Photo: Cook Islands Tourism
The most easterly of the Cook Islands is about 45 minutes flying time from the capital island, Rarotonga - but a world away in terms of landscape and lifestyle. There are few tourists...I was the only one on the island when I visited and I was immediately greeted with a traditional neck ei (flower gardland). The welcome is the warmest I've ever received at an airport. Expect to be mobbed by children, keen to see pictures of themselves on your digital camera or smartphone! Everyone has time to stop and chat or at the very least give you a friendly wave, and the islanders are justly proud of a beautiful home. Some call it the garden of the Cook Islands. I would simply say...Mauke is magical
I counted four signs like this but the only thing to give way to was the occasional chicken or goat! With just 17 motor vehicles and the occasional moped, walking's a pleasure
The roads are made of crushed coral, and with no street lights that also makes them easier to see at night.
Pigs, chickens and goats are everywhere. And in the half light before dawn, even the persistent pounding of the ocean is drowned out by a cacophony of cockerels telling you it's time to get up and discover more of Mauke
Deep underground caves and lakes honeycomb the island. Vai Tango (above) is the most easily accessible with refreshingly cool subterranean waters. Motuanga in the south east is the largest and this 'Cave of 100 Rooms' stretches all the way through the makatea to the coast
The coastline and much of the interior is rugged. Razor sharp fossilised coral called makatea forms a ring around the island. It's fascinating and awe inspiring to walk round....but make sure you have rugged shoes
Women go deep into the interior to gather young stems of maire (pronounced Maa-ee-re) which is a type of fern. They have to navigate through the jagged makatea and avoid the wild pigs that inhabit it to reach the plant. Then, with incredible skill and speed, they strip away the inner stem and weave the maire into leis. These are often exported to Hawaii, where they sell for many times the few dollars the Maukeans get for their hard work. The industry has been struggling for some time as fewer people want to do the hard work, but efforts are now being made to nurture seedlings and the hope is that they can be planted in gentler landscapes
Garlands of Mauke maire are still seen in abudance at local celebrations. Former Prime Minister, Henry Puna is pictured at the annual cultural festival (Te Maeva Nui).
And stunning Tiare Maori and ara (pandanus fruit) garlands were specially created by Mauke businessman, Taratoa Metuariki for regional Prime Ministers and other VIPs attending the Pacific Islands Forum in Rarotonga in August, 2012
Two photos here: Cook Islands News
Accommodation on Mauke is limited...the Island Council has decided there should be rooms for no more than 40 visitors. Tiare Cottages, in a beautiful garden setting just back from the Ocean, are the most popular place to stay with a choice of three types of room. Cottages are basic, but immaculately clean. Note though..only "O Kiva" - the ocean front cottage has running hot water
Cooking facilities are provided, but for a few dollars extra you can enjoy huge meals cooked by your hosts Teata and Ta(ngata) Ateriano....including fish ordered daily from the fisherman and delivered freshly caught. There are no restaurants or cafes on the island.
I'd strongly recommend Ta's sightseeing trip round the island. It's was worth every penny of the NZ$25 I paid for the pillion ride on the moped alone!!! (the price may have gone up since I was on the island). And it includes a fresh coconut drink - with Ta climbing up a tree to select the coconut, then preparing it for you with his machete
Stores are few and far between. But when did you last see a department store that was in such a beautiful setting? What's available depends on how recently the supply ship called in with its delivery. But Kamoe isn't worried. And she's always got ice cold water and time for a friendly chat with passers by like me! A truly lovely person typical of Maukeans.
The people of Mauke also love getting together to celebrate the joy of living. Marcel Teraimana Tua lived most of his life on the island, where many of his family still live. At the time he sent me these photos he was studying in New Zealand and aiming to use his studies to help his fellow islanders. Here's how he summed up his home island:
"I really love Mauke because it's quiet, very peaceful and the lifestyle is laid back and slow. There are no flashing lights and fancy tall buildings. It's all natural and everything is basically there. All a person needs...is to know how to live off the land and sea and all that it provides."
I so hope this is still in use today. It's the the departures and arrivals (black)board with passenger names on it Oh and don't forget to thank the locals who turn up early to clear pigs and cockerels from the runway
And as you leave Mauke, the brilliantly white "Divided Church" - or Ziona Church to give it its proper name - is the only visible structure amid a mass of greenALL ABOUT MAUKE