What to Do on Mauke: The Best Activities, Sights and Attractions
Unspoiled and breathtaking, Mauke is known by many names. “Ma’uke” comes from the “land of ‘Uke”, the original founder of the island which he called “Akatokamnava” or “the place where my heart rested”. If that wasn’t inviting enough, many also know Mauke as the “Garden Island” not only for its lush forest surrounded by “makatea” (coral rock) but because the locals take a lot of pride in their surroundings, even creating a few garden picnic area by the island’s many beaches. You’ll also find beautiful gardens surrounding the island’s famous “Divided Church“, while the island’s abundance of caves and secluded coastline will surely satisfy your wanderlust.
Learn more about the activities, natural attractions and historical sites in this list of the best things to do on Mauke. And plan your full trip using The Complete Travel Guide to Mauke.
1. Go for a Swim in Vai Tango Cave
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. Swing Like Tarzan on the Largest Banyan Tree in the South Pacific (and Find More Awesome Caves)
Covering an area of 4,000m² (43,000ft²), Mauke’s giant banyan tree is the largest in the South Pacific. The trail to the tree can be found along the main road between Areora village and A’anga Beach. The 15-minute walk passes Vai Moti, a small cave with a swimming hole where you a take a quick dip. Finally, you’ll come across the tangled roots hanging from above and crawling across the ground that indicates you’ve reached the Giant Banyan Tree! Locals have made an awesome tree swing with the roots – so have a go! 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 it used to be easy to explore the caves passages and underground pool, the chambers have collapsed in recent years making the cave largely inaccessible.
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. Bathe in a Sea Cave Pool at Kopupooki Beach (Stomach Rock)
The main highlight of Kopupooki Beach is not its sands but its hidden cave with a swimming pool! 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.
4. Take a Tour of “The Divided Church”
One of the most interesting cultural aspects of Mauke is the Ziona CICC Church, also known as “The Divided Church“. Built in 1882, the church with metre-thick coral limestone walls was built with architecture to satisfy the conflicting wishes of the two villages that share the church. The villages made a compromise of having two different types of architecture and decor on the interior of the church with a distinct divide down the middle. Each village also has its own entrance and walkway with a grand limestone archway. Ask your accommodation provider for a tour of the church, arranged with the church’s deacon, who will share stories of the church’s colourful history. Alternatively, you’re welcome to experience the church through its Sunday church service (see point #12 below).
Location: At the centre of Mauke, between Ngatiarua and Areora villages.
5. Check Out the Te Kou Maru Shipwreck
One the southwestern tip of Mauke, Tukume Beach offers glorious coastline, but perhaps more famously, a shipwreck! Among the sand and reef is the rusted shell of Te Kou Maru that wrecked here in 2010.
Location: Southwestern side of Mauke. Off the coast road, find a rainforest trail about 50m (164ft) north of Tukume Landing.
6. Relax at the Beach Garden and Watch the Sunset at Te Oneroa Beach
Mauke has more than 50 beaches to explore between its jagged makatea coast. The longest beach on Mauke, Oneroa Beach can be found on the southwestern side of the island. This long stretch of sand has many rock formations to explore and the reef has little pockets to swim in at low tide. Characteristic of many of Mauke’s beaches, there is a beach garden with a thatched shelter just behind, ideal for a picnic or an afternoon nap! The beach is also a great place to watch whales in the season, as well as watch the sunset.
Location: Southwest side of Mauke. Easy to find just off the coast road.
7. … And Scout Out Mauke’s Other Beautiful Beaches
As mentioned, Mauke has more than 50 beautiful beaches hidden within the coastal nooks and crannies of its makatea. An epic day can be had touring the coastal road and discovering these secluded pieces of paradise. While most beaches are unnamed, the main ones to hit include Anaoke, Anaraura, Teoneroa, Rererua and One’unga. Find out more about these beaches in the 7 Best Beaches on Mauke and plan your route with A Self-Guided Day Trip Around Mauke.
Location: See the locations of all of the beaches mentioned in the link above.
8. Visit Anaiti Cove and Kea’s Grave
Atop a coral cliff is a small grave dedicated to Kea. According to Mauke legend, the beautiful Kea, who was devoted to Paikea, waited on a cliff at Anaiti Cove for his return after he was swept out to sea during a ferocious storm. He never returned, so Kea remained on the cliff for the rest of her life. To add to the drama, Paikea apparently did not die at sea but was swept 100km to Mangaia where he was rescued and took a boat to Rarotonga. From there, he is said to be one of the ancestors that took one of the migration canoes to Aotearoa New Zealand. He is a figure told in New Zealand Maori legend to this day! Meanwhile, it is said that Kea’s remains that were recovered from the cliff in 2003, the same place where the legend said she waited…
Location: Off the coastal road on the east side of Mauke. Anaiti Cove can be found between Anaraura and A’anga beaches.
9. Discover Mauke’s Other Caves
We’ve already mentioned some of the best caves to explore on Mauke, but if you’re eager to visit more, the island can provide! 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. From the rock bridge that spans over the pool, take a hard left here 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. Finally, about three minutes’ walk east, is Vai Tumamea. This is an almost vertical sinkhole that ends with a pool. And that’s not all! Check out the 9 Best Caves on Mauke for more caves hidden around the island.
Location: The caves mentioned above can be accessed 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.
10. Take a Tour to Visit Historical Marae
Like the other Cook Islands, Mauke has a few historical “marae” (pre-missionary Maori gathering grounds). However, they are overgrown and almost impossible to find without a guide, so arrange a guide with your accommodation who can also tell you the history of these sacred sites. Some of the marae on Mauke include Rangimanuka Marae, the marae of “‘Uke” and the island’s namesake with an old stone seat remaining, Marae O Rongo with some remaining large stones and a coral platform near the harbour, and Puarakura Marae built in 1997 and still used for ceremonial functions.
Location: Puarakura Marae – the easiest to find and can be found on the road between Taunganui Landing (the harbour) and The Divided Church. Marae O Rongo – near the harbour, behind the administration buildings at the southern end of Kimiangatau. Otherwise, arrange a guide through your accommodation to find these maraes and Rangimanuka Marae.
11. Indulge in Local Kai!
Sampling authentic local cuisine is all part of the Mauke experience! Accommodations on Mauke offer guests the option to purchase evening dinners; an offer not to be refused! You’ll dine on what the locals do: tropical vegetables, fresh fish and many of the dishes we mention in the 10 Foods to Try in the Cook Islands.
Location: See Where to Stay on Mauke: The Best Mauke Accommodations for accommodations offering meals.
12. Experience the Magical Singing of a Local Church Service
Like the other islands in the Cook Islands, many Christian denominations are represented on Mauke. Locals welcome visitors to their Sunday church services to experience their harmonious singing, which is highly recommended. You have a few churches to choose from, including the famous Zione CICC Church (the Divided Church). But don’t knock the other options, like Kimiangatau CICC Church, Oiretumu and Kimiangatau Catholic Churches and the Seventh Day Adventist Church. CICC church services start at 10am on a Sunday, catholic churches at 9am on a Sunday, and Seventh Day Adventist at 9am on a Saturday. See how these churches compare with the others in the 10 Best Churches in the Cook Islands to Experience as a Visitor.
Location: Zione CICC Church – At the centre of Mauke, between Ngatiarua and Areora villages. Kimiangatau CICC Church, Oiretumu and Kimiangatau Catholic Churches are all on the main road of their named villages. Seventh Day Adventist Church – Kimiangatau, west coast.
13. Swim or Watch the Sunset from Taunganui Landing
Also known as Mauke Harbour, Taunganui Landing is a manmade harbour where all of Mauke’s goods come in on infrequent cargo boats from Rarotonga. When the tide is right and the swell isn’t too rough, the sheltered end of the harbour is ideal for a swim. It’s also one of the best places on the island to watch the sunset. Get talking to the local fishermen here and you might manage to wrangle yourself a fishing trip!
Location: Southern end of Kimiangatau village, behind the administration buildings and post office.
14. Watch Whales From the Coast
Between July and October (sometimes November), Mauke’s waters are visited by migrating humpback whales from Antarctica. You can often spot the flukes and backs of these whales or, if you’re lucky, catch them jumping out of the water! The best places to watch them is from Te Oneroa Beach and the northern coast near One’unga Beach. Check out more of the 10 Best Places for Whale Watching in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands.
Location: Oneroa Beach – Southwest side of Mauke. Easy to find just off the coast road. One’unga Beach – Northeast coast.
15. Experience Mauke’s Unique Christmas and New Year Celebrations
If you can time your visit with the Christmas and New Year holidays, then you’re in for a treat. Mauke has a tradition where one of the two villages hosts the other with a feast at Christmas. Food is displayed at different houses for villagers to indulge in. The locals often go from house to house singing traditional songs. Learn more about Christmas traditions in the How to Spend Christmas in the Cook Islands. The roles are then reversed for New Year’s Day and it all happens again, which you can learn more about in How to Spend New Year’s Eve in the Cook Islands.
Location: Ngatiarua and Areora villages.
More Things to Do on Mauke
That’s it for our ultimate list of the best things to do on Mauke! If you need more ideas, however, let our other Mauke guides inspire you:
Finally, don’t miss a thing from your bucket list by checking out the 101 Best Things to Do in the Cook Islands: The Ultimate List.