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

The Complete Travel Guide to Manihiki

© Daniel Fisher – Cook Islands Tourism

How to Plan a Trip to Manihiki

It’s the outer island that you’ll hear most about when exploring Rarotonga: Manihiki. But far from the hustle and bustle of the Cook Islands’ capital, Manihiki is remote, tranquil and has one of the South Pacific’s most breathtaking lagoons. It’s known for its back pearls, an industry that services all of the black pearl jewellers you come across on Rarotonga. Pearl farmers and other islanders in Manihiki are ultra-welcoming, allowing you to take authentic tours of the pearl farms, explore the lagoon and enjoy real island life in one of the most remote inhabited places on Earth.

So plan your trip to Manihiki, including where to stay, how to get there and what to do, using this complete travel guide to Manihiki.

Frequently Asked Questions About Manihiki

We’re here to tell you everything you need to know about Manihiki in the Cook Islands, so we won’t waste any time in this Manihiki travel guide giving you the answers to the questions that most travellers have about visiting.

Where is Manihiki?

Manihiki is located in the Northern Group of the Cook Islands, approximately 1,046km (650 miles) north of the nation’s capital, Rarotonga. The Cook Islands is located in the South Pacific, which you can learn more about in Where are the Cook Islands Located?

What is Manihiki Known For?

Manihiki is known for its black pearl industry. It is the only lagoon in the Cook Islands producing black pearls, making the Cook Islands only one of two countries in the world where black pearls are made.

What is the Population of Manihiki?

The population of Manihiki is around 210 people.

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

How to Get to Manihiki

Manihiki has an airstrip at the northern end of the atoll on the “motu” (island) of Ngake that receives flights from Rarotonga. Otherwise, getting to Manihiki involves a voyage by sea.

Flights to Manihiki

Manihiki is one of the rare Northern Group islands with scheduled flights. Flights are available with the Cook Islands’ sole domestic airline, which flies every other Tuesday from Rarotonga to Manihiki taking approximately 4h30mins.

Alternatively, charter flights are also available in a private jet from Rarotonga, which reduces the flight time down to 2h30mins. Another option is visiting Manihiki as part of a Northern Group island-hopping tour, staying for one night on a different island of the Northern Group, which is available just a few times per year.

Learn more about scheduled flights, private charters and island-hopping tours in our guide, Domestic Flights in the Cook Islands: Your Guide to Interisland Flights.

Cargo Ships to Manihiki

Cargo ships offer an alternative option to get to Manihiki on a multi-day voyage from Rarotonga. Due to the infrequency, lack of schedule and the low value for money, cargo ships are not a recommended way to get to Manihiki. Nevertheless, you can learn more about the expeditions in Cook Islands Cargo Ship Guide: How to Use the Ferry for Interisland Travel in the Cook Islands.

Getting Around Manihiki

There is no public transport in Manihiki. Your host will take care of transport for you to get around, starting with airport transfers via a 15-minute boat ride. Your host can arrange a scooter to explore Tokerau, the motu on the west side of the lagoon. Ngake in the east is around 10km (6 miles) long but doesn’t have any roads, so you have no option to explore on foot. Your host can arrange boat transfers (and tours) around the lagoon when needed.

For more advice on planning your travels to Manihiki, check out the Northern Cook Islands Transport Guide: 9 Ways to Get to (& Around) the Northern Group.

The Complete Travel Guide to Manihiki© Sandee Cook - Cook Islands Tourism

Where to Stay in Manihiki

Like anywhere in the Northern Group of the Cook Islands, visitors are looked after by their hosts. Hosts will arrange all of the food, drinking water, transport and experiences. The most common place to stay is the atoll’s formal accommodation, Manihiki Lagoon Villas. Otherwise, there are some guesthouses/homestays available.

Manihiki Lagoon Villas

A couple of freestanding villas on stilts hover over the sands (and water at high tide) at Manihiki Lagoon Villas. Whoever said that the Cook Islands only had one resort with overwater bungalows?!

The spacious open-plan bungalows with a balcony have a bathroom (with hot water) and a kitchenette and accommodate two people in a double or twin bed setup. You are provided with breakfast supplies, while lunch and dinner are local dishes prepared by the locals. The cost is approximately NZ$150 per night.

Other Accommodations on Manihiki

Other stays on Manihiki include a couple of homestays/guesthouses in the villages. The hosts of Manhiki Lagoon Villas offer guesthouse accommodation in Tauhuna village as overflow accommodation when the villas are full.

Also in Tauhunu is the Numahanga Homestead with the Williams family. In Tukao village, the Samson family runs a small guesthouse on top of a pearl seeding station. There are two guest rooms available. The accommodation sits over the water with a small jetty.

The Complete Travel Guide to Manihiki© Cook Islands Tourism

8 Best Things to Do in Manihiki

Manihiki is all about embracing the island lifestyle, exploring a stunning lagoon and, of course, experiencing its black pearl industry.

  1. Visit the pearl farms
  2. Take a tour of the Manihiki Lagoon
  3. Join the locals for fishing or spearfishing
  4. Explore Motu Tokerau
  5. Snorkel among stunning coral
  6. Scuba dive among unspoiled coral banks
  7. Experience the singing at a Sunday church service
  8. Take a trip to Rakahanga.

1. Pearl Farm Visits

A must-do on Manihiki, pearl farm visits are a way to experience the lagoon’s rare industry and the farmers’ interesting way of life. Unlike in French Polynesia, pearl farm visits are informal and authentic. Pearl farmers show you their craft, their homes on tiny manmade islands, and how nothing of the oysters and their pearls go to waste.

2. Lagoon Tours

Your host can arrange boat tours of the lagoon, stopping by the 40 small islets lining the southern end of the lagoon, as well as the ones scattered in the middle. You also hit amazing snorkelling spots along coral banks scattering the central lagoon.

3. Fishing

Most of the fishing happens within the lagoon. You’re welcome to join local fisherfolk for fishing from the boat or spearfishing.

4. Exploring Tokerau

The “motu” of Tokerau is the easiest to explore with roads and trails to follow on foot or by scooter. The northern tip of Tokerau features some stunning pools where you can spot curious (but friendly) reef sharks and stingrays and even walk across to another small motu, Murihiti, at low tide. In contrast, the southern tip of Tokerau is quite swampy and an interesting landscape to investigate at low tide where you can even walk across to other tiny islets, such as Hohake Iti with its lush interior dense in vegetation and lining of white sandy beach.

5. Snorkelling

Like anywhere in the Cook Islands, the snorkelling within the lagoon of Manihiki is simply breathtaking. Anyone taking you out on the lagoon is likely to show you some incredible snorkelling spots awash in healthy coral and colourful fish. Even the accommodation, Manihiki Lagoon Villas, where most visitors stay has a good snorkelling beach. Note that although it’s best to bring your own snorkelling gear, there are snorkelling masks and fins available with Manihiki Lagoon Villas on request.

6. Scuba Diving

Manihiki is one of the rare islands in the Northern Group with a little bit of a setup for scuba diving. Manihiki Lagoon Villas has some gear available to hire and offers dive trips in the lagoon and outside of the lagoon for certified divers.

7. Church Services

Like on all of the Cook Islands’ inhabited islands, the church services are amazing to experience on a Sunday morning with singing that is sure to move you. There is a CICC Church and the Catholic St. Anne Church in Tukao village on the island of Ngake. There is also a CICC Church in Tauhunu on Tokerau.

8. Take a Trip to Rakahanga

When the weather is right, you can arrange with the locals to take a boat across to another one of the Northern Group islands, Rakahanga. We have a whole other guide for that, so check it out in The Complete Travel Guide to Rakahanga.

See more typical Cook Islands experiences in the 101 Best Things to Do in the Cook Islands: The Ultimate List.

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

Information, Services and Shops in Manihiki

It’s important to know what Manihiki does (and doesn’t) have so that you come fully prepared.

Shops in Manihiki

The villages of Tauhunu and Tukao have tiny stores selling basic goods like tinned food, rice, sugar, flour and insect repellent. Otherwise, the locals get supplies out of shipping containers, so should there be anything that you really need, you can ask your host who could possibly source it for you. But when it comes to personal items, cash (bring plenty with you in New Zealand Dollars), medication, hygiene products, your favourite snack, coffee/tea, sunscreen, etc. etc. it’s best to bring it with you. Although snorkelling gear is available on request at some accommodations, it’s usually better to bring your own.

Souvenirs are available to buy, such as traditional crafts. Of course, black pearls are also for sale. Learn more about Cook Islands souvenirs in 10 Best Souvenirs from Rarotonga & the Cook Islands.

WiFi and Post Office in Manihiki

There are two WiFi hotspots, one in the administration area of Tauhunu on Tokerau and one at the Vodafone/Post Office in Tukao on Ngake. Learn more about connecting to Vodafone hotspots using How to Get Internet & WiFi in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands. You can also use the Vodafone office for postal services and buy a local SIM card. Learn more about the local phone network in The Best SIM Card in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands for Travellers.

Banks and ATMs in Manihiki

While there are banks in Manihiki, the BCI (Bank of the Cook Islands) banks, they do not deal in foreign exchange or withdrawals using international bank cards. There are also no ATMs in Manihiki. Needless to say, you need to bring enough cash with you to pay your way.

Hospitals in Manihiki

Manihiki boasts two relatively modern hospitals (for outer island standards), one in each of the largest islands. On Tokerau, you have the Tuhunu Hospital at the southern end of Tuhunu village. On Ngake, Tukao Hospital is located in the northeastern part of Tukao village. Opening hours for the hospitals are the same from Monday to Friday, 8am to 4pm.

More About Manihiki and the Cook Islands

That’s it for our complete travel guide to Manihiki in the Cook Islands. For more less-explored islands to visit, check out the following guides:

Finally, plan the rest of your Cook Islands expedition using The Best Cook Islands Travel Guide and the 30 Tips for Travelling in Rarotonga & 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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