The harbor, market, Catholic mission, government residency, and administration building are all at Taunganui Landing. The area behind the administration building is known as Te Marae O Rongo with a stone circle and a large boulder once used as a seat by the chief. Inland at Makatea village, opposite a store with massive masonry walls, is the two-story concrete palace of the last queen of Mauke, who died in 1982. Unfortunately the building is falling into ruins because of squabbles among her descendants. At one end of the taro swamp in the valley behind the palace is Koenga Well, a source of fresh drinking water in years gone by.
The CICC church (1882) at the hub of the island has an almost Islamic flavor, with its long rectangular courtyard, tall gateways, perpendicular alignment, and interior decoration of crescents and interlocking arches. Because of an old dispute between Areora and Ngatiarua villages, the church was divided across the center and each side was decorated differently. The dividing partition has been removed, but dual gateways lead to dual doors, one for each village. The soft pastels (green, pink, yellow, and blue) harmonize the contrasting designs, and the pulpit in the middle unifies the two. Inset into the railing in front of the pulpit are nine old Chilean pesos. Look carefully at the different aspects of this building; it's one of the most fascinating in the Cook Islands.
Vai Tango Cave is fairly easy to find. From the Telecom office, go 500 meters northeast through Ngatiarua village and turn left after the last house. The cave is 500 meters northwest of the main road, at the end of a trail along a row of hibiscus trees. A large circular depression with Barringtonia trees growing inside, Vai Tango has a clear freshwater pool under the overhanging stalactites. The locals swim and bathe here. There are large rooms farther back in the cave but you'd need scuba gear and lamps to reach them.
A marae called Paepae A, 50 meters beyond the Vai Tango turnoff, was reconstructed from scratch in 1997. The stalagmites standing on the marae platform are two pieces of a single pillar once carried by the legendary chief Kai Moko (Eater of Lizards). On the ground behind Paepae A are four huge stones remaining from Marae Terongo. The origin of these volcanic rocks, unique on this coral island, is lost in time.
Back in Areora village, visit the woodcarvers who work in the house next to the Catholic church. One of their fine breadfruit leaf-shaped bowls would make a unique souvenir.
If you're still keen, you might wish to try to find Moti Cave, a large, open cave in the makatea. From the irrigation dam in the center of the island, follow the road south and take the left turn at a point where three roads separate. The cave is beyond the end of this road and you'll probably spend some time searching unless you have a guide. A guide is definitely required to find the freshwater pools of Motuanga Cave, the "Cave of 100 Rooms," which is deeper into the makatea from here. Limestone growth has made all but the first three rooms inaccessible.
Continue to Mauke: Around the Island »