The Only Budget Travel Guide to Mangaia You’ll Ever Need
Aside from the extra flight to Mangaia from Rarotonga, there’s really no such thing as an “expensive” trip to the Cook Islands’ oldest island. The island’s all-inclusive accommodation is a budget one, while most of the sights are free to visit! Other expenses, like vehicle rentals and guided tours, average around NZ$50 a day, giving you a varied trip with very little reason to worry about your wallet. So explore the “real” Cook Islands, its “makatea” (coral uplift) islands and locals living more traditional lifestyles, starting with a budget trip to Mangaia. We’ll guide you every step of the way with this complete travel guide for exploring Mangaia on a budget.
5 Tips for Visiting Mangaia on a Budget
Before we jump into our complete budget travel guide for Mangaia, here are just a few ways you can save money on your vacation:
- Babe’s Place is by far the best value-for-money accommodation on the island with lodging and all three meals included in the (approximately) NZ$90-$120 per night rate
- All of Mangaia’s tours, vehicle rentals and airport transfers are organised with your accommodation provider, typically once you arrive on the island. When enquiring about cave tours, ask about guides who can also take you on an island tour – they only cost an extra NZ$30 per person and you’ll get to access a lot more that you would otherwise struggle to get to
- Bring your own snacks (like nuts, muesli bars, etc.) to take with you when exploring the island – these types of goods are hard to come by in the convenience stores on Mangaia
- Bring a couple of reusable water bottles (better yet, a Lifestraw filtration bottle). Although the water in accommodations, filtered water stations, and drinking coconuts are safe to drink, it’s difficult to refill once you’re out and about
- Take enough cash with you (New Zealand dollars) to Mangaia, as there are no ATMs and no way to use international credit or debit cards – local bank cards only! See our guide, What is the Best Way to Pay in the Cook Islands? for more advice.
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. Cargo boats are an option, but not a reliable one – find out more in our Cook Islands Cargo Ship Guide.
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 in 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 only having decent roads along the west coast and running through Ivirua village on the east coast. The rest of the roads are pretty rough as either dirt or flattened coral, while much of the inland roads are slow-going or impassable in the rental vehicles available on the island: either an SUV or a scooter. 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.
Free Activities on Mangaia
The joy of visiting Mangaia is the number of natural attractions you can visit independently. With that, the beaches, rock pools, lookouts and more are 100% free to visit – you’ll just need a rental vehicle, which you can learn more about in our Mangaia Transport Guide.
Mangaia hides many tranquil stretches of sand, most of which slope into the reef and are backed with dramatic “makatea” (coral uplift). 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. Check out their locations in the 10 Free Things to Do on Mangaia
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. Find the small beach, approximately 1.6km (1 mile) south of Babe’s Store in Oneroa.
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.
Mangaia is home to several spectacular lookouts where you can soak it all in. Rangimotia is the highest point on the island at 169 m (554 ft) 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.
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. The coastal road to the shipwreck can be found at the eastern end of Tamarua village.
More Free Things to Do on Mangaia
And they’re not the only free attractions to discover around the island of Mangaia. You can also watch the sunset and meet the local fishermen at Avarua Landing, attend a magnificent church service with spectacular singing, have a picnic at Lake Tiriara and much more. We list all of these experiences, as well as where to find them, in the 10 Free Things to Do on Mangaia.
Cheap Activities on Mangaia
There’s not much on Mangaia that would be considered “expensive”, with all of the experiences being far cheaper than what you would find in more commercialised hotspots like Rarotonga and Aitutaki. Here are some ideas, with nothing over NZ$80 per person.
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 5:30 am, 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 7 am, with most things selling out and wrapping up by 8:30 am. Check out more foodie experiences in The Food Guide to Mangaia: Places to Eat & Food Tours.
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… But we digress! Some spectacular caves to visit include Te Rua Rere, 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, usually include transfers and only cost around NZ$50 per person. Choose your cave using the 5 Best Caves on Mangaia.
See many of the sights we’ve listed in this budget guide to Mangaia, as well as others that are on private land and are difficult to find, on one of the many island tours. 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! With island tours only costing NZ$50-$80 per person, it provides excellent value for money considering vehicle rental is about the same per day.
More Cheap Things to Do on Mangaia
Other affordable experiences include the two-hour Mangaia Golden Shells Tour, going fishing with the local fisherfolk at the Avarua Wharf and getting a famous freshly-baked “Mangaian doughnut” from Avana Trading. Find out more about these experiences in the 15 Best Things to Do on Mangaia.
Budget Dining on Mangaia
Although your dining options are very limited on Mangaia, eating won’t send you over budget with self-catering being an option and accommodations providing meals.
Cheap Eats on Mangaia
The Mangaia Fishing Club opposite Avarua Landing is open in the evenings with drinks and a limited selection of meals, while the Friday Market is another opportunity to grab food outside of your accommodation. Learn more about these dining experiences in The Food Guide to Mangaia: Places to Eat & Food Tours.
With three meals a day included in the rate, Babe’s Place is easily the accommodation with the best value for money. 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 kitchen 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.
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 Mangaia on a Budget
Now that you know how to visit Mangaia on a budget, you can find anything you might have missed in the following guides:
- Rarotonga & Cook Islands Travel Budget: How Much Does a Trip to the Cook Islands Cost?
- 15 Ways to Save Money on Food in the Cook Islands
- How Much Spending Money Do You Need for the Cook Islands?
Finally, don’t forget to open The Complete Backpacking Guide to the Cook Islands on a Budget and Cook Islands Travel Budget: How Much Does a Trip to the Cook Islands Cost? to plan more of your trip later.