Mangaia is not a beautiful island in the usual sense, but it is an island of great beauty.  The landscape is incredibly rugged, many roads are rough and rubble-strewn, but everywhere there's greenery and life.   And what makes it most special are the people.  Mangaians have a fierce sense of independence, great pride in their island and show incredible warmth to visitors.
Road through the makatea
MANGAIA'S SYDNEY HARBOUR BRIDGE?!

This road near Tava'enga village was blasted through the makatea in 1951 using war surplus explosives.  It was an amazing engineering feat.  Before it, bulky goods were carried on horseback up a series of steps.   Ewan Smith, in his superb "coffee table" book 'The Cook Islands' likens it to Sydney Harbour Bridge for the way it revolutionised transportation.


Pigs and chickens seem to be everywhere.  The pigs have a particular liking for coconuts and mangos...and their meat takes on these flavours
Right: The island is honeycombed with caves.   Some have been used for hundreds of years as tombs...visitors can take a tour.
LUSH LANDSCAPE

The road connects the coastal plain with the richly fertile interior where swamps are filled with lush taro plantations (left).   Their appearance has been likened to padi fields in the Philippines or Bali.  Taro is something of an acquired taste, but its tuberous root and its leaves are a complete food...providing all the vitamins and minerals the body needs.
SNAPSHOTS OF ISLAND LIFE
Lynn Martin is great ambassador for the island.  She's run the little airport shop for years and also helps promote tourism

Mangaia store keeper
Mangaia store
The closest Mangaia gets to a supermarket!  What's available inside is down to how recently the supply ship called in at the island.  Typically it visits every two months.  But I'll always remember the friendly welcome so typical of all islanders (Sadly the young man behind the counter has since died but I want to keep his picture here as a reminder of a truly lovely person)
Makatea everywhere
TOP TIP FOR VISITORS
The number one "must have" for any visitor is a strong pair of walking shoes.  The fossilised coral, or makatea, makes for very rough walking...and with almost no proper roads, my feet were sore for days after wandering around the island.  But don't be deterred from venturing out...you'll meet some very friendly locals (both human and animal!) and enjoy unique scenery.
Tamarua village sign
Tamarua is one of three villages on the island
Mangaia CICC church
As with the rest of the Cook Islands, religion plays an important part in Mangaian life
Mangaian family
New friends met while out walking...this grandfather was showing the boys how he clears overgrown vegetation so his goats can graze safely
Everywhere the rugged makatea reminds you how ancient this island really is
School sculpture
Outside the island school...a reminder to students about the rewards of hard work.  It says: "The Maori can achieve anything the Papaa can but to do this he must Work! Work! Work!"
(A papa'a is a foreigner)

Personal Impressions
King John of Mangaia
BRITISH AND PROUD OF IT
British vistors are given a particularly warm welcome on Mangaia...because islanders still think of themselves as British!   I was told that this patriotism dates back to Queen Victoria's day when King John of Mangaia (pictured left, standing) paid Her Majesty a visit in London.  

After his audience at Buckingham Palace he was careful to walk backwards and so continue facing the Queen.  Victoria was so impressed at his courtesy that she presented him with a Union Flag with her picture on it, and told him that Mangaia would from that day forward forever be part of Great Britain.  I'm told the flag still exists, albeit in two pieces!  Half is supposed to be in the the home of the current queen of Mangaia, and the other half in Tonga.

MEANDERINGS AROUND MANGAIA
An oasis of greenery
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Pigs and chickens
Mangaia airport: simple but very friendly
It's not quite like the filling stations most of us are used to
Pineapple
Pineapples are easy to grow in the fertile soil, but hopes of making it a big commercial operation weren't realised because it was "the wrong sort of pineapple"