What to Do on Mitiaro: The Top Attractions, Tours and Activities
Mitiaro might seem strikingly small with very few people (only around 155 people live here), but it’s also one of the most rewarding islands to visit in the Cook Islands. An uplifted coral atoll lying between Atiu and Mauke, the island shares their characteristics of rugged “makatea” (coral rock) that has allowed incredible formations to develop in and around the island. Dive deep into its crystal-clear cave pools and discover many quaint beaches among the cracks of the makatea stretching out onto the reef. There’s history and lots of local charm to experience between the Cook Island’s only fort and the villages’ delightful markets. Discover what you could be getting up to on this blissfully peaceful island in this list of the best things to do on Mitiaro!
Don’t forget to bookmark The Complete Travel Guide to Mitiaro for more essential advice.
1. Jump into the Deep Cave Pool of Vai Nauri
One of the best (if not the best) swimming caves in the Cook Islands, Vai Nauri holds a deep pool with clear deep blue waters and striking limestone features. There are a set of steps down to the pool or you can clamber around the pool and jump off a 3m (10ft) outcrop into the deep waters. Try to get there on weekdays when the kids are in school to experience the eerie silence of this cave as you’re floating under a canopy of dripping stalactites. Discover more amazing caves to visit in our 5 Best Caves on Mitiaro.
Location: West side of Mitiaro. A short dead-end road to Vai Naui can be found a few hundred metres north of the Lake Rotonui turnoff.
2. Soothe the Skin in the Sulphur Pools of Vai Marere
The only sulphur pool in the Cook Islands, Vai Marere is known among the locals for its healing minerals. Bathe in the healing waters yourself by finding this easy-to-miss cave pool after a 10-minute walk from Mangarei village. It looks small from the roadside, but as you go down the concrete stairs, the cave opens up into a relatively large cavern with stalactites hanging from the ceiling.
Location: East side of Mitiaro. Just off the cross-island road, approximately 200m/219 yards (10-minute walk) from Mangarei.
3. Take a Tiki Tour Around the Island
Simply exploring the island is one of the joys of visiting Mitiaro. Many of the sights listed in this “best things to do on Mitiaro” can be found on the roadside! Stop by glorious beaches, head down to awesome swimming caves, soak in the silence of the island’s plantations and more! The roads are in relatively decent condition to enjoy a ride via car or, a local favourite, scooter, which you can learn about hiring in our Mitiaro Transport Guide. Plus, check out a fun route around the island in A Self-Guided Day Trip Around Mitiaro.
Location: See the links above for locations.
4. Get the “Private Beach” Experience
Mitiaro’s coastal makatea is cracked with pockets of sand and gorgeous tiny beaches. Just a drive along the coastal road and stop by any clearing to the coast and you will find wonderful beaches to explore. Some of the best beaches are on the east coast, including Nanamaru, Parava and Omapere. The northern coast’s Okore and Okarava beaches are more glorious options just behind the airstrip. The best beach on the west side is Tia’ara (or Te Ara) Beach, a short drive south of Mangarei village. Oh, and by the way, you almost always have any of these beaches to yourself.
Location: See the locations of these beaches and more in the 8 Best Beaches on Mitiaro.
5. Enjoy the Serenity and Scenery of Mitiaro’s Plantations
Much of the inland landscape are plantations maintained by the villages of Atai and Auta in the north and Mangarei and Takaue in the south along the cross-island road. The locals grow taro, banana, watermelons, mangoes and papaya in these plantations, which, if you just stop and take in the surroundings, are typically the most peaceful parts of the island. You’ll get to sample much of the island’s bounty as part of your accommodation meals (see point #13).
Location: Along the inland roads.
6. Delve into the Cave of Vai Tamaroa
Another one of Mitiaro’s spectacular swimming caves, Vai Tamaroa requires a little walking to get to. It’s easy to spot the white-painted sign and commemorative marker for the 1985 Boys Brigade project that set up this trail. The trail is easy enough to follow without a guide if you pay attention as you scramble over grassy makatea. Allow around 20 minutes to finally reach Vai Tamaroa, a 10m (30ft) deep circular hole mostly filled with water. Be prepared for a bit of climbing to get in and out though.
Location: Along the east coast road, spot the Vai Tamaroa sign a few hundred metres south of the Lake Rotonui turnoff.
7. Enjoy Some Reef Walks
Mitiaro’s shores might not be ideal for swimming, but an awesome alternative is reef walking! At low tide, walk in knee-deep crystal clear water and look at all kinds of fish and crayfish clinging to the jagged makatea. A good reef walk is from Omutu Landing on the west coast and heading north. Alternatively, you can walk along the reef on the east coast of the island, from Omapere Beach to Parava Beach, hopping from beach to beach. Needless to say, you need some sturdy shoes or reef shoes. Check out recommendations in What to Wear in the Cook Islands: Clothes Packing List.
Location: Omutu Landing – West coast, Mangarei village. Parava Beach – East coast, near the turnoff for Rotonui lake. Omapere Beach – East coast, approximately 1.5km (0.9 miles) north of Parava.
8. Head Out on a Boat (or Relax by) Te Rotonui and Te Rotoiti
Mitiaro is the only island in the Cook Islands with not only one but two freshwater lakes! A short river connects Rotonui (Big Lake) to Rotoiti (Small Lake), which reaches a depth of 3m (10ft) in the wet season but is otherwise much shallower. The murky lakes are used to breed the endemic eel, “itiki”, and milkfish, “ava”. You’ll sometimes get to sample these during accommodation meals (see point #13). You are also likely to notice eel traps and even local fishermen in their motorboats or more traditional vaka on the water. If you’re interested, some accommodations can arrange a boat tour of the lake.
Location: The easier to access is to Te Rotonui down a dead-end road from the centre of the east coast coastal road.
9. Experience Harmonious Singing at a Local Church Service
By the time you reach Mitiaro, you’re probably aware of how moving the singing of a Cook Islands church service can be. It’s no different on Mitiaro, which has three Christian denominations: CICC (Cook Islands Christian Church), Catholics and Assembly of God. A popular service to experience is at the Betela CICC Church in the middle of Mangarei, whose Sunday service starts at 10am. Remember to dress respectfully (cover knees and shoulders) and don’t take photos inside the church. See more churches to experience around the country in the 10 Best Churches in the Cook Islands to Experience as a Visitor.
Location: Betela CICC Church – centre of Mangarei village on the west coast of Mitiaro.
10. Take a Tour to Te Pare Fort
The only known fort in the Cook Islands, Te Pare Fort is an ancient fort that was thought to have walls up to 6m (20ft) high built by the forefathers of Mitiaro. The fort was used as protection from the rivalling island and its fierce warriors, Atiu. Although the walls are now reduced to a few broken rocks, the site is still interesting to visit with a local guide who can tell you the story of the island’s acclaimed warrior, Maaro, and guide you on a 20-minute walk over the rugged makatea. You may also get a glimpse of the underground cavern below the fort where villagers would congregate in times of danger.
Location: Southeast side of Mitiaro. The trail starts just a few metres west of Te Umu Beach. It’s best to go with a guide, who you may be able to arrange with your accommodation or with the Island Administration (located opposite Omutu Harbour).
11. Check Out Mitiaro’s Ancient Marae
Like all of the Cook Islands, Mitiaro’s pre-missionary history involved the construction of marae, sacred gathering places for the local people. And like most of the Cook Islands, Mitiaro’s marae are overgrown and difficult to find, with the exception of Takero Marae. Beneath an ancient chestnut tree, are some large stones, one of which was the seat of the “ariki” (chief) while others are graves. The site is also where the old Takaue village was located before all of the villages moved inland to surround Mangarei village.
Location: On the cross-island road between Mangarei village and Te Unu Beach. The marae is approximately 2.5km (1.6 miles) down the cross-island road from Mangarei.
12. Pick Up Foodie Treats or Local Crafts from the Local Market
The locals love an excuse for putting on a market, whether it’s when a “big” group of tourists arrive on the island or it’s the Saturday “Hayley’s Market“. The latter began when a local kid (aged 7 at the time) started the market to fundraise for fishing gear for a competition on the island. Either way, ask the locals when the next market is, which typically includes a local lunch (hot dogs and breadfruit fries, for example) or freshly baked treats (scones and coffee are usually served at Hayley’s Market), as well as local crafts like shell eis (garlands), woven bags, tivaevae pillowcases, printed pareu and more. Check out the 12 Best Souvenirs from Rarotonga & the Cook Islands to learn more about these items.
Location: Markets typically take place outside the village hall in Mangarei village.
13. Indulge in Authentic Cook Islands Cuisine
Part of the experience of staying on Mitiaro is sampling exactly what the locals eat! All of your meals are included in your homestay or guesthouse accommodation, which is typically a spread of local dishes made with fresh ingredients grown right here on the island. It’s an event every evening! See some of the foods you could be sampling in the 10 Foods to Try in the Cook Islands.
Location: At your accommodation – see our guide on Where to Stay on Mitiaro.
14. Drink with the Locals at the Island’s Bars
That’s right, Mitiaro might not have any restaurants but they certainly have bars. In fact, they have two bars for a population of around 155! Relax with a beer at the open-air IYA Bar (ask around for opening hours – they’re pretty inconsistent). Alternatively, you can try the potent “banana beer” of Pati’s Bar at Vivian’s Homestay, open on Friday evenings.
Location: IYA Bar – Opposite the sports field and Red Cross, Mangarei village. Pati’s Bar – Vivian’s Homestay, Atai village (see Where to Stay on Mitiaro).
15. Try Some Baked Goods From Rangi
One final foodie experience and thing to do on Mitiaro… Once you’re on the island, it’s likely that your host will point out the “yellow/orange” house where you can pick up freshly baked sweet treats each morning. This is “Rangi’s Bakery“, an unofficial bakery that’s a little bit of a hidden gem. We recommend the doughnuts.
Location: Yellow house in Mangarei village, west coast of Mitiaro.
More Things to Do on Mitiaro
That’s it for our list of the best things to do on Mitiaro! Get more inspiration and advice for your island excursion with these other Mitiaro guides:
- The Complete Travel Guide to Mitiaro
- Mitiaro Transport Guide: 6 Ways to Get to (& Around) Mitiaro
- Information, Shops & Services on Mitiaro
Finally, don’t miss a thing off your Cook Islands bucket list, by drawing inspiration from the 101 Best Things to Do in the Cook Islands: The Ultimate List.