Mangaia is the oldest island in the Pacific, estimated to be 18 million years old.
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Mangaia

Mangaia is the oldest island in the Pacific, with geologists estimating to be at least 18 million years. The island is well known for its contrasting geological features – dramatic fossilized cliffs, low-lying fertile swamps, and plunging caves – but it is better known for the fruit of its peoples labour. Mangaia is famous for its pineapples, which are said to be the juiciest grown in the Cook Islands, and for pupu ei’s, handmade shell necklaces made from tiny yellow snail shells.

Makatea
Mangaia is a terraced island. The remarkable 60 metre coastal cliffs fall away to coastal swamps, and these are cut off from the raised interior by inner cliffs of makatea. A narrow road winds impressively through steep cliffs between the coast and interior that are referred to by locals as “upstairs” and “downstairs.” The island’s traditional name Auau or Auau Enua actually means “steps” or “terraced” and refers to the terraces created by the makatea.

Dramatic Caves
Another of Mangaia’s dramatic features are its caves. The most impressive is Te Rua Rere, a burial cave that was discovered in the1930s by local Tuaratua George and author Robert Dean Frisbie. Tuaratua’s grandson Tuara still runs cave tours. Te Rua Rere is the largest on the island running for more than a kilometre, maybe even two; it is said that no one has yet been to the end of the cave. There are dozens of other caves studded with stalactites and stalagmites, including a cave at the far end of Lake Tiriara.

History of Mangaia
The history of Mangaia is unique from the other Cook Islands. Oral tradition says that this island was lifted from the deep by Rangi, Mokoiro and Akatauira – the three sons of the god Rongo. These three sons settled on the island and are the ancestors of the Nga Ariki tribe. Mangaia’s written history began on 29 March 1777 when Captain James Cook was on his second Pacific voyage, despite sailing on to Atiu without stopping.

“The island defies time. To walk the roads of the interior is to move through a world of light and heat, of green and red, of total quiet,” writes John Walters about Mangaia. A visit to Mangaia offers a gentle immersion into Cook Islands culture and an opportunity to wander deep into the heart of this ancient island.

As the most southern island in the Cook Islands archipelago, Mangaia is certainly off the beaten track; fortunately it is still easily accessible. Flights frequent the island twice a week from Rarotonga, and arrangements to travel there can be made with Tipani Tours.

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