Catriona heads away from the traditional resorts of the South Pacific to a remote and rugged island in the Cook Islands.
Mangaia is the Cook Islands' southern-most and second largest island, but is not much smaller than Rarotonga. Touted as being the oldest island in the Pacific, its central hills are surrounded by an outer rim of raised coral reef called a makatea, believed to have risen from the ocean in stages over the last two million years and the lagoon inside the fringing coral reef is very narrow and shallow.
Its geography is quite dramatic with the makatea rising rapidly from the coast to 60 metres in some places and dropping as a sheer wall to the inner region. In some spots you can climb to the top of the cliff for uninterrupted, impressive views.
Streams and rivers run from the central hills to a dead end and filter through the makatea, emerging as small freshwater springs.
Scrub, ferns, vines, coconut palms and other trees grow on the makatea. Taro swamps are found around the inner edge where water collects between the hills and coral flatlands as well as the central valleys which are the most fertile part of the island and where various crops grow.
Most Polynesians have legends relating to ancestors who arrived by canoe, but Mangaia is different. They believe the three sons of the god Rongo simply lifted the island from the deep and became its first settlers and predecessors of the Nga Ariki tribe.
The population of less than 700 lives mostly in three villages Oneroa, Ivirua and Tamarua and has its own language. Local government is different from other islands' and relies on a mix of modern and traditional practices. The traditional system relates to land ownership where families pass land through generations. If a dispute arises, chiefs are used for mediation sessions, rather than taking it through a court. Island infrastructure and matters such as education and power are under the jurisdiction of the central government which comprises of a mayor, six island council members and the island's traditional leaders and chiefs as well as Mangaia's queen.
There is a rather bumpy road running around the little island and there you will come across the Ara Moana Bungalows on the eastern coast, just five minutes' walk south of the beautiful village of Ivirua. Jan Kristensson is a Swede who in 1974 married Tu, a Mangaian. In 1997 they realised their dream and opened eight bungalows in a forest clearing. Ara Moana Hotel is small enough to ensure personalised service to their visitors.
There's plenty to do if you fancy some activity, such as abseiling, trekking through virgin bush, deep freshwater cave diving, diving and snorkelling, plus you can trail-bike through the hilly interior or go bareback horseriding.
For the more active, there are hiking trips with a local guide and a visit to the caves around the fossilised coral of the makatea. You can also fish from an outrigger canoe or ride a motorbike around the island.
If you prefer something calmer, you can attend a local chief's tea party or join the village ladies at the handcraft get-togethers. Twice a week, Ara Moana has an "island night" with a traditionally-cooked meal, string band and dance group.
Just five minutes from the main village of Oneroa is Babe's Place. They have just six motel-style units, each with bathroom and suitable for a couple, or there is a two-bedroom house which takes six. All meals are included and guests are invited to eat at a communal table. There is entertainment on weekends.
The Mamas and Papas is a group which comes together to exhibit their handicraft in the village marketplace. There is weaving, embroidered goods, neck and head garlands and jewellery made from pupu shells. The men work using fibre, stone and wood. They generally sing as they work, making a visit with them a very happy one.
Visitors can visit the local school and watch team sports such as rugby, netball and tennis.