Mangaia  location map
Geologists estimate that Mangaia is at least 18 million years old, making it the oldest island in the Pacific. It's the second largest of the Cook Islands and the furthest south. 

The present day name was given by Aitutakian, Tamaeu who came to the island two years before Captain Cook and called it Mangaia-Nui-Neneva; that is "Mangaia monstrously great". Cook sighted the island on morning of 29 March, 1777.  And there's some evidence, albeit inconclusive, that the 'Bounty' mutineers also called at Mangaia

Mangaia aerial view
Taro -- and it's good for you
Taro is sometimes called the "potato of the tropics" and the finest is said to grow on Mangaia.  For those who are interested, it's high in vitamins A and C, has only a trace of fat and is particularly good for anyone with digestive problems or food allergies.

As you can see from the photo on the left, lush taro plantations and other vegetation thrive in the centre of the island at the bottom of the makatea, and in the central valley.  But, much as I love the Islands, I have to say taro is an acquired taste!

Access: Flights from Rarotonga most days

Lake Tiriari, Mangaia
Viewing platform on Lake Tiriari, Mangaia
The Lake opens into a cave in the makatea, but it's been at risk for years because of poor agricultural practices and a lack of proper management.   In return for the work which has been done, the islanders have promised to protect the lake by banning pesticides, dumping, tethering of livestock and construction of any building within 50 metres of the shoreline.

Population: 499
20 sq mls/51.8 sq. kms

126 miles/203 kms
East South East of Rarotonga

Mangaia cave

Lake Tiriara in the south of the Island is an area teeming with plant and animal life.  Now thanks to a not-for-profit environmental organisation, it has not only the protection it needs, but viewing platforms and a boardwalk around it. 

The investment has been made by Seacology, whose sole purpose is preserving the highly endangered biodiversity of islands throughout the world.  The Seacology website is fascinating and well worth a visit.  And I am grateful for their permission to use the photographs showing the lake and one of the viewing platforms.

Oneroa is the main village on the island
Red volcanic soil path
The vivid red soil reveals the ancient volcanic origins of Mangaia.   By contrast, the surrounding pine forest was planted about 20 years ago
Contrasting landscape
Ara Moana bungalows
The Ara Moana Hotel Bungalows were opened in 1997 to provide accommodation for tourists.   The complex nestles in a tranquil setting among the puka trees near the village of Ivirua.  It's basic, but I can vouch for the fact it's very clean.  And at night, it's incredibly tranquil
Outside a bungalow
Unspoiled beach
Sandy beaches are few...but the only footprints will be yours!
Oneroa village
VIP treatment
Mangaia airport terminal
The airport terminal...what it lacks in facilities it more than makes up for with friendly, personal service
But you need to be Prime Minister to get carried from your plane!  A VIP visit in 2002
Many of the photos on this page were taken by Jan Erik Johnsen from  Oslo, Norway. He describes the island as "one of the most peaceful places on the planet". And he's a prolific photographer. He's created a gallery of more than a thousand picures from his worldwide travels. Click here to have a look, or here to go to his collection of Cook Islands' photos
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Mangaia is renowned for its shell neckbands or "eis".  These are are made from the shells  of the tiny yellow snail, the pupu, which emerges only after rain.   Gathering, piercing and stringing is a very time consuming business.  The women of the island often give the highly prized strands away as gifts of friendship to visitors from other islands in the Group.  But they are also much in demand in Tahiti and Hawaii. 
Shell photo courtesy of the Cook Islands Biodiversity Database

The Mangaia Kingfisher (Todiramphus ruficollaris) is found nowhere else in the world, and it's name is totally misleading.   It never eats fish!   Like its distant cousin, the Australian kookaburra, it preys instead on skinks, insects and spiders.  The colourful bird lives high up in the forest growing on the makatea.  Birdlife International says there are between 400 and 700 birds on the island, but because they're unique to Mangaia, they're classified as an endangered species
Mangaia is renowned for its shell necklaces
Mangaia Kingfisher
The island rises  4,750 metres (15,600 feet) above the ocean floor, and has a central volcanic plateau.  Like many of the southern islands in the Cooks, it's surrounded by cliffs of fossilised coral,  called the makatea, in this case 60 metres (200 feet) high.   It looks beautiful in the left hand picture below, but the coral is razor sharp. 

Mangaia is also honeycombed with amazing caves like the one pictured centre with its owner, Teremanuia Taukakuma.  And inside, there are stunning natural rock formations like the ones on the right below.

Video clip
Take a VIDEO TOUR of Mangaia

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Internal airline, Air Rarotonga operates flights to and from Rarotonga on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.  The trip takes about 40 minutes.   And as the plane goes straight back, you need to stay at least one night on the island...assuming you want to see more than just the airstrip!
The road in the picture on the left is near Tava'enga village  and it was blasted through the makatea in 1951 using war surplus explosives.  It was an amazing engineering feat.  Before it, bulky goods were carried on horseback up a series of steps.  I'm no engineer, but I found it completely mind-blowing
ISLANDS: SOUTH  Mangaia    You might also like: Some personal impressions