Where to Find Caves on Mauke
An uplifted coral atoll awash in limestone, Mauke is the perfect place to go caving! Hidden among the island’s “makatea” (limestone rock) is a selection of caves that are enough to excite any traveller seeking adventure. While most of Mauke’s caves have a swimming pool, locally known as “vai”, there’s the odd cave with passages and chambers to explore (although, we don’t think you’re going to like what you find about one such cave that used to be a favourite to explore…) So dive into the majestic caves of Mauke with us and plan which ones to explore!
Needless to say, sturdy shoes are essential for hiking to and exploring the rugged caves with sharp makatea. Insect repellent is also a must, while a guide is necessary to visit most caves, typically costing NZ$30-$50 per person. Learn more about that in the list below.
1. Vai Tango
A short walk from Ngatiarua village, Vai Tanga Cave is the easiest (and best) cave to visit on Mauke. There’s a 500m (550-yard) trail through gardens and jungle to this popular swimming hole with a platform to make getting in (and out) a breeze.
Location: Accessible off the main road in Ngatiarua. Ask locals where to find the trail. Alternatively, Vai Tango Cave is included on tours around the island.
2. Vai Moti
This cave can be found on the way to The Giant Banyan Tree of Mauke (which you can learn more about in the 15 Best Things to Do on Mauke). The trail to the Vai Moti and the tree can be found along the main road between Areora village and A’anga Beach. From the roadside, take a 15-minute trail to Vai Moti, a small cave with a swimming hole where you a take a quick dip!
Location: There is a clearing on the road to the start of this trail between Areora village and A’anga Beach on the east coast. As the trail is difficult to find, it is best to explore this area with a guide, which can be arranged through your accommodation.
3. Motuanga Cave (The Cave with 100 Rooms)
From the Giant Banyan Tree (mentioned above), if you continue on the trail for a further 500m (550 yards), you will reach Motuanga Cave, also known as “The Cave with 100 Rooms”. While this cave used to be accessible to explore its passages and underground pool, the chambers have collapsed in recent years making the cave largely inaccessible. You can just look at weep from the outside instead.
Location: Along the trail to the Banyan Tree and Vai Moti. There is a clearing on the road to the start of this trail between Areora village and A’anga Beach on the east coast. As the trail is difficult to find, it is best to explore this area with a guide, which can be arranged through your accommodation.
4. Stomach Rock (Kopupooki Beach)
Hidden away on Kopupooki Beach is an open cave with a swimming pool inside! On the trail just after Tiare Cottages, a hanging buoy indicates where to walk down to the beach. Once on the beach, walk down the beach/reef to your left when facing the ocean. Go around the outcrop and you’ll find a small cave (hence the name “Stomach Rock“) with a pool inside, ideal for a swim! You can only reach this cave at low tide. Make sure you’re out of there before the tide comes in!
Location: East side of Mauke. On the coastal road, take the first turnoff toward the sea after Tiare Cottages. Learn more about Tiare Cottages in The Best Mauke Accommodations.
5. Vai Ou
Opposite One’unga Beach in the north of the island is a rough trail through the bush. After about a 15-minute walk you’ll reach the steep passage down to Vai Ou where a murky pool invites you for a swim.
Location: Access is from a trail opposite One’unga Beach on the north coast of the island. It’s best to go with a guide, which can be arranged through your accommodation.
6. Vai Moraro
Continuing from Vai Ou (see point #5 above), from the rock bridge that spans over the pool of Vai Ou, take a hard left and walk for another five minutes to find Vai Moraro also known as “The Crawling Cave” due to the fact that the only way in is through a slit in the rockface. Inside are some small but deep salty pools.
Location: Along the trail to Vai Ou (see above). Access is from a trail opposite One’unga Beach on the north coast of the island. It’s best to go with a guide, which can be arranged through your accommodation.
7. Vai Tumamea
The final cave on the trail opposite One’unga Beach, Vai Tumamea is about three minutes walk east of Vai Moraro (see point #6 above). This is an almost vertical sinkhole that ends with a pool.
Location: At the end of the Vai Ou and Vai Moraro trail (see above). Access is from a trail opposite One’unga Beach on the north coast of the island. It’s best to go with a guide, which can be arranged through your accommodation.
8. Vai Ngaro
A carved wooden sign points out the trail to this swimming cave on the southwest inland road. There is a rope to help guide you down to the bottom of Vai Ngaro where you can explore and go for a swim! The local villages have received funding to improve access to this cave, so hopefully, it will be easier to find once you arrive there! Otherwise, ask the local kids for directions, it’s usually their favourite swimming spot.
Location: Southwest island road between Areora village and Tukume Landing.
9. Vai Ma’u
A walk over gnarled tree roots over the makatea eventually leads you to this less-visited cave on Mauke. Vai Ma’u cave entrance is like a gateway to the underworld! The area is also a popular crab-trapping area, with coconut traps to lure the prized “unga” (coconut crabs).
Location: Southwest coast, off the coastal road between Tukume and Rererua Beaches. The trail is hard to find, so it’s best visited with a guide.
More About Caves in Mauke and the Cook Islands
That’s it for our list of the best caves on Mauke! For more cave exploration, check out the caves across the rest of the Cook Islands:
Finally, complete the rest of your bucket list with the 101 Best Things to Do in the Cook Islands: The Ultimate List.