Like 'Atiu and Mangaia, Ma'uke is ringed by makatea, though compared with the other islands it's relatively flat and walking across it is generally much easier. Most of the caves are only a short walk from the coastal road, and can be reached via ancient coral roads through the jungle. The deep, clear freshwater pools in many of the island's caves are a definite highlight, thoroughly welcome after a long tramp through the tangled bush.
You'll need a guide to find most of the caves on Ma'uke. Unlike many other islands, the problem is not that you'll be trespassing on private land - it's just that some of the caves are extremely hard to find and it's easy to get lost in the bush.
Motuanga Cave is Ma'uke's most famous cave, a network of tunnels and caverns that begins deep inland, but is rumoured to extend all the way out to sea. The cave is traditionally known as the 'Cave of 100 Rooms', and was often used by islanders as a hiding place from 'Atiuan war parties. Nobody can remember the last person who reached all of Motuanga's 100 rooms; the rocks are slowly closing in and nowadays you can
One of Ma'uke's most famous residents was the writer Julian Dash wood (1899-1971), a flamboyant English author who was known as 'Rakau' (wood) on the island. After spending his early years in Istanbul, South Africa and Malaya, Dashwood arrived in the Cook Islands in the 1930s, and worked in Manihiki and Mangaia before moving to Ma'uke, where he married a local woman and later ran the island store. Under the pseudonym of Julian Hillas, Dashwood wrote evocatively about his life and experiences in the Cook Islands in his books South Seas Paradise and Today is Forever, which is largely about Ma'uke. For a while in the 1960s he worked for the newly formed Cook Islands Government before giving up politics to return to writing. His grave can still be seen outside his old house (now derelict) near the airport - ask any local person to point it out.
only get into eight of them. There is a legend of one man, Timeni Oariki, who swam through all of them and finally emerged out at sea - where he was promptly eaten by sharks.
Motuanga and nearby Vai Moti - a great place to swim according to Ma'uke's school kids - can only be found with the help of a guide. The coral track is fairly obvious, but the small roads leading to it are a veritable maze. On the way to Motuanga, look out for the truly massive ara (banyan) tree near the beginning of the pathway - certainly the largest banyan on the island, and rumoured to be one of the biggest in the whole South Pacific.
The easiest cave to reach, and one of the best for swimming, is Vai Tango, which is a short walk from Ngatiarua village along a well-maintained track through vegetable patches and back gardens. The long crystal-blue pool might look shallow, but scuba divers reckon it extends more than 100m back and 50m across under the earth. The pool is often full of kids on Saturday and after school (handy guides if you don't know the way).
There are three intriguing caves in the northern part of the island, reached via an old track through the bush from One'unga Beach. Look out for the lopsided 'One'unga' sign on the coast road, and head slightly inland into the clearing on your right. You should be able to see where the track begins as it's walked fairly often. After about 15 minutes' walk, you'll pass Vai Ou, a beautiful cavern leading fairly steeply down to a pleasant pool, spanned by a small rock bridge which you can swim under. The track turns hard left here - another four minutes and you'll find Vai Moraro down on your right. Also known as the 'Crawling Cave' - you have to crawl down through a slit in the rock-face to get inside - it opens up into a large cave with some small, deep pools, filled with slightly salty water. Be careful walking around inside Vai Moraro, as the rocks are wet and slippery. About three minutes further east is Vai Tunamea, a deep, almost vertical sinkhole with a pool at the bottom - you could probably climb down but getting back out might not be so easy. Nearby, an ancient overgrown track apparently leads into the centre of the island, but you'll definitely need a guide if you fancy using it.
On the other side of the island, steep-sided Vai Tukume is hidden beside a midden of discarded cans and broken bottles more treacherous to cross than any jagged makatea, but the cave is easy enough to find.
Vai Ma'u, looking like the gateway to the underworld, is found after an uneasy walk through gnarly old trees twisting through the makatea. You might well see crabs the size of your hand scuttling across the pathway - local children often lay crab traps along the island's inland paths, and if you ask around you might be able to tag along. The huge coconut crab - almost eaten to extinction on Aitutaki - is still fairly abundant on Ma'uke, and its flesh is still a much-prized delicacy.
The coast road runs all the way around Ma'uke, a distance of 18km. None of it's paved - most of the road is little more than a jungle track, and you'll often have to dodge palm branches and coconuts that have fallen onto the road from the overhanging trees.
Ma'uke's beaches are totally secluded and many are practically invisible from the road thanks to the surrounding makatea cliffs. The lagoon is mostly shallow and not much good for swimming, but the beaches are great for sunbathing and shell collecting, and whichever cove you choose you'll probably have it entirely to yourself.
The beaches on the western and southern sides of the island, such as Anaokae, are pleasantly secluded. Other beaches, such as Anaraura and Teoneroa, have picnic areas with thatched shelters (and they're also popular with the island's resident pigs). One'unga, on the eastern side, is also a lovely beach that's ideal for a picnic and a stroll, as are Teoneroa and Tukume on the island's southwestern side.
The southern tip of the island bears the brunt of the prevailing winds, so you'll often see the surf here breaking in huge waves over the reef - a spectacular sight, though not one you'd want to witness too close-up. All around the island the waves have beaten the shoreline cliffs into overhanging formations.
Heading south from Tiare Cottages, the first turn-off towards the sea leads you to Kopupooki (Stomach Rock). The name
One of Ma'uke's beaches, Anaiti, has a special history. Up on the cliff above the sea is a mound of grey coral stones - the grave of Kea.
Kea's husband, Paikea, was out fishing one day in his canoe when a terrible storm blew him out to sea. Kea believed her husband was dead, and she cried and cried on that cliff overlooking the sea until she died of grief, and the people buried her there.
Paikea had not died at sea, however. He was blown over 100km by the storm, eventually reaching the island of Mangaia. He was almost killed there by the locals but escaped and sailed to Rarotonga. From there he departed for Aotearoa (New Zealand) and never returned to the Cooks again.
There are a few versions of how Paikea got to New Zealand: on the Takitumu canoe (which is known to have stopped at Rarotonga on its way from the Society Islands to New Zealand), on the Horouta canoe (which visited Rarotonga from New Zealand to get kumara), or, most famously, on the back of a whale. However he travelled, Paikea ended his voyage at Whangara, on the East Coast of New Zealand's North Island. A carved meeting house there bears a carving of Paikea, on the apex of the rooftop, sitting atop a whale.
Immortalised in legend and sculpture, Paikea is today a revered ancestor of New Zealand Maori tribes both on the East Coast and in the South Island. But poor Kea remains in her grave here on a cliff on Ma'uke, where she died of grief for her lost love.
If you want to pay your respects, look for two large stones beside the coastal road, on the seaward side. Walk towards the sea here, keeping just right of the small beach. Kea's grave is on a small headland, covered with stones and marked by a small plaque.
comes from a cave situated to your left as you face out to sea - go just past the last outcrop of rock that you see from the beach and you come to this dinky little cave, full of fish and good for swimming and snorkelling. You can only reach it at low tide; at other times, the pounding waves make it too dangerous. Except for the harbour, this is probably the only place deep enough for a good swim, since the reef all around the island is quite shallow.
Like all the other Cook Islands, Ma'uke has many marae (ancient religious meeting grounds) but many of them are substantially overgrown and not all that impressive.
Puarakura Marae is a modern marae, built in the 1980s for the Ariki Teau and still used today for ceremonial functions. There's a triangular area enclosed within a rectangle within another larger rectangle, with seats for the ariki, the mataiapo (head of a subtribe) and the rangatira (subchief).
Near Ma'uke's reservoir is Marae Rangi-manuka, the marae of'Uke, Ma'uke's famous ancestor and namesake. It's completely overgrown but if you stumble about in there you'll find an old stone seat.
Near the harbour, the ancient Marae 0 Rongo was once huge but all you see today are a few large stones and a coral platform. The marae is behind the Administration Centre; the little road going along the left (inland) side of the building leads right to it.
Paepae'a Marae, built in 1997 for Samuela Ariki, is an impressive marae on the road north from Ngatiarua to the airstrip.
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