Some visitors to the Cook Islands happily spend their entire holiday lazing on the beach or gently rocking in a shady hammock with a good book. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, but if you need a bit more excitement, there are plenty more active attractions on the islands. From world-class snorkeling and diving to trekking through lush, unspoiled rainforest, the Cooks offer plenty to keep you busy.

Diving & Snorkeling

Blessed with warm, crystal clear waters and an abundance of tropical fish and corals, the Cook Islands are a true paradise for divers and snorkelers.

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Great snorkeling is available on many of the islands, but particularly popular on Rarotonga and Aitutaki. Favourite spots on Rarotonga include the Titikaveka Lagoon in the southeastern side of the island and Muri Lagoon. Aitutaki also offers excellent snorkeling, both right off its beaches and further out around the atolls on the rim of Aitutaki Lagoon.
Many resorts, guesthouses and inns have snorkeling equipment for guests’ use, and there are several charter companies on Rarotonga and Aitutaki that offer trips and cruises to great snorkeling spots.
Divers are just as spoiled, with several dive companies on Rarotonga and Aitutaki offering a full range of instruction and rental equipment. And four dive companies offer twice-daily dive trips for certified divers as well as a range of dive experiences for beginners.
The outer reef circling Rarotonga has been called “one of the best-kept secrets” in the diving community. The waters here offer 30-metre-plus visibility all year long, making for a spectacular experience. Humpback whales, hammer head and reef sharks, turtles, a wide variety of tropical reef fish and beautiful corals are all awaiting discovery, as well as several caves and wrecks, most of them on the reef at Avaura; and a spectacular reef drop-off that starts at 30 metres and descends vertically to 3,600 metres. All of the top locations, including the Ngatangiia Swimthroughs, the Matavera Drop-Off, the Mataora Wreck, the Papua Canyon, the Sand River and the Koromiri Coral Garden, are within a 15-minute boat ride from shore.
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Aitutaki Lagoon, often called the “most beautiful in the South Pacific”, offers excellent diving. With water temperatures a few degrees higher here than around Rarotonga, Aitutaki offers a different variety of marine life to discover.

Boating and Windsurfing

Muri Beach is the centre for sailing and windsurfing on Rarotonga and the home of the Rarotonga Sailing Club, which welcomes visitors. Windsurfers and sailboats are available for hire, and instruction is also available if you are trying a sport for the first time. On Aitutaki, rental facilities are available at Ootu Beach and Akitua. Kayaking is another popular option. Many accommodations offer kayaks for their guests’ use.

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If you’d rather sit back and let someone else do the work while you enjoy the view, you have plenty of options. Several companies in Rarotonga offer sightseeing cruises, whether a relaxing glass-bottom boat tour of the lagoon, an adventurous trip below the surface in a semi-submersible, or a fast-paced jaunt beyond the reef.

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Seasoned anglers and novices alike can enjoy excellent sport – and spectacular views – on a trip with one of Rarotonga’s professional charter companies. Most boats depart daily around 9 a.m., and an average trip around the island ranges from three to five hours. Up for grabs are barracuda (April to October); mahi mahi (year-round); marlin (November to April); sailfish (August to March); bigeye, dogtooth and yellowfin tuna (year-round); wahoo (July to November); and skipjack tuna (July to March). And with some trips costing less than NZ $100, the sightseeing opportunities alone are a great value, particularly from July through October, as humpback whales make their annual migration through the local waters.

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The Cook Islands Game Fishing Club at Tupapa welcomes visitors. For a small fee, you can join the club as a social member, and relax with drinks – at local prices – and trade fishing tales with fellow anglers.

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Head for the Hills
The hills of Rarotonga are filled with excellent trekking and walking routes that offer several views of the island’s coastline, as well as wonderful opportunities for bird watching and viewing rare tropical plants.
The most popular route is the Cross-Island Trek. The walk starts in a noni (a Polynesian medicinal plant) plantation, and heads into the rainforest and onto Te Rua Manga (The Needle), the island’s most dramatic peak, which boasts spectacular views of the island. From here you continue onto Papua Waterfall, also known as Wigmore’s Waterfall, beneath which you can enjoy a refreshing swim.

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The four-hour trek is best done with a guide. Rarotonga’s most famous is Pa Teuruaa, a local practitioner of traditional Maori medicine who teaches guests about medicinal plants and native flora and fauna along the way. Pa also offers less-strenuous nature walks on alternate days. Several other walking routes are available on the island. A good resource is Rarotonga’s Mountain Tracks and Plants, which is widely available on the island. The guidebook offers six routes of various lengths and fitness requirements, as well as detailed illustrations of the local flora and information on the birdlife you are likely to spot on your walk. It is highly recommended to seek an experienced guide for all treks and walks as trek paths are not visibly marked.

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If you’d rather tour the islands as a rider, there are great options available. Several operators offer professionally guided four-wheel-drive safari tours of Rarotonga that take travellers off the beaten path and offer plenty of information about the history, culture and natural wonders of the island. Or try a guided horseback trek. A popular tour winds through tropical plantations, up to Papua Waterfall (with a break for a swim) and along gorgeous white sand beaches.

Blue Skies

For a different angle altogether, try a flight-seeing tour high above Rarotonga, by light aircraft.