The Complete Travel Guide to Mangaia© Taniera - Cook Islands Tourism
The Complete Travel Guide to Mangaia

The Complete Travel Guide to Mangaia

© Taniera – Cook Islands Tourism

How to Plan the Best Trip to Mangaia

Mangaia is by far the oldest island in the Cook Islands and one of the oldest in the South Pacific, where the history can be felt even as you sight the terraces of uplifted coral, locally known as “makatea”, ringing around a central plateau when your plane comes into landing.

Exploring the ancient coral atoll is what an escape to Mangaia is all about, from the highest lookouts to deep down in the island’s caves, the latter of which hides glittering limestone and the preserved remains of Mangaian’s ancestors. In between, you’ll find pockets of deserted beaches sloping into the reef and villages where locals offer generous hospitality despite the island only receiving a handful of tourists per year. With that, Mangaia isn’t for everyone, but that’s what makes it so good for some…

So plan your trip using our complete travel guide to Mangaia, which includes where to stay, where to eat and what to do, along with extra advice for your chosen style of travel.

Frequently Asked Questions About Mangaia

We’re here to plan the best trip ever, so we won’t waste any time in this Mangaia travel guide giving you the answers to the questions that most travellers have about visiting.

What is Mangaia Famous For?

Mangaia is famous for being the oldest island in the Cook Islands, as well as one of the oldest in the South Pacific at an estimated 18 million years old. The raised coral atoll is also famous for its caves and history of intertribal battles.

What Was Mangaia’s Old Name?

Mangaia’s old name was “Au’au” or “Au’au Enua“, meaning “Terrace Island”. The name is easy to understand with its distinct coral terraces of makatea encircling the central volcanic plateau.

Is Mangaia Bigger Than Rarotonga?

No, Mangaia is not bigger than Rarotonga but is the second-largest island in the Cook Islands at 51.8km² (20mi²). See more sizes of islands in The 5 Largest Islands in the Cook Islands.

How Many People Live on Mangaia?

Approximately 400 people live on Mangaia. It is one of the islands in the Cook Islands with the greatest rate of depopulation, losing around 75% of its population in the last 50 years.

How Old is Mangaia?

Mangaia is estimated to be 18 million years old.

How Do You Get to Mangaia?

The main way to get to Mangaia is via domestic flight from Rarotonga in the Cook Islands. Otherwise, Mangaia receives an infrequent schedule of cargo boats from Rarotonga and the other islands in the Cooks. Learn more about getting to Mangaia in the Mangaia Transport Guide: 6 Ways to Get to (& Around) Mangaia.

The Complete Travel Guide to Mangaia© Taniera - Cook Islands Tourism

What to Do on Mangaia

Visiting Mangaia is mostly about exploring natural wonders, such as caves snaking their way through the makatea and picturesque beaches, along with finding wonderful viewpoints and the island’s one lake. There’s a sprinkling of culture to be had, whether it’s on a guided tour of the island or at one of the weekly events, such as the market or church.

The Top Experiences on Mangaia

What are the must-dos? Here are some of the Mangaia highlights:

  • See the glittering caves of Tuatini or Te Rua Rere
  • Climb down the cliff ladder to the hidden paradise of Ara’oa Beach
  • Hike up to Mt Rangimotia, the highest point on the island
  • Check out the Saragossa Shipwreck
  • Snorkel or reef walk at the Tuaati Rock Pools
  • Experience the glorious choir singing at the historic Tamarua CICC Church

… And the list goes on in the 15 Best Things to Do on Mangaia or check out the 101 Best Things to Do in the Cook Islands: The Ultimate List!

The Complete Travel Guide to Mangaia© Daniel Fisher - Cook Islands Tourism

Where to Stay on Mangaia

This is the part of our travel guide where we usually class all of the island’s top accommodations by suitability for families, budget, luxury, etc. Awkwardly (or not so awkwardly, depending on how you look at it), Mangaia only has one place to stay.

What Mangaia lacks in choice of accommodation, however, the accommodations make up for in extra services that you otherwise would not experience in the Cook Islands’ more popular islands. That’s why Mangaia’s accommodations easily make it into some of The Top 50 Resorts in the Cook Islands and the 25 Best Villas in the Cook Islands.

Babe’s Place

Enjoy the homely atmosphere and experience the warm hospitality of the budget-friendly Babe’s Place. There are four motel units with one or two double beds per room, which are basic but well-kept with colourful bedding, mosquito nets and a private patio area with outdoor furniture. The rest of the facilities are communal, including a spacious lounge and kitchen where your three meals a day (included in the price) are served.

[CLOSED] Mangaia Villas

For something a little more upscale on Mangaia, choose Mangaia Villas. These six freestanding one-bedroom villas sleep up to four people. Lining the sunset coast of the island, a short drive from Oneroa, the villas each have a spacious verandah, a modern open-plan kitchen and a lounge with a double bed. There is a separate bedroom, as well as a modern bathroom with a shower. A tropical breakfast is provided each morning, while lunch and dinner can be arranged for an additional fee.

Learn more about Mangaia’s accommodations in our guide, Where to Stay on Mangaia: The Best Mangaia Accommodations.

The Complete Travel Guide to Mangaia©

Where to Eat on Mangaia

Nope! Don’t come to Mangaia with the idea of eating out at restaurants and cafes; there are none. Instead, meals can be a shared affair of local dishes at Babe’s Place or self-catered. There are a few extra ways you can get your foodie fix, however, whether it’s the market selling local treats or touring the island’s pineapple and taro plantations.

The Best Bars and Places to Eat on Mangaia

  • Friday Morning Market (Southern end of the sports field, Oneroa)
  • Mangaia Fishing Club (Opposite Avarua Landing, Orongo)
  • Your accommodation meals (Babe’s Place and Mangaia Villas).

See the details of our top dining recommendations in The Food Guide to Mangaia: Places to Eat & Food Tours.

Things to Do on Mangaia for Foodies

  • Try local treats at the Friday Morning Market
  • Sample an oversized “Mangaian doughnut” from Akeke Trading
  • Learn about local fruit and plantations on an island tour
  • Indulge in local meals through your accommodation’s dinners.

Learn more about each foodie experience in The Food Guide to Mangaia: Places to Eat & Food Tours.

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.

Drinking Water

Your accommodation provides safe drinking water. Additionally, there are filtered water stations around Mangaia providing drinking water to refill your water bottle. The easiest one to find is at the southern end of the sports field, Oneroa. Learn more about having access to drinking water in Is the Water Safe to Drink in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands?

The Complete Travel Guide to Mangaia© Taniera - Cook Islands Tourism

Budget Holidays on Mangaia

Once you’ve got the flight out of the way, Mangaia makes it pretty easy to stick to your budget. With one inexpensive accommodation on the island including all of your meals, while guided tours typically cost only around NZ$50-$80 per person, you certainly won’t feel like you’re in a “tourist trap”. What’s more, the majority of sights on Mangaia are free to visit, so hire a car or a scooter and enjoy an affordable self-guided trip around the island!

Plan your entire trip to Mangaia with “budget” in mind using The Complete Travel Guide to Mangaia on a Budget.

Things to Do on Mangaia on a Budget

  • Discover breathtaking beaches like Ara’oa Beach
  • Paddle or snorkel at the Tua’ati Rock Pools
  • Head to the island’s lookouts
  • Attend a church service at Mangaia’s magnificent churches
  • Drive or walk through the makatea “cuttings”.

Find out more about each activity in the 10 Free Things to Do on Mangaia.

Cheap Accommodation on Mangaia

The only budget accommodation on Mangaia is Babe’s Place, which includes three meals a day and airport transfers for around NZ$90-$120 per night. Learn more about Babe’s Place and alternative stays on the island in Where to Stay on Mangaia: The Best Mangaia Accommodations.

The Complete Travel Guide to Mangaia© Taniera - Cook Islands Tourism

Family Holidays on Mangaia

Offering an awesome adventure for families seeking something different from the average “resort on the beach” holiday, Mangaia is a destination every member of the tribe will remember. All of Mangaia’s accommodations are suitable for families, while there’s much joy to be had when taking a road trip around the island to scout out beautiful beaches and rock pools harbouring all sorts of colourful marine life! The local convenience stores sell ice cream and freshly baked doughnuts to keep the kids happy, so what more could you need?!

Plan a family getaway like no other using The Complete Travel Guide to Mangaia for Families.

Family Activities on Mangaia

  • Check out the Saragossa Shipwreck
  • Feed the fish at Atuokoro Landing or Vai Nato
  • Explore Mangaia’s caves, like Tuatini
  • See starfish and more at the Tua’ati Rock Pools
  • Try a famous Mangaia doughnut!

Learn more about each experience and more in our 7 Things to Do on Mangaia with Kids.

Family Accommodation on Mangaia

With no age restrictions and enough room for families to stay together, all of Mangaia’s accommodations are family-friendly. For families looking for a more “locals” experience along with more affordable rates, check out Babe’s Place. Find out more about Mangaia’s family accommodations in our guide, Where to Stay on Mangaia: The Best Mangaia Accommodations.

The Complete Travel Guide to Mangaia© Taniera - Cook Islands Tourism

Honeymoons and Romantic Getaways to Mangaia

Ok, so at first glance, Mangaia doesn’t exactly scream “romance”. It’s only once you climb down rung ladders to gorgeous yet deserted beaches and follow your cave guide to cambers of glittering walls do you start to discover the endearing side of Mangaia. For the unconventional couple, Mangaia offers a real adventure in the Cook Islands.

Plan your couples’ getaway or even your honeymoon using The Honeymoon & Romantic Getaway Guide to Mangaia.

Romantic Activities on Mangaia

  • Explore glittering caves together
  • Experience breathtaking beaches all to yourselves
  • Create a unique piece of jewellery on the Mangaia Golden Shells Tour
  • Have a romantic picnic by Lake Tiriara
  • Watch the sunset from Avarua Landing.

Get more information and ideas in the 6 Most Romantic Things to Do on Mangaia.

Romantic Accommodation on Mangaia

For couples, Babe’s Place is a social stay where you’ll share local meals with other travellers and experience a stay that’s a little more “adventurous” than staying on Rarotonga. Again, more details on these accommodations are outlined in our guide, Where to Stay on Mangaia: The Best Mangaia Accommodations.

The Complete Travel Guide to Mangaia© Taniera - Cook Islands Tourism

Luxury Holidays on Mangaia

You won’t find much luxury on the island of Mangaia. Accommodation is two to three stars at best and you need to rely on your host (or yourself) for dining. Forget about fine restaurants!

Mangaia’s “luxury”, however, comes in the form of its tranquillity, as less than 1% of the country’s annual visitors make it to the island. With that, the attractions you visit and beaches to explore are often 100% all for you.

Although tours on Mangaia are either small-group or private, they are informal with not many other inclusions other than transport and a guide.

All in all, if you’re looking for five-star resorts, taxi services on a dime and fine dining, then you better stay on Rarotonga or Aitutaki.

The Complete Travel Guide to Mangaia© Taniera - Cook Islands Tourism

Adults-Only Holidays on Mangaia

As you might have already guessed, Mangaia is not an island of adults-only accommodations. The accommodations here welcome travellers of all ages, so there’s no guarantee that you’ll have a child-free stay while on Mangaia. Saying that, Mangaia’s accommodations only have a handful of rooms, housing only around a total of 30 people at full capacity. Usually, there’s much less than that. Needless to say, overenthusiastic children will be the least of your worries on Mangaia.

When it comes to exploring Mangaia, touring the island independently is one of the joys of the island with deserted beaches, lookouts and reefs to be found.

Make your getaway to Mangaia your own, adults-only or not so, using the 15 Best Things to Do on Mangaia along with any one of the guides linked above.

More About Mangaia

That’s it for the complete travel guide to Mangaia but by no means the end of our Mangaia advice! Check out the following guides for more Mangaia goodness:

Finally, for even more tips, check out The Best Cook Islands Travel Guide and 30 Tips for Travelling in the Cook Islands.


Laura S.

This article was reviewed and published by Laura, editor-in-chief and co-founder of Cook Islands Pocket Guide. Since arriving solo in the South Pacific over 10 years ago with nothing but a backpack and a background in journalism, her mission has been to show the world how easy (and awesome) it is to explore a paradise such as the Cook Islands. She knows the islands inside out and loves sharing tips on how best to experience Raro’s must-dos and hidden gems. Laura is also the editor of several other South Pacific travel guides.

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