Some of the Pacific most beautiful islands, but corals globally in poor condition

The Cook Islands is comprised of 15 islands cast across 2 million sq km, in the heart of Polynesia. Rarotonga, where Avarua, the capital city, is located, Aitutaki, and, to a lesser extent, Aitu, are the most accessible and visited islands in the country.

The Cook Islands are a perfect destination for free shore snorkeling in shallow, calm lagoons. In Rarotonga, the protected waters of Aroa Marine Reserve , in front of The Rarotongan Beach Resort & Lagoonarium, and Tikioki Marine Reserve, aka Fruits of Rarotonga/Tikioki Beach, boast some of the most vibrant underwater life on the island. Many people consider them the best spots in “Raro”.

Black Rock, Cook Islands
Aerial view of Black Rock, a popular snorkeling location in northern Rarotonga.

Black Rock, on the northwestern side of the island, and Muri Beach on the southwestern coast are also great options.

From Muri Beach, you can reach two motus. Taakoka, just in front of Nautilus Resort Rarotonga and Koromiri, facing the Pacific Resort Rarotonga, by kayak or swimming.

Apart from these spots, you can snorkel almost everywhere in the lagoon edging Rarotonga, but avoid the surroundings of the pass (or passages) connecting the lagoon and the open sea, where there are strong currents.

Snorkeling Aroa Beach, Cook Islands
Aroa Marine Reserve is one of the most recommended snorkeling spots in Rarotonga (left, a threadfin butterflyfish, right, a burrowing sea urchin).

In Aitutaki, the northwestern tip of the lagoon, between Pacific Resort Aitutaki and the Marine Research Centre, just past the runway, offers the best shore snorkeling around the atoll.

In Both Rarotonga and Aitutaki, you can also try the lagoon snorkeling tours. These boat tours, on average NZD80pp. for 4 hours, (many options available) will take you to more remote snorkeling spots, considered to be much richer in sea life than the beach options.

In Aitutaki, One Foot Island and Honeymoon Island, two coral islands of the southern part of the lagoon, are some of the tours favorite stops.

Snorkeling Rarotonga
Rarotonga’s calm, shallow lagoons are perfect for snorkeling from the surface (here, a group of whitetail dascyllus).

In the Cook Islands, you’ll spot Polynesian lagoon sea life, including a vast array of fish such as parrotfish, butterflyfish, pufferfish, trevallies, surgeonfish, moray eels, sea stars, sea cucumbers, and sea urchins.

However, the coral condition is variable here, and you may find dead coral areas, sometimes covered with seaweed. If you are lucky, you may encounter around the Cook Islands sea turtles, stingrays, and reef sharks, especially in deeper and more remote areas.

When to go snorkeling the Cook Islands

The Cook Islands can be snorkeled all year round. In the archipelago, the climate is tropical, influenced by the trade winds, with a hot, humid, and rainy season from December to April (26-30°C in average) and a cooler and relatively dry season from June to August (22-27°C).

The shoulder months of May, September, October and November are usually considered as the best months to visit the Cook Islands.

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