10 Free Things to Do on Mangaia© Cook Islands Tourism
10 Free Things to Do on Mangaia

10 Free Things to Do on Mangaia

© Cook Islands Tourism

Free Activities and Attractions on Mangaia

One of the beautiful things about Mangaia is that going from one free natural wonder to the next is how you experience the island. Gorgeous beaches backed by jagged “makatea” (coral uplift), crystal clear reefs, adventurous inland roads to stellar lookouts and more can be scouted across this ancient island. Speaking of history, Mangaia is home to photogenic historical churches, where listening to the singing on a Sunday is a worthwhile (yet free) cultural experience. Discover some more experiences in this list of the best free things to do on Mangaia!

Before we jump in, be sure to also bookmark The Complete Travel Guide to Mangaia on a Budget. Plus, find a place to stay in our guide, Where to Stay on Mangaia: The Best Mangaia Accommodations.

1. Discover Breathtaking Beaches Like 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. Other stunning beaches include Karanga Nui Beach and Anguna Beach.

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 – East side of Mangaia, south end of Ivirua village down the rough coastal road turnoff (toward the old Ara Moana Bungalows).

10 Free Things to Do on Mangaia© Taniera - Cook Islands Tourism

2. 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.

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.

10 Free Things to Do on Mangaia© Taniera - Cook Islands Tourism

3. 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.

10 Free Things to Do on Mangaia© Cook Islands Tourism

4. Head to 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! The ones mentioned are often 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.

10 Free Things to Do on Mangaia© David Kirkland - Cook Islands Tourism

5. See the Saragossa Shipwreck

Who doesn’t like to see spooky shipwreck sites?! 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.

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.

10 Free Things to Do on Mangaia© Taniera - Cook Islands Tourism

6. Check Out the Friday Morning Market

Ok, so this one isn’t entirely free, as you’ll surely be tempted to purchase some of the local food here, but attending the local Friday Market is at least free! The 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 foodie experiences in The Food Guide to Mangaia: Places to Eat & Food Tours.

Location: West side of Mangaia. By the village green on Aremauku Road, Oneroa village.

10 Free Things to Do on Mangaia© Taniera - Cook Islands Tourism

7. Meet Fishermen, Watch the Sunset (or 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.

10 Free Things to Do on Mangaia© Taniera - Cook Islands Tourism

8. Attend a Church Service at Mangaia’s Magnificent Churches

A free 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.

10 Free Things to Do on Mangaia© Taniera - Cook Islands Tourism

9. Take a Picnic to 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 short walkway to a picnic area.

Location: South side of Mangaia, along the inland road between Tamarua and Oneroa, approximately 1km (0.6 miles) from Tamarua.

10 Free Things to Do on Mangaia© Taniera - Cook Islands Tourism

10. Drive Through the Makatea

That’s right, you might have to pay to do caving on Mangaia, but 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!

Location: East side of Mangaia, Taumatini Marae – Ivirua Taro Swamp Road, Ivirua village.

10 Free Things to Do on Mangaia© Taniera - Cook Islands Tourism

More Free Things to Do on Mangaia

That’s it for our list of the best free things to do on Mangaia! See more tips for visiting the island, as well as affordable activities, in the guides below:

Finally, see what else you can do across the Cook Islands for free in the 20 Free & Cheap Things to Do in the Cook Islands and plan your complete cheap getaway using The Complete Backpacking Guide to the Cook Islands.


Robin C.

This article was reviewed and published by Robin, the co-founder of Cook Islands Pocket Guide. He has lived, worked and travelled across 16 different countries before settling in the South Pacific, so he knows a thing or two about planning the perfect trip in this corner of the world. Robin works and consults regularly with Cook Islands Tourism Corporation, a local government body representing the tourism industry. Robin is also the co-founder of several other South Pacific travel guides and is a regular host of webinars with the South Pacific Tourism Organisation.

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