Kia Orana! Welcome to island paradise. Welcome to the Cook Islands!
In case you have not heard of the Cooks – the Cook Islands are in the middle of the South Pacific Ocean, between Tahiti and New Zealand. The country is made up of 15 islands, spread over a distance the size of western Europe. Of the 15 islands, 12 are inhabited. See a map here.
During normal times, Rarotonga can be accessed on direct flights from Auckland in New Zealand, Sydney in Australia and Los Angeles in the United States.
With a total population of around 17,000 people, of which 13,000 live on the main island of Rarotonga, the Cook Islands are a true south-seas tropical island paradise. White beaches, palm trees, clear, warm water and friendly people make the country a perfect island destination that will win your heart.
The main island of Rarotonga offers accommodation for any budget – from backpacker to millionaires’ villas, everyone will find an accommodation that suits them here. However, if you are looking for big hotels, all-inclusive resorts and mass tourism, this is the wrong destination for you.
The island is surrounded by a fringing reef with a shallow lagoon in between. The lagoon is ideal for water activities such as snorkeling, kayaking or kite-surfing. The lagoon is also used for confined water scuba dive training. Imagine how cool it is to see colourful fish the instant you take your first breaths underwater.
Looking inland, steep mountains form Jurassic Park-like scenery that takes your breath away. Various inland treks and mountain hikes allow you to discover the island’s interior, either with a guide or on your own. Exploring the islands’ roads by bicycle or scooter is a favourite for many visitors, but rental cars are also readily available throughout the island. If you are more into relaxing with food and drinks, the island offers many restaurants and bars with good food, cold drinks and great live music.
With water temperatures ranging from 24 to 28 degrees Celsius, diving is done year-round. Visibility is usually very good, but can get exceptionally clear (60+ metres) during the winter months.
From June to October is also whale season. Humpback whales migrate from the colder Southern Ocean up to warmer climates to mate and give birth. During this time, whale sightings are fairly common. In fact, you can easily spot whales off the beach here.
Rarotonga offers around 30 recreational dive sites, scattered all around the island. Being a small island with a 32 km circumference and a number of boat launching spots around the island, all dive sites can be reached within a short boat ride – usually between 5 and 15 minutes. Rarotonga offers diving for every experience level. The north, west, south and east coast all differ in underwater topography.
The reefs on the north coast are dominated by massive, beautiful porites coral formations. Hard coral cover is very high here and the coral is healthy. Most of the time there is little to no current and the sites on the north coast can be dived by all experience levels.
On the west coast, dive sites boast healthy coral reefs combined with shallow caverns, tunnels, swim-throughs and overhangs that are fun to explore and easy to dive.
Dive sites on the south coast are accessed through one of the passages (gaps in the reef). The dives are either drop-off or passage dives. The passages have frequent strong to very strong currents and are not for the faint-hearted diver, nor for heavy breathers! Dives here are not drift dives, meaning you work your way up the current into the passage and back out with the flow. This may sound challenging, but passage dives are the preferred sites for many fit, experienced divers that visit the island year after year. When conditions are right, you can see sharks, rays, turtles, massive eels and giant trevalleys, all on the same dive.
Unfortunately, sites on the south-coast are often off-limit due to frequent southerly swells and south-easterly winds.
The east coast offers stunning sites and is great for deeper dives. The rugged coral terrain with steep drop-offs leading into the abyss are also the favourite of many returning divers.
If you are a rebreather diver, Rarotonga offers fantastic deep dives within minutes from shore that will leave you speechless. Below 60 metres (200ft), the reef topography changes and drop-offs fall vertically into the abyss, without bottom to be seen.
Massive, colourful soft corals and sea fans cover the walls and endemic fish species like the highly prized peppermint angelfish, narcosis angelfish or pitcairn angelfish can be found here.
If you are into rare tropical fish and are an experienced technical rebreather diver, Rarotonga is where you want to go!
For more information about diving in the Cook Islands, click here!