Top 10 things to do in Mangaia

Photography By
Fe'ena Syme-Buchanan

Mangaia is traditionally known as A'ua'u Enua. The island is rich in culture and tradition, and is the second largest island in the Cook Islands. For those who want to discover adventure and experience life in one of the most fascinating and remote places in nature, this is the perfect destination. Here are some of my top 10 favourite things to do here on Mangaia - a selection of authentic experiences that are great fun and completely safe.

1. Visit the Beaches! (Araoa is my favourite)
Unlike the beaches of Hawaii, Tahiti or even Rarotonga, Mangaia has gorgeous and secluded beaches tucked away within the surrounding makatea (raised coral atoll). You can enjoy nature, the sun, sand and sea all to yourself. No need to share!

2. Swim in the Tuaati rock pool and explore the reef
Tuaati is a stunning rock pool, hidden round a corner of Makatea. Deep enough to have a little snorkel in, you can also just relax and enjoy the fresh cool sea water. Visiting at low-tide will allow you to safely explore the reef (You must wear reef shoes) and discover the vibrant sea life. There is also a huge rock on the reef that sits beside a deep crack in the reef. This crack opens into a small pool, that you can swim and snorkel in. 
(Take precaution to swim and explore the reef only at low-tide)

3. Explore one or two of Mangaia's numerous fascinating caves
Mangaia's caves have intriguing legends and can be explored with a local guide. Mangaia's cave systems are believed to be the most complex in the Cook Islands. Toru A Puru cave is a sacred site, as it is known for its burial remains and is largely unexplored.

4. Attend a church service at Tamarua Cook Islands Christian Church (CICC)
Church begins at 10am. Garlands of delicate white pupu shells decorate the altar of the church. The interior beams and roofing are covered in an ancient sennit rope weaving, dating back to when the church was first built in 1863. Elements of Mangaia's former tribal culture are symbolised in the back-to-back fighting figures carved into each support post.

5. Head to the wharf to watch the sunset!
Easy access, lots of seating options and a direct view of the sun setting, gives this location a place on my list. Depending on the time of year (July-October) you can have a magical once-in-a-lifetime experience watching whales play at sunset.

A stunning sunset at the Avarua Wharf on Mangaia

6. Visit the Saragossa Shipwreck at low tide
In 1904 the Saragossa, a ship carrying a cargo of coal from Newcastle (Australia) to San Francisco, hit the reef on the south coast of Mangaia. The Saragossa and surrounding area remain in its natural state providing a serene coastline with a remarkable display of marine land and sky colours. It's best to visit at low tide as you will be able to see the anchor and Saragossa's remains at this time.

The Saragossa Anchor

7. Hire yourself a scooter (Sorry - only manual transmission scooters available!)
Explore the rugged coastal tracks of Mangaia 'island-style' and immerse yourself in adventure. You will drive for hours and only see one or two people passing you by. Scooters costs $NZ25 a day to hire from the local shop. Be sure to take care when driving through 'The Cutting' in Oneroa. It is a one-lane road with blind corners. Give a toot on your horn to let people know you are coming through!

8. Visit the Friday morning markets (You will need to wake up very EARLY)
Local freshly grown fruit and veggies can be bought at the morning markets, as well as other delicious local food like Tiromi (this is Taro prepared simply with coconut cream and pounded into a squishy pound disk - best eaten fried) and Poke (Baked banana, tapioca flour and coconut cream). If you’re feeling naughty, the only fast-food takeaway is open and ready to serve you deep-fried delights; such as the local favourite: chicken & chips.  You will need to be early - like 5:30am early. This is the best time to buy local produce, food and goods, as the local people like to do their market shopping before the 6am church service. By 8:30am the market is practically finished.

9. Find lookouts and see the taro plantations - spectacular!
My two favourites are the Paata lookout on the backroad of Oneroa, and the Nukino lookout in Tamarua. Both offer pleasant views of the taro swamps and plantations. The Nukino lookout is a great place for a picnic, so pack a lunch and head over.

10. Eat a Mangaian Donut - they're huge!
Mangaia has arguably the Biggest (and Best) Donuts in the Cook Islands. Best eaten fresh with butter and a cuppa tea. You will have to fly there to experience the sweet delicacies.

Mangaia is peaceful beyond belief, with a small population living life at an easy pace within its dramatic topography captivating mystery. This is a place where you can trek for miles along the coast, or in the interior and not see another soul - the perfect sanctuary from a busy world. So visit soon!

Fe'ena Syme-Buchanan was raised in the Cook Islands and recently returned home after completing her Bachelor of Creative Enterprise at Unitec, Auckland. A fine artist and photographer, she is currently serving an internship with the Cook Islands Tourism Corporation's digital team.