Mangaia, the southernmost of the Cook Islands, is just north of the Tropic of Capricorn. To the south, the sea in unbroken as far as Antarctica. Mangaia is noticibly cooler than the other islands and is also quite large, only surpassed by Rarotonga.
Mangaia is surrounded by a high coral ring called the makatea. The island's rolling interior is volcanic, rising to 169 meters at Rangimotia. The 750 Mangaia islanders have their gardens in the interior but live in the three small villages of Oneroa, Tamarua, and Ivirua on the coast.
The Mangaia makatea is one of the highest in the South Pacific which sheer cliffs 80 meters high in places. The sharp coral makes the makatea almost inpenetrable. The ancient Polynesians once used limestone caves in the makatea as places of burial. Lake Tiriara on the inside of the makatea is connected to the sea and rises and falls slightly with the tides.
A 25-km road along the coastal strip rings most of the island. It's seven km from the airstrip to Oneroa, the main village, where a monument in front of the church recalls Mangaian church ministers and missionaries (such as the Reverend William Wyatt Gill, who served in the Cooks from 1852 to 1883).
A couple of small guest houses are in Oneroa and Ivirua. Flights from Rarotonga arrive at Mangaia's costal airstrip three or four times a week. There's no wharf and ship's passengers must be transferred to shore in small boats. Visitors who enjoy quiet places and exploring on their own will find Mangaia interesting.