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Mangaia - the oldest of all South Pacific islands

The view from Lyn’s house is breath-taking. The green peaks of a once upon a time crater give space to an empty mind. All you can hear is the wind blowing 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 been shaped by the water for thousands of years is made of ancient caves, used by the local people as burial sites some 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 perfectly 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 were skulls and bones are protected inside small niches of mineral rocks. The more you enter 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, some corners change between golden and silvery.

Following a path about 22 metres underground, we reached the end of the cave after 2 hours walk through a sometimes tricky but adventurous subterranean tunnels. To reach the exit of the cave we needed the help of 3 ladders resting on the tall wall and the aid of natural roots that we could use to lift 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 of special flowers like the bright Cosmos and rare fruit trees such as the Kumquat or Chinese mandarin tree. Ducks, dogs, cats and Ruby the little goat are happily playing around the house: this is true island life.

In the afternoon we cruised around the island with our motorbike for more sites seeing. Mangaia is easy to explore; roads are not paved but with a good motorbike and some spirit of adventure you can explore rock pools on the beach, the fresh waters of Tiriara Lake, inland villages and get to spectacular lookouts to valleys of taro, banana and pineapple plantations. We even spotted a native Tavake, red-tailed tropic bird from Paata lookout in Oneroa village!

And here comes the night, quieter than the bigger sister Rarotonga, but impregnated with 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 shoots!

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

25 July 2018


Photo courtesy: Siva Gounder