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Heaven on earth: Six days of pure bliss in the Pa Enua

Saturday 5 December 2020 | Written by Katrina Lintonbon | Published in Features, Weekend


Heaven on earth: Six days of pure bliss in the Pa Enua
Nooapii Teao welcomes our group at the Divided Church in Mauke. 20120401

For those wanting to satisfy a travel itch during these unprecedented Covid-19 times, it could be a good idea to look a little closer to home. In this second of a two-part series, Katrina Tanirau explores the islands of Mauke and Mangaia.

There is definitely something in what people say about the way your spirit aligns with certain places. 

Almost like an unexplainable feeling of belonging and connection.

Coming straight from beautiful Mitiaro and a jam-packed itinerary, it was a welcome relief to touch down in Mauke/Akatokamanava, while it was still showering so we could cool down.

Wanting to move our legs and stretch a bit, after a short stroll from the Airport we arrived at our accommodation – Rii’s Place.

That afternoon our host Aunty Nane Williams came around to our little unit and asked if we wanted to go anywhere so we jumped on the back of her truck and were taken on a scenic drive around the island.

There are families of goats living free range amongst the makatea. And healthy looking pigs of every shape and size everywhere, running around without a care in the world.

Mauke is renowned for being unspoilt and untouched. According to legend, the island - which is half the size of Rarotonga - was discovered by Uke. He was god-like figure who had travelled there from Avaiki, the spiritual homeland.

Uke named the island Akatokamanava – the place where my heart rests. Many years later, the people gave it the name Mauke – the land of Uke.

After our little tour we are presented with a feast – a whole pig, fish every way you can imagine, local taro and kinaki.

While sitting around the dinner table, we took the opportunity to get to know each other and Aunty Nane tells us to load up a plate for “afters”.

The next day we were picked up by our tour guides – Tangata Atereano, known as Super Ta and Dallaglio Anthony Turaki, or Teau Ariki Junior.

We are asked to introduce ourselves and as I had in Atiu and Mitiaro, I proudly proclaim that I’m a New Zealander, in my language – te reo Maori o Aotearoa.

The common thread I noticed was in each of the islands we visited, there’s a clear connection between New Zealand and Cook Islands Maori.

Anyone who knows the history of the great migration and the tuakana-teina concept, acknowledges that New Zealand Maori journeyed from a number of the Cook Islands to Aotearoa.

From that moment on, the conversations between Super Ta and I are only in Maori.

At one of our first stops – the Divided Church or Ziona – we are given a tour and brief history lesson by the lovely Nooapii Teau.

Built in 1882, the bright white structure was erected by the villages of Areora and Ngatiarua - they’ve retained the name but the church is anything but divided.

Like the other islands of Nga-Pu-Toru, Mauke is well known for its underground freshwater caves.

We visit Vai Ngaro and Super Ta tells us that cave explorers had been to Mauke to map their caves.

A short walk to Vai Ngaro in Mauke where Tangata Atereano tells us about the history of the islands fresh water caves. 20120428

Our visit is brief because we need to get to a huge banyan tree deep in the bush of Mauke.

Super Ta is a pro when it comes to swinging from the vines of the tree but advises us not to; he doesn’t want to feel bad if one of us breaks a limb or something.

Then it was off to the sacred burial place of Kea, perched high on a cliff overlooking Te Moana-nui-a-Kiva.

The story of Paikea and his wife Kea is one of those classic love stories. Paikea was a master fisherman, but was one day caught off guard by a hurricane so severe it carried him to the shores of Mangaia.

Eventually Paikea ended up on the East Coast of the North Island of New Zealand, but broken hearted Kea died on that cliff top waiting for her love to return, where she remains today.

A lot of awesome things happened while we were in Mauke.

For a start, the rain stopped long enough for things to start drying out a bit. Apparently it had been raining heavily for a few days.

Then, one of Aunty Nane’s goats had some babies.

Aunty Nane thanked us all for “the blessings we had brought with us”. No words could have expressed how grateful we were for the hospitality and generosity shown to those of us who stayed at Rii’s.

Mauke/Akatokamanava moved me and I understand why the ariki Uke gave this special place the name Akatokamanava.

Tiredness cannot be blamed for being a crying mess at the airport, perhaps I wasn’t ready to leave or was simply overwhelmed by the generosity of the people.

With a bottle of Akari Pi (Mauke miracle oil) and an ei made from artificial flowers so we don’t have to leave them on the plane, we set off on the last leg of our journey.

Instead of the short trip of 15 minutes that we had become accustomed to, it takes 40 minutes to get from Mauke to Mangaia.

Rudy Aquino takes a photo of “downstairs” from an “upstairs” lookout in Mangaia. 20120405

The people of Mangaia, or A’ua’u Enua, as it was originally known, don’t have to say a word for you to work out they are a people of mana and who are proud of their history.

Some say Mangaia is the oldest island in Polynesia and is more than 18 million years old. The rugged, terraced makatea landscape reveals the truth in that.

Like many of the other Pacific islands, the first European to arrive at Mangaia was Captain James Cook in 1777.

On our way to Babe’s Place in Oneroa, we stopped at a few historic locations like significant marae sites, the information centre and an “upstairs” lookout where you look down into where the people once resided. With massive walls of makatea protecting them, “downstairs” is like a fortress.

A lone goat is the sole occupant of one of Mangaia’s old clinics in Oneroa. 20120403

Thousands of people used to occupy the land, but in 2020 there is a population of just over 500.

It’s a sobering sight, seeing all the empty dwellings, but as someone who has left my own homeland and my family to pursue my career and experience new things, I understand the desire of some to head off and see the world and other opportunities.

We are, after all, the descendants of navigators and explorers.

Our tour guide Taoi Nooroa and bus driver Pa Nooroa have returned to their home island after spending many years in Australia and New Zealand and their hope is that, when they’re ready, other Mangaians do too.

Even though they share the same last name, they come from separate tapere or villages and don’t cross over into each other’s territory.

Taoi Nooroa and a treasured Mangaian adze. 20120406

Adison Rowe turned 13 on the night we arrived in Mangaia, so Sandee Cook, Vainepoto Tangaroa, Pauline Belliard and I go and organise two cakes for his birthday celebrations.

But we decide to go for a little look around, and end up getting lost somewhere “downstairs”.

With darkness approaching and a few directions from some really friendly locals we find our way back to Babe’s, but not in time to watch him blow out his candles.

Adison is a cruisy young man anyway and isn’t too fussed.

The next morning, we pile into the Mangaia School bus and we’re off on our island tour.

Pa is an exceptional driver who knows the tricky roads of Mangaia like the back of his hand. The roads are narrow and the makatea seemed to be so close you could touch it, but not once does the bus veer into it or do we feel unsafe.

Mangaia doesn’t have a jail and has a zero crime rate. The offences that are committed there are dealt with by the people.

When the missionaries arrived, they encouraged Mangaians to relocate from “downstairs”, to the coastline of the island.

The remnants of significant and advanced infrastructure are evident in the island’s taro patches and gardens, where the irrigation systems are top class.

We learn that pineapples were once the number one export, with land as far as the eye could see covered in them. 

Taoi is our tour guide on one side of Mangaia and Pa on the other. 

We stop for lunch at Golden Shells Tours where the art of making famous golden shells necklaces or ei pupu and other jewellery is showcased.

We are blessed to pay the amounts we did for the items we bought, given the amount of time and work that goes into them.

On this particular day, November 13 back in New Zealand my son and first born is celebrating his 21st birthday. I’d made the decision many months prior not to go back. Covid-19 put a stop to that, but it still didn’t make it any easier.

What did though, was being with a great bunch of people who knew about my son’s milestone and understood why I made the decision I had. It settled my heart being so far away from him but with people I now regard as family.

Taking in the views at the Lake Tiriara lookout hut in Mangaia. 20120404

On our last night in Mangaia, Taoi turns up at Babe’s with all his musical equipment and sings while our hosts prepare our dinner. 

He says that we all need to get up and either speak, sing or dance or do them all.

After dinner, most of our group retreat to their units but Rudy and Kanoe Aquino are entertainers through and through and as Rudy sings a traditional Hawaiian song, Kanoe dances gracefully.

In true entertainer style, Rudy throws Pauline and I in the deep end and says we will be singing.

Thankfully, Pauline chooses a song that I’m familiar with, a French classic ‘La vie en rose’.

My mum’s oldest brother wrote a song in New Zealand Maori to this tune and it has become my whanau’s anthem, so after Pauline sings in French accompanied by Rudy on guitar, I sing my lungs out.

Given that I’m missing my boy’s birthday it feels so right to be singing that song in that moment.

And just like that our six-day adventure is over and we are on our way back to Rarotonga.

We look at each other as we fly in and marvel at the beauty of the island we call our home.

I could write a book about the six-days I spent on the Southern Group Tour, it’s only been while writing these feature articles that more memories and “cool moments” have popped up and made me smile. 

When I decided to relocate to Rarotonga there was a degree of nervousness and apprehension.

But from the moment I touched down on November 25 2019, I knew I had made the right decision.

Spending six days in Nga-Pu-Toru (Atiu, Mauke and Mitiaro) and Mangaia has reinforced that and taught me so many things about simplicity and gratitude.

Most of all I’ve learnt about the importance of faith and being proud of who you are.

The writer’s trip to the southern Pa Enua was sponsored by Cook Islands Tourism Corporation and Island Hopper Vacations as part of an initiative to promote domestic travel experiences in the outer islands.