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CI Times Weekly | Current Issue 412| 19 Augugst 2011

An impression of Mangaia
Englishman, David Blackmore writes about his trip to Mangaia on Taio Shipping’s Maungaroa II. David is now based in Bend, Oregon, USA but also has a home in Granada, Spain. He is a construction project manager who travels extensively. He has traveled throughout the South Pacific and this is his third visit to the Cook Islands. He first visited in 1986.

Since Mangaia’s volcanic peaks appeared above the waters of the South Pacific Ocean some 18 million years ago, all other islands in the region have been created by the same tectonic processes, arising from the huge depths of the greatest ocean on our blue- green jewel of a planet.
Through the weathering of time some of these islands have come and gone, disappearing to long lost eroded mounts now below the seas. Mangaia, itself, has evolved, its once precipitous volcanoes reduced to a few meters above sea level and even its longitudinal and latitudinal position shifting as the plates that define Continental Drift have continued to open up the Pacific Ocean. This is a dynamic planet with not only rising and falling sea levels but also rising and sub ducted land, and it was Mangaia’s fate to be uplifted by geological forces, creating the wondrous world of the Makatea, a fossilized coral interior that at present reaches heights of 60 meters above sea level. It is here that rich volcanic soils and an abundance of water combine to produce large plantations of taro in particular.
The Makatea is a scenic landscape, on one side high fossilized coral ridges and adjacent what appear to be rolling hills covered by forest. Islanders tend their plantations with regularity, cropping and replanting, while against the sheer cliffs defining the interior of the Makatea on the Western side, lies the lake of Tiriara, with its cave of Tangiia where water flows out through a complex of subterranean channels until it reaches the sea. In ancient times some of these caves were not only used as burial sites, but were also a refuge for those seeking safety from fighting. It is hard to imagine that such conflict could have happened as nowadays to look around Mangaia all you find is serenity, scenic beauty and very friendly welcoming islanders. Hiking around leaves you mostly in solitude apart from the occasional cluster of goats and pigs. Even going through all the villages on the island, they all seen extremely quiet. Old buildings of coral and lime stand as decaying monuments, to a time gone by, slowly returning to the earth, as the more modern houses have replaced them. Flowers adorn their gardens while omnipresent corridors of coconut palms line the compacted dirt and crushed limestone roads near the coast.
To think that the long runway on the island was once the backup landing place for the Space Shuttle seems at odds with its tranquil nature, yet the Cook Islands are full of surprises, whether it is a breaching humpback whale along the coral reef, or a friendly islander handing you a ‘Nu’, with its refreshing, slightly fizzy, coconut water, and sharing some stories and island history; it is all there.
Mangaia’s orange and then pineapple plantations have largely gone along with many of its inhabitants. Once with a population of about 2000, Mangaia now has some 500 permanent residents, yet tourist do come and love the experience. Most come by air on the 40 minute flight from Rarotonga, while a few come by sea. Opportunities to explore caves, cool pools, snorkel the coral reefs, visit the villages, hike the Makatea, enjoy the beach, watch a sunrise or sunset and above all enjoy the ambience of Mangaia’s people provide for a wonderful experience. The memories will linger and once you have been to Mangaia, you will never return a stranger.

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