DaNS la gUeUle DU moNSTre, ToarUTU / inside the monster mouth, toarutu

calaNqUe De NaaIroa / cove of naairoa photos : Jean-philippe yuam

The Cave-Dweller’s Island rurutu grew out of the ocean over the ages as a result of persistent underwater volcanic activity or so-called “hot spots.” a first hot spot created an island and as the island drifted with the continental plate and passed over the next hot spot, millions of years later, it was literally lifted dozens of meters. This cataclysmic shift beneath the surface of the ocean led to the transformation of rurutu’s fringing reef and coastal sea cliffs which are riddled with caves. over time the forces of erosion have remodeled the basaltic and calcareous coastline creating a sight that is nothing short of spectacular. It is well worth it to take the time to visit rurutu’s caves, because they are full of incredible concretions of peculiar shapes and forms. In ancient times people lived in these caves. The exact number of caves is not known—dozens, if not hundreds of caves exist here—, but some lie out of reach and have yet to be discovered. according to legend one of the caves holds a treasure. It is said that when the missionaries arrived in 1821 the island’s king hid numerous sacred familial objects in a cave by the matonaa cliffs, and that a single guardian knew the way to the cave. The secret of the location of the cave was handed down from father to son until the last guardian named otare took the secret to his grave. The hunt for the treasure continues! The Te ana ae’o is another noteworthy cave. When French President François Mitterrand visited Rurutu in 1990 in order to make the financing of the road that goes across the island from moerai to avera official, he attended a typical Polynesian show with traditional dance and singing in this

cave, and the cave has carried his name ever since. Some of the caves can be visited simply by hiking along the coastline, whereas it is better to visit others —such as the ones at mauo point—with a guide who can tell you about all the legends related to these caves. another famous legend is the one about the mountain summits of rurutu, which—if we are to believe the oral tradition—were named by the demi-god “Iro-i-te-pu- mana-tu” who was said to reign over rurutu in ancient times. In order to name the mountains he threw his spears from the village of avera. Since he failed to hit the first mountain, he called it Teapa which means “the mountain of error.” he managed to hit the second mountain with several spears that he linked together and therefore named it Taatioe, meaning “attached together.” a single spear hit the third mountain, and when he went to fetch his spear he found a little bird sitting on it. as he took the spear, the bird took flight, and so he decided to name the mountain manureva, meaning “the bird that takes flight.” as he thought he was done with this process of naming the mountains, he simply named the last mountain he came across that day for erai or “the end.” But as the night fell, the demi-god needed light and he called the mountain where he found light Taurama, “the torch.” So goes the legend about the five most famous mountains on the island of rurutu. You can visit the mountains hiking by foot or on horseback. at the southernmost point of the island lies the former volcano of Naairoa which has, over time, partially covered the ancient cliffs. The lava rock flows drop down into the lagoon making for beautiful valleys and bays that hide white sandy beaches. The Toataratara beach is probably the most stunning of them all.