Rua Rere

Te Rua Rere Cave - Teruarere Cave - Flying Cave

Useful Information

Location: Mangaia Island.
North side of Mangaia, on the northern Cross-Island Road.
(-21.908291, -157.936764)
Open: after appointment.
Fee: yes.
Classification: SpeleologyKarst cave
Light: bring torch
Dimension: L=791 m, VR=24 m, A=43 m asl.
Guided tours: self guided
Photography: allowed
Accessibility: no
Bibliography: Joann C. Ellison (1994): Caves and Speleogenesis of Mangaia, Cook Island, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C., U.S.A., August 1994. pdf
Address: Te Ruarere Cave, Perau family,
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
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used as a burial cave.
1930s rediscovered by a native Mangaian in company with the celebrated American writer and Pacific exile, Robert Dean Frisbie.


The makatea of Mangaia is riddled with smaller caves. The largest and the most spectacular is Rua Rere. This burial cave was rediscovered in the 1930s by the locals.

A large collapsed entrance leads into the cave. The branches of a tree emerge at ground level. The narrow entrance passage, has several smaller openings above, where tree roots wind down to floor level. After this low muddy opening the cave becomes much more enclosed. The main cavern has developed along a long, narrow, high fissure. It contains many glistening, white stalactites and stalagmites. Human skeletons lie all around.

Text from George Szentes (2004): Caves of the Cook Islands, The British Caver Vol. 127 Spring 2005, pp 1-12, 13 color pictures, 1 bw picture, 1 map. With kind permission of the author.

The Te Ruarere Cave is owned by the Perau family, who offer guided tours. The cave has a main chamber with stalactites and stalagmites and patches of calcite crystals glittering in the torchlight. Then the tour follows the main passage, a huge but rather narrow, gorge-like and wining passage. There is a trail which is mostly level, but there are some spots where it is necessary to climb debris. Good walking shoes are recommended.

...everyone on the island agrees: Maui Perau's cave is the most exciting. Perau is the island's school-bus driver. Each morning he flashes me a maniacal grin as he drives past, both hands off the wheel and waving madly like a long-lost relative. When I meet him outside his family cave - Te Rua Rere - he high-fives me, tells me I'm his first client in three months and says he has no idea what to expect inside.
Within a few metres of the entrance, Perau shows me some of his ancectors' skulls. "Hey bro, haven't seen you around, what you been up to?" Perau asks of a toothy skeleton. We enter an amphitheatre-like chamber and the stalactites and stalagmites are as arresting as Tuatini's. As we move forward, the chamber narrows to a tiny passage. "From this point on, it gets real hard," Perau giggles.
From an article by Craig Tansley, 2011

The cave is entered on top of the makatea by climbing down a steep collapse doline. A large Hernandia moerehroutiana tree marks the entrance. The cave is a single passage, a fossil stremway, a now water less river cave. The passage is quite spacious, between 1 and 10 m wide and between 10 and 30 m high. Along the passage there are four karstfensters which allow some light into the cave. All are located on the first 200 m.

Like most caves on the island the cave was used for burials, but it is not a burial cave. At one point there are probably seven skeletons surrounded by stones. Nevertheless, the cave is considered a cemetery and for any visit a permission from the nearby Oneroa village is required.

The bird bones in the cave were studied by the ornithologist D Steadman. They show that early Polynesian settlement caused the extinction of many bird species. They were obviously hunted and eaten.