How to Plan a Family Trip to Mangaia
Escape the crowds and embrace the tranquillity and history of an escape to Mangaia. An ideal destination for adventurous families, Mangaia is characterised by its jagged coral limestone landscape locally known as “makatea”. This makatea hides an array of caves across the islands, as well as makes the land slope toward the ocean in terraces, giving Mangaia its popular nickname of the “Terrace Island”. Between its cracks and crevasses, the coastline hides several breathtaking beaches that you’ll likely have all to yourselves. Admittedly, Mangaia isn’t for every family, but hey, that’s what makes it perfect for some.
Plan what you’ll do, where you’ll stay, and where you’ll eat with kids in tow using this complete travel guide to Mangaia for families.
Quick Tips for Travelling with Kids to Mangaia
Before we dive into this Mangaia travel guide for families, here are a few miscellaneous tips for parents taking younger travellers to this less-travelled island:
- Much of exploring Mangaia involves walking over rocky makatea, so is not suitable for toddlers or kids who are not quite so active yet
- Sturdy footwear and reef shoes for every tribe member are an absolute must, as almost the entire island has sharp limestone rocks and reefs
- Food is limited on the island, whether it’s your accommodation serving up local fruit and vegetables that your kids may have never had before or it’s the limited tinned/frozen goods sold at the two grocery stores. With that, Mangaia is perhaps not the best option for fussy eaters. You might want to bring your own snacks
- Keep an eye on tide times, as high tide makes swimming easier, while low tide is better for exploring the reef. Ask your accommodation host if you’re unsure.
For more generic Cook Islands tips, check out 30 Tips for Your Family Cook Islands Vacation with Kids.
How to Get to Mangaia
Mangaia lies in the Southern Group of the Cook Islands, some 203 km (126 mi) southeast of Rarotonga and the Cook Islands’ international airport. The only real way to get to Mangaia is via domestic flight from Rarotonga.
Regular flights are available between Rarotonga and Mangaia on Monday, Wednesday and Friday (or more frequently during the high seasons, such as December), returning the same day. Flights take approximately 45 minutes. Find out more about schedules and the cost of flights, including child fares, in our guide, Domestic Flights in the Cook Islands: Your Guide to Interisland Flights.
How to Get Around Mangaia
Mangaia might be smaller than Rarotonga but it takes more time to get around due to the island having inconsistent road quality. Some roads are pretty rough as either dirt or flattened coral, while much of the inland roads are slow-going to impassable in the rental vehicles available on the island. For much of the cave attractions and inland adventures, you’ll need to rely on the 4WD vehicle of a local guide.
Both rental vehicles and guides can be arranged through your accommodation, as can airport transfers. Find out more about getting around the island in our Mangaia Transport Guide: 6 Ways to Get to (& Around) Mangaia.
Family Activities on Mangaia
Much of Mangaia’s attractions are ideal for active families that want to explore independently, such as finding hermit crabs on picturesque beaches and scouting out the island’s shipwreck. Tour guides will need to be hired for exploring Mangaia’s magnificent caves, but the adventure is well worth it!
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 with kids! Find the small beach between two rock walls, approximately 1.6 km (1 mi) south of Babe’s Store in Oneroa.
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! You’ll also likely come across the odd pile of human bones where Mangaia’s ancestors used to bury their dead – spooky but kind of awe-inspiring (hopefully, your kids aren’t the sort to get nightmares).
The best cave to explore with kids is Tuatini, due to the other ones having some dangerous drops, but we’ll let you compare them all, as well as find out how to visit them, in the 5 Best Caves on Mangaia.
Mangaia hides many tranquil stretches of sand sloping into the reef, backed with dramatic makatea. While they are not always great for a swim, you can paddle on the reef, find coastal caves and look out for hermit crabs. 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. Find out their locations in the 10 Free Things to Do on Mangaia.
What kid 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 (available on some island tours) or walk to the site at low tide to explore its anchor and other bits of rusted machinery that have become part of the reef. The 2 km (1.2 mi) coastal road can be found at the eastern end of Tamarua village.
More Things to Do on Mangaia with Kids
Feeding the fish from Atukoro Landing or Vai Nato, seeing the goats and pigs around the island and sampling a “Mangaian Doughnut” are all most things you can be doing to keep the whole family entertained. Learn more about these activities in the 7 Things to Do on Mangaia with Kids.
Family-Friendly Dining on Mangaia
Families are well looked after by their hosts when it comes to food on Mangaia. Note, however, that the food included at your accommodation is a local affair, so is perhaps not the best option for families with fussy eaters. Nevertheless, grocery stores with ultra-basic supplies provide sustenance for making use of your accommodation’s self-catering facilities. Oh, and there’s no restaurant on Mangaia. See our full dining guide in The Food Guide to Mangaia: Places to Eat & Food Tours. Otherwise, here is our food advice for families…
Friday Morning Market
The Friday Morning Market offers an opportunity outside of your accommodation to sample local foods and treats. Although it starts at a gut-wrenching 5:30 am, a good time to go for trying the local cuisine is around 7 am, with most things selling out and wrapping up by 8:30 am. You’ll find the market at the southern end of the sports field in Oneroa.
The way that most visitors keep sustained while on Mangaia is through their host. Babe’s Place includes three meals a day. Breakfast is a tropical affair of fruit and toast/cereal with jam, lunch is typically pretty light with sandwiches, while dinner is a buffet of local meat and vegetables – all served with refreshing drinking coconuts! For those with large appetites, definitely bring some snacks with you to Mangaia, as you may find the breakfast/lunch portion of Babe’s Place not sustaining enough for an active day on the island.
Self-Catering on Mangaia
Making your own meals on Mangaia is an easy alternative thanks to all of the island’s accommodations having self-catering facilities. There are two convenience stores selling staple foods in either tinned or frozen form – there’s rarely any fresh food. There’s not always the variety of foods that you might expect, so it’s best to approach grocery shopping with an open mind and/or bring some snacks with you to keep you going on active days.
On the plus side, families will enjoy the fact that ice creams are usually on sale at Babe’s Store, while doughnuts are freshly baked and for sale every other morning at Avana Trading.
Find out more about stores and services on Mangaia in our guide, Information, Shops & Services on Mangaia, as well as a guide to self-catering in A Guide to Supermarkets & Food Shopping in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands.
More About Trips to Mangaia for Families
That’s it for our complete travel guide to Mangaia for families. For more information that’s not exclusively “family-related” but is still pretty useful, check out the following articles:
Finally, if there’s any part of your Cook Islands family getaway that you haven’t planned, you’re likely to find all the advice you need in The Complete Travel Guide to the Cook Islands for Families and 30 Tips for Your Family Rarotonga & Cook Islands Vacation with Kids.