little goat.

Mangaia is the oldest of all South Pacific Islands, and you can feel the energy it emanates in every corner of this drop in the ocean.

The landscape shaped by the water for thousands of years includes ancient caves, used by the local people as burial sites centuries ago.

In those caves, Polynesians warriors used to find shelter between battles. Some of them are so hidden among the makatea – raised coral reef – that is impossible to find them, but we were lucky.

Maui, a native Mangaian who left the island for almost 30 years and came back 18 years ago, knows exactly how to get to one of the most intricate of the caves, Toru A Puru.

He guided us through thick makatea until we arrived to the small entrance of a burial cave where skulls and bones are protected inside small niches of mineral rocks.

The more further you get inside the cave, the more astonishing are the rock formations shaped by the constant growth of stalactites and stalagmites over millenniums.

The sparkle of this hidden world goes from pearly white to glowing yellow and brown and some corners change between golden and silvery.

Following a path about 22 metres underground, we reached the end of the cave after a two-hour walk through a sometimes tricky but adventurous subterranean tunnels.

To reach the exit of the cave, we needed the help of three ladders resting on the tall wall and with the help of natural roots we lifted ourselves up through the bright outside of the cave. We finally made it!

To celebrate our conquest, we had a fabulous lunch at Lyn’s house. Her place rests on the highest level of the makatea overlooking the thick Mangaia vegetation.

Her Rangiue gardens shine with special flowers like the bright cosmos and rare fruit trees such as the kumquat or Chinese mandarin tree.

Ducks, dogs and Ruby, the little goat, play happily around the house: this is true island life.

In the afternoon, we cruised around the island on our motorbike for more sightseeing,

Mangaia is easy to explore; roads are not paved but with a good motorbike and a spirit of adventure you can explore rock pools on the beach, the fresh waters of Tiriara lake and inland villages and get to spectacular lookouts in valleys of taro, banana and pineapple plantations. We even spotted a native tavake, red-tailed tropic bird from Paata lookout in Oneroa village!

And then came the night, quieter than on bigger sister Rarotonga, and lulled by the sound of the waves.

At night we were looking for the zodiacal light, following the steps of the astronomer Petr Horálek who came to Mangaia in 2014. The job wasn’t easy since the sky was cloudy but still, we drove up to the airport at night and tried our best.

The Milky Way was covered by clouds so we decided to roll back to our cosy home at Babe’s place and just down the road is where we got the best night shots!

Mangaia is a treasure as special as the warmth of her people. We thank Lyn, Maui and Ina for their genuine hospitality and love during our stay. Our time in Mangaia would not have been so magical if it hadn’t been for them.