What to Do on Mangaia: The Best Tours, Activities and Things to Do
Escape the crowds and experience an alternative Cook Islands adventure on Mangaia. The oldest and southernmost island in the Cooks, Mangaia is thought to be 18 million years old – yet some of the island’s interior is yet to be explored…
The central volcanic plateau is surrounded by rings of “makatea”, jagged fossilised coral that slopes its way in terraces down to the encircling reef. Within this makatea are an extensive network of caves, while the makatea cliffs offer spectacular views across the island and the coastal makatea hides many nooks and crannies including sandy beaches.
Friendly locals will show you the many wonders of Mangaia on informal tours, while many more of Mangaia’s attractions are easy to explore on your own. We go through them all in this list of the best things to do on Mangaia.
1. Explore Tuatini, Te Ruarere or Toru a Poru Caves
Mangaia is home to some of the largest and most impressive caves in the Cook Islands, adorned with limestone stalactites, stalagmites and, most noteworthy of all, crystalline floors that sparkle like glitter in the torchlight. Oh, and you’ll come across many of the bones of Mangaia’s ancestors in various burial chambers… Spooky!
Some spectacular caves to visit include Te Ruarere, Toru a Poru and Tuatini, all of which you can hire guides to lead you through their complex network of tunnels. Tours last approximately a couple of hours and include transfers. Choose your cave using the 5 Best Caves on Mangaia.
Location: See the link above for cave locations.
2. Take an Island Tour
It’s worth mentioning island tours of Mangaia early in this list of the best things to do on Mangaia, as they take you to many of the sights that you otherwise wouldn’t be able to get to, such as caves and ancient marae (Maori gathering places), as well as some of the sights mentioned on this list.
Now, there are no “formal” tour companies on the island, but your accommodation or the Island Administration, whose office is located at the southern end of the Oneroa sports field, can arrange a tour with whichever local, who enjoys taking tourists around, is free at the time! Tours typically last two to four hours and include transfers.
Location: Transfers are included in these tours.
3. Discover Breathtaking Ara’oa Beach
Mangaia hides many tranquil stretches of sand, most of which slope into the reef and are backed with dramatic makatea. One of the most picturesque beaches is Ara’oa Beach at the northern tip of the island. Stop for a paddle on the reef and get some mesmerising photos of its makatea boulders and caves. Ara’oa Beach is certainly not to be missed but other stunning beaches to find include Karanga Nui Beach and Anguna Beach (see point #9).
Location: Ara’oa Beach – North side of Mangaia, on the coastal road, approximately 2.5km (1.6 miles) north of Ivirua village. Karanga Nui Beach – East side of Mangaia, on the coastal road, just north of Ivirua. Anguna Beach – See point #9.
4. Paddle or Snorkel at the Tua’ati Rock Pools
Visit this stunning little corner of Mangaia at low tide and discover all sorts of marine life clinging onto the jagged rocks! With pockets of deep pools to snorkel in, as well as plenty to see through the crystal clear waters on the reef, Tua’ati Rock Pools is well worth exploring. See more stunning free attractions around the island in the 10 Free Things to Do on Mangaia.
Location: West side of Mangaia. Find the small beach between two rock walls, approximately 1.6km (1 mile) south of Babe’s Store in Oneroa.
5. Check Out the Saragossa Shipwreck
Who doesn’t like to see spooky shipwrecks?! The shipwreck at the southern tip of Mangaia is a scattering of remains from when the Saragossa crashed in a storm in 1904 on its way from Newcastle, Australia to San Fransisco. Take the bumpy road or hike to the site at low tide to explore its anchor and other bits of rusted machinery that have become part of the reef. It’s one of the 7 Things to Do on Mangaia with Kids!
Location: South side of Mangaia. Take the coastal road at the eastern end of Tamarua village. The road is approximately 2km (1.2 miles) to the shipwreck.
6. Discover the Island’s Lookouts
Mangaia is home to several spectacular lookouts where you can soak it all in. Rangimotia is the highest point on the island at 169m (554ft) and offers stunning views right to the coast. Other viewpoints include Te Pa’ata on a backroad above Oneroa, Maumaukura with glorious views inland from the top of a makatea cliff. There are many more across the island, so simply stop and take a look – there are signs to point them out! Note that Rangimotia is best walked to if you don’t have a 4WD with high clearance, as outlined in the 5 Best Walks on Mangaia.
Location: Rangimotia – Centre of Mangaia, signposted off the central inland road (better for walking than driving). Te Pa’ata – West side of Mangaia, Pa’ata Road, Oneroa. Maumaukura – South side of Mangaia, main road, approximately 200m (219 yards) east of Tamarua village.
7. Meet Fishermen, Watch the Sunset (and Whales) from Avarua Landing
Avarua Landing is a pretty happening place on the island of Mangaia. In the mornings, around 8am to 9am, watch the local fishermen return to shore – some in traditional outrigger canoes – dragging tuna and wahoo alongside them. Cleaning and gutting their catch often attracts interesting fish (and turtles!) to the waters. If you’re more of an evening person, however, Avarua Landing is one of the best places on the island (and in the Cook Islands) to watch the sunset. If you’re here between July and October, you often see humpback whales just beyond the reef!
Location: West side of Mangaia, on the coastal road between Orongo and Managaia Villas.
8. Have a Picnic by Lake Tiriara
Mangaia’s only lake is a worthwhile stop while exploring the island. The peaceful Lake Tiriara sits among swampland and reeds, backed with high makatea and a cave mouth that leads underwater all the way to the coast! Although the lake isn’t exactly ideal for a swim, there are a few lookouts along the inland road between Tamarua and Oneroa, as well as a sheltered picnic area so you can dine with a view. We also list this in the 6 Most Romantic Things to Do on Mangaia.
Location: South side of Mangaia, along the inland road between Tamarua and Oneroa, approximately 1km (0.6 miles) from Tamarua.
9. Find Many Secluded Beaches Along the Ivirua Coastal Road
Just south of the Ivirua village sign, a rugged road leads to the coast and magnificent beaches in an area known as Anguna. Once you’ve finished exploring the beach, a trail continues over a flattened coral field to two more picturesque beaches, one with a rope so you can “abseil” down the short cliff onto the sand. The trail ends at the coast, so simply return the way you came! For a more detailed account of exploring this area, check out the 5 Best Walks on Mangaia.
Location: East side of Mangaia. Take the turnoff toward the coast, approximately 300m (328 yards) south of the Ivirua village sign.
10. Drive or Walk Through the Makatea “Cuttings”
That’s right, those taking a roadie around the island can go caving in their car or scooter (kind of). There are some spectacular sections of road that cut deep into the makatea, leaving towering coral walls on either side of the narrow road. Get your camera at the ready and make sure to beep the horn before you go through these narrow sections (just in case someone is coming from the other side). We also detail how to find the most picturesque “cutting” on foot in the 5 Best Walks on Mangaia.
Location: All over Mangaia, but see the link above for the location of the best cutting.
11. Experience Glorious Choir Singing at Mangaia’s Churches
A cultural experience that can’t be missed on a Sunday, going to church is all part of the routine here on Mangaia. Wear your church best (cover knees and shoulders), and immerse in the choir singing of the locals. Tamarua CICC (Cook Islands Christian Church) is highly recommended to see the church’s original wood-carved interiors, beams and sennit rope binding. Other churches worth going to are the renovated Ivirua CICC and Oneroa CICC. Church services start at 10am. Discover more majestic churches around the Cooks listed in the 10 Best Churches in the Cook Islands to Experience as a Visitor.
Location: Tamarua CICC – Tamarua village, south side of Mangaia. Ivirua CICC – Ivirua village, east side of Mangaia. Oneroa CICC – Oneroa village, west side of Mangaia.
12. Discover a Piece of Mangaian Culture on the Mangaia Golden Shells Tour
When you disembark your plane at Mangaia Airport, your hosts usually greet you with pupu eis, rather than floral eis like in the rest of the Cook Islands. That’s because “pupu” or “golden shells” are part of the tradition of Mangaia, where locals collect these tiny shells on the beaches and forests of Mangaia and use them to create unique pieces of jewellery. On the Mangaia Golden Shells Tour, you’ll follow the process of collecting shells and making your own piece of art. Tours take approximately two hours and include transfers and light refreshments.
Location: Transfers are included in the tour mentioned above.
13. Try Local Treats at the Friday Morning Market
Set your alarm on Friday morning because you won’t want to miss one of the best foodie experiences on Mangaia. The Friday Morning Market starts at a gut-wrenching 5.30am, but don’t worry, that’s mostly for locals to pick up fruit and vegetables early. A good time to go for trying the local cuisine, like “tiromi” (a fried taro and coconut cream disc) and “poke” (baked banana, tapioca flour and coconut cream), is around 7am, with most things selling out and wrapping up by 8.30am. Check out more food experiences in The Food Guide to Mangaia: Places to Eat & Food Tours.
Location: West side of Mangaia. Southern end of the sports field, Oneroa village.
14. Feed the Fish at Atuokoro Landing or Vai Nato
On two opposite ends of the island, find platforms where you can feed the fish (or simply watch fish through the clear waters, if you don’t have any food). Atuokoro Landing in the north is a plateau at sea level with pools of fish surrounding it. Alternatively, Vai Nato in the south has a raised vantage point above the pools where you can feed the fish from above.
Location: Atuokoro Landing – North side of Mangaia, on the coastal road between Oneroa and the airport. Vai Nato – South side of Mangaia, along the coastal road approximately 6km (3.8 miles) from Oneroa.
15. Try a Famous Mangaia Doughnut!
Baked fresh every other morning, Mangaia’s famous oversized doughnuts are a treat for the local kids and visitors alike! They can be purchased (for only a dollar each) from Akeke Trading, one of Mangaia’s very few grocery stores.
Location: West side of Mangaia. Te Makate Road, Oneroa (after the “cutting”, turn right).
More Things to Do on Mangaia
That’s it for the best things to do on Mangaia but by no means the end of our Mangaia advice! Check out the following articles to help plan more of your island excursion:
- The Complete Travel Guide to Mangaia
- Where to Stay on Mangaia: The Best Mangaia Accommodations
- Mangaia Transport Guide: 6 Ways to Get to (& Around) Mangaia
Finally, if there’s anything you haven’t planned for your Cook Islands trip, you’re likely to find it in The Best Cook Islands Travel Guide and the 101 Best Things to Do in the Cook Islands: The Ultimate List.