At 18km wide, the island of Mauke is half as big as Rarotonga but this is where any comparison ends – the central volcanic plateau climbs to a height of just 30m and the fossilised coral reef of makatea forms a surround with a very small lagoon. The white crested waves crashing onto the reef form a spectacular backdrop.

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About Mauke

General Information About Mauke

According to legend Mauke was originally named Akatokamanava, 'the place where my heart rested', by the Chief Uke after a long voyage from Avaiki. It's a fittingly romantic name for the beautiful Cook Islands. He also gave his beautiful daughter to Chief Atiu-Mua whose descendants populated both Mauke and Atiu.

It was they who renamed the island Mauke, meaning land of Uke. Of the current three main ariki or chiefs, Samuela, Tararo and Teau Ariki, only Samuela and Teau ariki are direct descendants of Uke. Regardless, there is no doubt that the natural beauty of this island also extends to its people who are recognised as being some of the most handsome in the Cook Islands – especially the women.

Before the arrival of the Europeans, the Atiuans waged invasions on a regular basis – for those prized women and food. Then the infamous John Williams and his entourage of missionaries landed in 1823. And the British flag was hoisted in 1888, then annexed to New Zealand in 1901 at which time the population, which hasn't altered much, was recorded as 370.

At 18km wide, Mauke is half as big as Rarotonga – but this is where any similarity ends. With its central volcanic plateau climbing to a height of 30m, the fossilised coral reef of makatea forms a surround with a very short lagoon. The white crested waves crash onto the reef to form a spectacular vision and backdrop.

It is the caves that create the mystery of this spectacular island. The Motuenga, which is said to have a hundred separate underground chambers leading to the sea, is but one of the multitudes dotted all over with deep freshwater pools filled with cool crystal waters.

Lying above is the brilliant verdant and fertile land which earns Mauke its name as "the garden island". Filled with fragrant wildflowers and magnificent hardwood trees this is where the maire bush grows wild – a source of a thriving export industry to Hawaii with the leaves being used for the garlands used for chiefly occasions.

Picking a path along the unsealed crushed coral roads on the way to Motuenga such richness is also reflected in the surprise encounter of the largest banyan tree in the world – over an acre in size. Either side are huge barringtonia and ironwood trees scattering their needles to form a soft springy carpet and endless exotic plants that leave the impression of a natural hothouse.

And like Aitutaki, there are no dogs. Wild pigs however are prolific. And the ubiquitous wild roosters who seem to have lost their timer in other islands, like Rarotonga, are perfectly well behaved and crow as they should, at dawn.

Peace reigns supreme on this tiny island and as you cycle lazily round the coral roads curving gently through coconut palms and hardwood trees; every so often you will find a small sandy beaches bordered by coral rocks. And in amongst the emerald vegetation the "noni" tree or Indian Mulberry, grows wild.

Touted as the cure-all elixir for every ailment known to man, it is an ancient island herbal medicine, which – be warned – requires strength of will to swallow. But the benefits are worth it they say. The Maukeans obviously are well versed in folk medicine as its miracle oil or akari pi, coconut oil mixed with the pi herb, is also recognised for its healing properties and as massage oil.

Low lying white coral walls front the houses of the villages, the first of which is Kimiangatau where sits the small hospital and the original house of Julian Dashwood (a.k.a Rakau) the English writer who recorded many a book on island life while working in Mangaia, Manihiki and eventually Mauke.

Other villages include Ngatiarua and Areora/Makatea. Oiretumu lies between them housing yet another famous piece of architecture – the Ziona Church – or as the locals call it, the Divided Church.

Built in 1882, it was once described by New Zealand artist Samuel Palmer as one of the 12 most fascinating churches in the world. An example of early Western architecture mixed with Pacific influences along with a lot of Maukean ingenuity, this is only part of its appeal.

As history relates, two builders living in Areora had very different visions of what they wanted to construct. Village support was split, so a compromise was reached where each of the builders created their own dream; with two entrances built and designated sides for each of the two village groups.

It did unite the village however, and allow creativity to reign. Hand-carved trellises are superb examples of early craftsmanship with magnificently bright, clear colours used to provide an extraordinarily breathtaking effect of an earthbound rainbow.

In the late 1990s some ill-advised reverend decided to paint it in the traditional shades of white and blue. Fortunately this piece of misguided artistry was recognised by the community and the restoration of the rainbow inside Ziona Church was completed in 2008.

All that island folklore could leave you wondering whether there is more to tell – there is. Mauke has an impressive history, with at least 11 sites termed marae.

Not the marae as used by the New Zealand Maori. But ceremonial edifices similar to those found in other parts of Eastern Polynesia which contain prepared structures with paving, stone walls or platforms and a "tapu" or sacred surround. Associated with the Mauke ancestors they are however unlike the same large stone structures found elsewhere in the Southern Cook Islands and in Tahiti. They are unique and a reflection of this truly one of a kind Pacific isle.

For more information on where to stay and what to do, visit our Mauke directory.

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