Looking For Cook Islands Snorkeling Information

by Steve
(Brisbane, Australia)

I am looking for some Cook Island snorkeling information. I am soon to embark on a journey from Australia to the Cook Islands for two weeks with friends who are SCUBA divers. I'm not. I cannot for the life of me see the sense in all that gear. Snorkeling is for those who like to be "in the light".

Has anyone got any Cook Island snorkeling tips? I think the plan is to spend most of our time on the main island. Any ideas would be welcome.

Comments for Looking For Cook Islands Snorkeling Information

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Jan 19, 2013
We Don't Know
by: Nicole & Galen

Hi Steve,

We were waiting to see if anyone else was going to answer your question as we have no experience with snorkeling the Cook Islands. We had another question about them up recently and it never got any responses.

We will leave this up for a while and point to it in our next newsletter to see if anyone has some experience.

Otherwise, we would love for you to write a submission about your experience when you return. Post it here.

Jan 21, 2013
Snorkeling the Cook Islands
by: snorkelfun

We stayed on the main island of Rarotonga in 2009 and had a great time. The lagoon has depths of 3 to 10 feet with all kinds of fish. Watch for signs indicating marine reserves (RAURI) as the locals will fish the other areas. The islands at Muri beach were fun to swim and hike on but not much snorkeling. Fruits of Rarotonga is good and the southwest side has clams!! Rent a car for sure. Licensing is quick and easy. Have fun!!

Feb 13, 2013
We've snorkeled in the Cooks
by: Kipawa

In 2004, my husband and I were in the Cooks and South Pacific. We snorkeled in Rarotonga, Aitutaki, Moorea and Tahiti. The best snorkeling we did was in two places - Rarotonga and Aitutaki.

In Rarotonga, there were great areas a few 'blocks' away from where we were staying at the Sunhaven Beach Bungalows (BTW, an awesome place to stay - RIGHT on the beach). At Rarotonga the coral had been bleached somewhat, but we still saw trigger fish (I got bit by one!), clown fish, moorish idols, butterflyfish, tangs, a long silver fish (can't remember the name) and others.

The coral may have improved since we were there. Use fins or water shoes. There were tons of sea cucumbers on the bottom of the water, and although we did not put our feet down much, when we did it was an awfully creepy feeling, besides thinking that we might be hurting the sea cucumbers.

The BEST area we snorkeled in was around the area of Aitutaki. This is a beautiful island, and hopefully you can find time to go there. We took a small plane over to this island, about an hour, and stayed there for a week. Snorkeling there was awesome. The water clearer and the coral was in much better shape. We also took a snorkeling tour over to One Foot Island - don't miss going there. I can't remember the name of the boat, but the man who did the tour called himself 'Captain Awesome', and it was quite an awesome tour. It was a day tour, including an awesome lunch.

Captain Awesome knew exactly where there were great things to see. One highlight that we still remember so fondly was seeing a giant clam that was almost 4 feet x 4 feet. The water was so clear that we could make out all of the little textures it had. There really was no 'bad' place to snorkel on Aitutaki. You just had to get out a little from shore. You were still in water that was just about 4-5 feet. We did encounter areas that were deeper than about 15 feet, but these areas were few.

We didn't do as much snorkeling in Moorea. We did more island investigating.

Hopefully you get this before you leave. Have a safe and wonderful trip!

Feb 13, 2013
Rarotonga Snorkeling
by: Murray

I stayed on Rarotonga for 2 weeks and had a great time. I snorkeled mostly in the beach area at the Palm Grove Resort. As it turned out this is one of the best areas to snorkel, lots of fish and coral, and a water depth of 1 to 4 meters. A very relaxing place to stay with friendly locals.

You can see some pictures on my website here.

Have fun and Kia Orana.

Mar 01, 2014
Rarotonga was good, Aitutaki was great
by: Mark

We just got back from a snorkeling trip to the Cook Islands with one week in Rarotonga and one week in Aitutaki. We were worried that their rainy season would be rainy, but we had great weather all the time (February).

Stayed at the Little Polynesian Resort in Tativekea, Rarotonga and snorkeling off their beach was nice, but turbidity made it only reasonable to snorkel after high tide, around 2pm. There is at times a strong parallel current a ways out, but one of us swam about 1/2 mile out toward reef. (We advise others to NOT attempt to reach the reef. It is too far out and difficult to see.) Depths went from 6-10' near shore to 15-30'. There were larger fish near the reef, some rays, but no turtles. Sea cukes were prevalent everywhere, but you can easily avoid them.

In Aitutaki we stated at the Pacific Resort. Nice rooms, but lackluster service and food. Right off their beach, more cukes, but MUCH BETTER snorkeling than on Rarotonga. The water was almost crystal clear, with hoards of colorful fish, mostly small, up to 10" max. This area will keep you entertained for days. You could save money and stay up the beach at Tamanu (decent looking units, great food) and walk to PRA.

One caution: we did see a small scorpionfish a few feet into the water from the Pacific Resort--do not toy with these fish! Someone was recently stung and they were medevaced to Rarotonga. Nonetheless, you can avoid these with good sense and care when walking in sand.

We also took a water taxi to the clam preserve, and other snorkeling destinations, like One Foot and Honeymoon Island. We used Antonio's Water Taxi. It was similar to other tours but more expedient, no BBQ, and you get through it in three or four hours. It was run by young kids, but nice. Book him at the tourist office in Arutunga.

In the depths where the taxi took us, the fish were unreal... hoards! Colorful, beautiful, and giant clams... beats Hawaii for sure. Some larger fish, like trevally, but the main thing is it's protected, not much current, easy to snorkel, depths are 20' to 30' or slightly more. We did not see a single shark or jellyfish or any sort of thing to worry about (I am scared of such!). Pick your day carefully, because without sun, it's not so great. We were lucky.

I highly recommend Aitutaki. Great people, great snorkeling.

Mar 03, 2014
I forgot to mention...
by: Mark

I forgot to mention that Aitutaki is a very large atoll and as such, my initial hopes of kayaking around the lagoon to various locations turned out to be nearly impossible. I failed to realize the scale of the task I was considering.

We were going to load snorkel gear onto a kayak and travel from the western shore of the atoll near Pacific Resort Aitutaki, to the inner parts of the lagoon and across to Honeymoon and One Foot islands. This is not doable unless you are a very strong paddler and have top athletic endurance.

The lagoon is one or several miles wide, and the distances are far greater than one might imagine on first glance at a map. Now I know why the snorkeling and general lagoon tours were so "recommended." LOL.

Nonetheless, you can get a lot of great snorkeling in on the western shore alone, but you should also make sure to take a day trip to the clam preserves in the deeper parts of the lagoon, as mentioned above.

Jul 18, 2014
by: Granny Heather

I stayed a week on Aitutaki last Easter, with my favorite snorkeling companion, elder grand daughter Keziah, and we had a wonderful underwater holiday. We found the best-beyond-belief fish spotting place was at the end of the runway, very near the Fish Research Station. Later we were told that we should have visited the Station, as those who did had been made most welcome. Next time. Just beside the station is shoulder-deep water, a sandy bottom and a wonderful collection of little bommies heading out to sea. We circled each, and found them populated by dozens of colorful varieties and our favorite 'first' a juvenile Emperor Angel - gloriously blue and striped in white with a pattern rather like a weather map.

If you want to visit the island and wrecks in snorkel depths in middle of the lagoon, our favorite trip was with Te King. His is not one of the more glamorous boats, but was a quick and fun ride out to the little islands and he was a good snorkeling guide, especially for the less experienced among us. The crew cooked us a sumptuous barbecue and salads lunch on a little island where we also spotted a resting tropic bird with a tail about 12 feet long.

Te King took us to church the next day, Easter Sunday, familiar hymns, half of Cook Island Maori which is very similar to our Kiwi te reo.

Next time, I'll stay in a cottage near the Research Station for ticking off my fish list, and rent a car to explore more beaches.

Nov 28, 2016
Updated Cook Islands Information
by: AJ - West Coast

Just back from my first trip the Cook Islands and wanted to provide some updated information as I found current Cook Islands snorkeling information very difficult to come by. We did a week on Aitutaki and a week on Rarotonga.

We specifically went to the Cook Islands for shore snorkeling and calm lagoon boat snorkeling. I almost drowned a few years back and can't do deep open water snorkeling anymore.

We also wanted to check out the Cook Islands to see if it was a potential repeat visit destination. The cost to visit the Cook Islands is considerably cheaper than French Polynesia and Fiji which we have been to numerous times. For those wondering, we did find Rarotonga to be cheaper than French Polynesia and Fiji, but Aitutaki was about the same cost.

That said, we found the snorkeling on both Rarotonga and Aitutaki to be terrible in some places and absolutely amazing in others. We had a car (or boat) on both islands and snorkeled nearly every spot we heard had decent snorkeling.

On Aitutaki, the amount of shore snorkeling available is quite limited as the island is very small. We snorkeled numerous shore locations from the top of the island at the airport, all the way down to the wharf at the bottom of the island. We found almost all the shore snorkeling to be quite poor due to the unfortunate algae growth all over the hard coral (no soft coral in Cook Islands). The algae problem seems to be the worst on overused reefs, especially in front of resorts. We saw the same problem on Rarotonga and recently in French Polynesia.

However, the coral that was still alive close to shore was colorful and quite beautiful. We found the best snorkeling to be up by the airport since there are minimal resorts up there and therefore less use of the reef. However, "best snorkeling" is a relative term as none of the reefs were very healthy. Therefore, I would not recommend going to Aitutaki if all you want to do is shore snorkel.

Yet snorkeling the lagoon by boat was a different story. The reef in the lagoon is some of the best I have seen anywhere in the world. It can hold its own with Fiji, Great Barrier Reef, outer islands of French Polynesia, etc. In the lagoon we saw Giant Trevally, Maori Wrasse, as well as dozens of Giant Clams of all colors. The coral is also spectacular with lots of Brain Coral, boomies, Staghorn Coral, Plate Coral, and Pillar Coral.

If I could do it again, I would do a private boat snorkel in the lagoon every single day and skip the shore snorkeling completely. We went to the lagoon with Silent One Charters (highly recommended) and had a perfect day with Captain Ki and his wife. Best charter I have done anywhere in the world.

A couple of tips specific to travel on Aitutaki. No one works on Sundays. You will be hard pressed to find groceries, rent a car, find someone to take you out to the lagoon, etc. If possible, plan your trip so you are, at a minimum, not arriving or departing on a Sunday. It will make your life much easier.

Finally, Aitutaki is the only place I have ever been to where boat operators clearly do not want to go into the lagoon when it is even lightly raining. The first morning we were there we had our booked charter cancel on us due to weather and numerous other charters tell us they were not willing to go out that day. Not because it was dangerous, they just didn't want to get wet.

I have never seen so many companies refuse to go out in light rain that would not stop a single boat from going out in a place like Hawaii. Silent One was the only one willing to take us out in the rain and we are glad they did because the day was absolutely perfect (even with the light rain), never dangerous and they could not have been more professional and caring. Just be aware that if your lagoon charter cancels on you due to weather 10 minutes before the charter is scheduled to begin, don't assume all boats have cancelled for the day.

On Rarotonga, the snorkeling is all from shore. The island looks like a really small version of Moorea for those who have been to French Polynesia. We also found the type of coral to be very similar to Moorea. You can only snorkel about half the island from the airport in the north to the Muri area in the east. The northeast side of the island is too rough to snorkel.

In doing our research, we heard the best places to snorkel were Black Rock Beach in the northwest, Aroa Beach in the south and Titikaveka Beach, also known as Fruits of Rarotonga, in the southeast part of the island. We snorkeled nearly every spot from Black Rock all the way to the Fruits of Rarotonga area and we kept coming back to Aroa Beach over and over again. We found it to be the best reef on the island and one of the better car accessible shore snorkel reefs in the South Pacific. I consider Aroa Beach to be from the Aroa Beachside Inn to just before you get to the Rarotongan Resort.

Fruits of Rarotonga and Black Rock are great for seeing giant coral boomies the size of a car like the boomies common to Moorea. However, the boomies are few and far between and there is a lot of algae growth on the coral preventing these areas from being a really great reef. One beautiful thing about the boomies in the Cook Islands is they are yellow, purple and brown as opposed to the primary brown color found on Moorea. They look more like the colorful coral boomies that are commonly found on the motus of Tahaa.

As opposed to the other locations, Aroa Beach was different yet amazingly beautiful. The boomies were much smaller, and had considerably less algae so there was a very healthy fish population. Not a lot of big fish, but tons of fish variety. The prevalent coral in this area are large and small boomies, lots of Brain Coral, and Pillar Coral.

Overall, we found the Cook Islands to have above average snorkeling in some areas, but we also spent a lot of time snorkeling reefs that were very unhealthy from excessive algae growth. One good sign is we saw very little bleaching.

All said, I would definitely go back to the Cook Islands, but only if it was combined with another destination in the area with great snorkeling such as Fiji or French Polynesia. I would not take that long of a flight from the United States specially to snorkel the Cook Islands.

Happy Snorkeling!

Jan 19, 2017
Thank you
by: Anonymous

We are planning a trip, deciding between Fiji and Rarotonga/Aitutaki, and love snorkeling, so this was SO helpful!!! Thank you for taking the time to give detailed information.

Feb 26, 2017
Wonderful Article
by: Equinelady

Thank you AJ for such detailed information. Hoping to go in 2017.

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