By Steve – (Brisbane, Australia)
I am looking for some Cook Islands 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 Islands snorkeling tips? I think the plan is to spend most of our time on the main island. Any ideas would be welcome.
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Snorkelfun – Jan 21, 2013 – Snorkeling the Cook Islands
We stayed on the main island of Rarotonga in 2009 and had a great time. The lagoon has depths of 3-10 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!
Kipawa – Feb 13, 2013 – We’ve Snorkeled in the Cooks
In 2004, my husband and I were in the Cook Islands 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 triggerfish (I got bit by one!), clownfish, 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, 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 was 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 four feet by four 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.
Hopefully you get this before you leave. Have a safe and wonderful trip!
Murray – Feb 13, 2013 – Rarotonga Snorkeling
I stayed on Rarotonga for two 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 1-4 meters. A very relaxing place to stay with friendly locals.
Have fun and Kia Orana.
Mark – Mar 1, 2014 – Rarotonga Was Good, Aitutaki Was Great
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).
We 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 feet near shore to 15-30 feet. There were larger fish near the reef, some rays, but no turtles. Sea cucumbers were prevalent everywhere, but you can easily avoid them.
In Aitutaki we stated at the Pacific Resort. They had nice rooms, but lackluster service and food. Right off their beach, more cucumbers, but MUCH BETTER snorkeling than on Rarotonga. The water was almost crystal clear, with hoards of colorful fish, mostly small, up to 10 inches 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 Pacific Resort.
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 3-4 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 20-30 feet 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.
Mark – Mar 3, 2014 – I Forgot to Mention…
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 to 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.
Granny Heather – Jul 18, 2014 – Aitutaki
I stayed a week on Aitutaki last Easter, with my favorite snorkeling companion, elder granddaughter 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.
AJ – West Coast – Nov 28, 2016 – Updated Cook Islands Information
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, bommies, 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 bommies the size of a car like the bommies common to Moorea. However, the bommies 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 bommies 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 bommies that are commonly found on the motus of Taha’a.
As opposed to the other locations, Aroa Beach was different yet amazingly beautiful. The bommies 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 bommies, 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 specifically to snorkel the Cook Islands.
Anonymous – Jan 19, 2017 – Thank You
We are planning a trip, deciding between Fiji and the Cook Islands of Rarotonga and Aitutaki, and love snorkeling, so this was SO helpful! Thank you for taking the time to give detailed information.
Equinelady – Feb 26, 2017 – Wonderful Article
Thank you AJ for such detailed information. Hoping to go in 2017.
JC from GV – Jun 3, 2017 – Great Detailed Article
Best detailed article I have read on any snorkeling spot! Thank you.
Alison from Sydney – Aug 20, 2017 – Thank You
Thank you for this detailed description of snorkeling options in the Cook Islands. It has helped me make a decision on a potential trip here. Very much obliged.
Atlantan – Sep 10, 2017 – Silent One
I am just back from the Cook Islands and wanted to advise other readers that “Silent One” on Aitutaki mentioned in the post above is no longer operating. While their website is still active, AND they continue to take bookings, THEY (Captain Ki and Lovey) no longer operate it. In fact they have sold their boat and moved to Melbourne.
At present (9/2017) they communicate via email to potential clients, and then funnel their bookings to a cousin (Danzniel at Mona’s Water Taxi) who will be the one who actually takes you out in HIS boat. We didn’t find this out until after we booked and were actually en route to their boat. We thought this practice was deceptive and a little underhanded. Although we had a pretty good time with Danzniel, it was far from the “best charter I ever had” as described by AJ above.
Snorkeling from a boat in the marine preserves of Aitutaki’s lagoon was pretty good. The snorkeling from shore (Rarotonga and Aitutaki) was only average, at best: algae is a problem, particularly around resorts; tons of sea cucumbers; relatively few fish to see, and much of the coral is in very shallow water, only accessible at high tide.
Maybe worth a stop en route someplace else, but I wouldn’t recommend the Cook Islands as a snorkeling destination in and of itself.
Mark – Sep 10, 2017 – So, Aitutaki Wasn’t So Great?
Hi Atlantan, I just wanted to ask about your comment that the snorkeling wasn’t so great in Cook Islands. I was there three years ago and we had a great experience in the Aitutaki Lagoon. There were many fish and great, large, colorful clams. Has all of this changed, I guess?
I ask because we would consider going back and we’ve snorkeled in Hawaii, Florida, and Indonesia, but… maybe we need to get more snorkeling experience. I remember sea cucumbers, but once you are out in deeper water, they weren’t a big deal. I do recall that you didn’t want to snorkel in Rarotonga unless it was high tide.
Atlantan – Sep 10, 2017 – OK, But Only From a Boat
Hi Mark, just to clarify, we thought the water quality and snorkeling was good once you went out on a boat to one of the three marine preserves in the Aitutaki Lagoon. But it’s an expensive proposition to charter a boat every day during a 1-2 week vacation. (Sorry, but we refuse to go on those charters that take 15-30 people.)
When we vacation, we like to snorkel multiple times each day. For that reason, we prefer vacation locations where you can do a mixture of shore snorkeling and boat-based snorkeling. We found the shore snorkeling on Raratonga to be fairly disappointing, and the shore snorkeling on Aitutaki to be only marginally better.
As to whether it’s worth it, I’d say it depends on your experience and your expectations. Some novice snorkelers probably were thrilled with their experience snorkeling in the Cook Islands. We’re former divers who now only snorkel, so perhaps we’re a little more discriminating.
Since we live in the southeastern United States, we can travel fairly easily to multiple great snorkeling destinations in the Caribbean and Central America. Those places are a lot cheaper and easier for us to get to than the Cook Islands, and the snorkeling is better, especially from the shore.
Comparing the Cook Islands to the other places we have been on that side of the world, we found it to not be as good as in Fiji (although to be fair, we were in the Yasawas 30 years ago!), Hawaii, or Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.
That’s our two cents worth. Let me know if you have any other questions.
Mark – Sep 10, 2017 – Thanks!
Thank you, Atlantan, for clarifying! I hope that you are OK with Irma coming soon.
Anyway, we stayed in the Pacific Resort Aitutaki, which may have afforded us a more optimal starting point for shore snorkeling. There were other hotels north of our resort, too, and I think that there were some public access points to the water along that shoreline, also.
Someone else posted that the research center near the airport was great (even farther north). Maybe you didn’t have the best starting point. We used a private boat hire and it was not cheap for our one day out, for sure ($100 or $150, I think).
We’ll have to consider Fiji sometime, thanks!
Ronie – Sep 15, 2017 – How Does It Compare?
Mark, I am wondering how you would compare your snorkeling at Aitutaki to Hawaii? I have snorkeled often on the north shore of Kauai and am considering a trip to Aitutaki. I love to snorkel from shore. I’d love to hear your comments. Thanks in advance.
Atlantan – Sep 16, 2017 – To Mark
Mark, we too stayed at the Pacific Resort, Aitutaki. Frankly, I was underwhelmed by the snorkeling there. It is all extremely shallow: 3-5 ft water depth AT HIGH TIDE and virtually un-snorkel-able at low tide. Even worse however, was the abundant algae floating in the water. We’re talking big balls of it floating into your head. For more information, you can read my entire trip report that I posted on Trip Advisor’s Cook Islands forum (TrvlAnywhere Sept 11 2017).
Yes, we rented a car and snorkeled up near the old airport runway. It was a lot better, but great? No. Best part was there was no algae.
We also did two private charters, one for a full day and one for a half day. IMHO the only really good snorkeling to be had is out in the depths of Aitutaki’s Lagoon, within the marine preserves. Our full day charter was $500, and we negotiated $250 (down from $350) for the half day. That’s too much to pay to go out and enjoy good snorkeling every day during a vacation. So for our money, we’d rather go someplace that provides better shore snorkeling than the Cook Islands.
The Caribbean is readily accessible to us, and some of the lesser known cays provide excellent, easily accessible snorkeling. If I were headed to the Pacific again, I’d spend a little more and go to somewhere like Raja Ampat or Palau instead of the Cook Islands. Or possibly the out Islands of Fiji (been a long time since we were there, so I don’t know current conditions).
That’s my two cents worth.
Atlantan – Sep 16, 2017 – PS
To Ronie, I have only snorkeled the Big Island in Hawaii, and again, it was many years ago. I didn’t find the Cook Islands to be as good, at least from a shore snorkeling perspective. To be fair, you should probably ask someone who has been there more recently.
To Mark, we escaped relatively unscathed from Irma. One large tree down at our lake house in North Carolina, but no significant damage.
AJ – West Coast – Sep 20, 2017 – Travel Times – Cook Islands
In addition to my post last year on the Cook Islands, I wanted to touch on something Atlantan brought up which is proximity to decent snorkeling from your United States residence. I am a firm believer that this is a very important consideration when selecting a snorkel location, and is extremely relevant when deciding whether to go to the Cook Islands (specifically Aitutaki) or not. Over the years, I have found a snorkel location is generally not worth my travel time if I cannot be in the water snorkeling in about 12 travel hours from the time I get on the first flight to fins in the water.
I have been lucky enough to live in two of the best locations in the US to access non-stop flights to great snorkeling locations, Houston and currently Los Angeles. When I lived in Houston, I could catch a non-stop to nearly any island in the Caribbean and from the time I got on the plane to the time I was physically in the water snorkeling was under six hours, eight hours max if the island transfers were complex. There is a value to being in the water in relatively short time, especially when you have limited vacation time like I do.
One of the reasons I moved to LA was because nearly every non-stop flight to South Pacific snorkeling islands originate from LA. These flights also all leave around midnight so I can work the same day and not take a vacation day. This includes Tahiti, Fiji, and specifically the Cook Islands (Hawaii is also a non stop from LA).
From LA, I can be in the water snorkeling in Hawaii in under eight hours. To Tahiti, the non-stop flight from LA is eight hours with a short layover to Moorea. Car rental on Moorea and I can be shore snorkeling in Moorea in under 12 hours. Same thing to Fiji. It is a 12 hour non-stop flight from LA with a short boat ride to a Mamanuca Resort. In the water shore snorkeling at the Fiji resort in about 14 hours.
I bring these locations up because this time frame is not possible to Aitutaki. From LA, it is a 10 hour flight to Rarotonga and then a multiple hour layover on to Aitutaki. Even with a midnight flight from LA to Rarotonga, best case scenario you can arrive 12-4pm local time to Aitutaki.
This pretty much eliminates the chance to snorkel in the Aituiuki Lagoon the first day because most people are not going to book an afternoon boat snorkel first day to an island they have never been to. Therefore, in reality the first time you can snorkel the Aitutaki Lagoon is about 10am the next morning. This means that you cannot be in the water for good snorkeling until about 36 travel hours from departure from LA to Aitutaki. Even longer if you are coming from the east coast of the United States. That’s a long travel time before accessing good snorkeling.
I have had other snorkel trips take this amount of travel time from LA. For example, Great Barrier Reef – 42 hours. Indonesia – 48-60 hours. Vanuatu – 36 hours. Glad I did all of these locations, but will not do any of them again until I retire due to the travel time from first flight to snorkel.
If you are like me and have limited vacation time, 36 hours or more of travel time can really cut into the actual snorkeling time on vacation. That said, Aitutaki is a place everyone should go to once in their life. The lagoon is great. Just be aware it involves a longer travel time than most people expect (around 36 hours) because it has limited great snorkeling opportunities other than by boat.
Personally, now that I have been to the Cook Islands, I would rather be in the water in Moorea or Mamanucas in about 12 hours (or Maui in eight hours) vs. 36 hours to Aitutaki. But again, Aitutaki is still definitely worth visiting if you have the travel time to allocate.
Doug – Sep 21, 2017 – Snorkeling Cook Islands in April 2017
We stayed at Palm Grove and thought the snorkeling was very good, even at low tide. You just have to avoid the shallow spots and follow the canyons.
At Fruits of Rarotonga the water is much deeper and similar to the lagoon at Aitutaki, but not nearly as clear or wonderful.
We also did the Captain Tamas lagoon cruise but did not think too much of it. There were way too many people, but good food.
On Aitutaki we stayed at Aitutaki Seaside Lodges, very close to the abandoned runway and marine research center. Very good snorkeling, similar to Rarotonga around the Palm Grove.
We did two lagoon cruises, thought Teking was the best. The Aitutaki Lagoon is amazing, words can’t describe how beautiful it is. Snorkeling in crystal clear water with an abundance of coral, fish, and both giant and small clams. It was truly an experience.
The only thing missing in the Cook Islands snorkels is soft coral, I really missed the sea fans.
Overall my opinion of snorkeling the Cooks is very high.
Russ Docksteader – Sep 21, 2017 – Great Snorkeling
My wife and I stayed at the Sunset Resort on Rarotonga for three weeks and snorkeled every day just meters in front of our resort. We saw plenty of fish in lots of diversity: moray eels, sea horses, pufferfish and the usual assortment of tube fish, butterflyfish, etc. We saw Humpback Whales from the shore too. We did see some Crown-of-Thorn Sea Stars which are not good to see because they destroy the coral reefs.
The snorkeling is safe, no sharks, not very deep. We liked it better than Hawaii.
Karolina – Sep 22, 2017 – Disappointing Cook Islands Snorkeling
We recently came back (July 2017) from Raratonga and were disappointed that most of the coral was bleached and damaged by cyclones from previous years. I can’t remember when the cyclones took place but they had three in less than 10 days which destroyed the reefs around the island. We also did not see much fish.
Raratonga is a beautiful island and we spent a lot of time walking and bike riding. We went in June into July and found it cold (21 to 23°C) with cold trade winds coming up from New Zealand. We are from northern New South Wales, Australia and are used to warmer temperatures.
Overall, we were very disappointed in the snorkeling but I have heard that Aitutaki is a better island for snorkeling.
Ray R (NZ) – Sep 23, 2017 – Rarotonga Expectations and Detail Planning
Interesting to see such diverse comments days apart for Rarotonga snorkeling!
I have been to Raro eight times and find it a great simple destination from New Zealand. The snorkeling is very easy at most locations around the island. The food is wonderful and relatively inexpensive and there are many other things to do compared to many more isolated islands.
Having said that, the snorkeling is never going to be world beating (otherwise everyone would be there!), but with some planning and understanding of the different areas, it can be very satisfying.
As has been mentioned before there are some fish at most areas around the island with the general Aro’a Beach area being a generally good bet, but with some areas of algae.
I went with a couple of snorkeling newcomers in May and they were more than happy to explore the area around their hotel (Aro’a Beachside Inn) every day, whereas I tended to go further afield.
The two areas typically mentioned as top spots can be wonderful – Fruits of Rarotonga and Aro’a Beach – but you need to get the details right.
At Fruits, weather can be important. If there have been a few days of southeast winds from New Zealand the bommies can get a good dusting of sand from the adjacent open areas and so the fish tend to move elsewhere. If the weather is good the best area is to follow a line of large bommies about 150 meters west from the car park and then out to 250 meters from the shore. This line has wonderful bommie canyons that attract masses of fish feeding as the water funnels through the canyons. The depth is 2-4 meters and you can glide for ages over the fish as they work through the lower levels.
At Aro’a Beach the whole arc of hard coral about 100-150 meters off the shore by the dive shop is good. There is a large variety of smaller fish and a good variety of hard corals. The corals range from the delicate varieties filled with Blue/Green Chromis and Humbug Dascyllus, to the larger bommies in a mix of colors, my favorite being the purple ones. These hold a good variety of typical Pacific fish.
However the best thing about this area is the evening return of the larger fish. About an hour or two before the sun sets sees the return of a large number of bigger fish that have been cruising the inner lagoon during the day. They tend to congregate in an area with large bommie channels and get relaxed for the evening allowing you to just float through them – very nice feeling. Typically this is when most people are leaving the water so I have it to myself most times. Typically there will be larger triggerfish, unicornfish, goatfish, needlefish, parrotfish as well as the typical smaller fish and a few Bluefin Trevally mixed in.
Although I have been to other Pacific islands, with mixed results, and am going to Mamanucas and Yasawas in Fiji in two months and hope to have a great time, I keep on coming back to Raro for a simple fulfilling break from New Zealand.
(See Ray’s Fiji Snorkeling Trip Report here.)
Mark – Sep 23, 2017 – Surprised to Hear About Algae and Less-Than-Stellar Experiences
I’m surprised to hear about algae being a problem in Raro (and maybe algae was mentioned for Aitutaki, too). When I was there in 2014, the water was clear unless the change of tide was churning up the sand… and the fish were plentiful and colorful. Maybe things have changed since then.
It does matter, I guess, where you are snorkeling and when. If the tide is low in Raro, I would wait until the tide comes in. This was at Titikaveka Beach.
In Aitutaki, the water was pristine and clear most of the time, and the fish were, as I mentioned, abundant. This was right off of the Pacific Resort Aitutaki. I admit that the corals were not as colorful as they might be elsewhere in the world, but in both Raro and Aitutaki, the ease-of-access to good snorkeling (right off of our room’s staircase to the beach) couldn’t have been better.
Maybe something has happened in the intervening years to cause algae to grow. That is a shame, because we couldn’t find anything not to like about these islands when we were there in 2014.
Ray R (NZ) – Sep 23, 2017 – Algae in Raro
Hi Mark, like you I love the whole Raro feel and ease of access to snorkeling and other activities. However the algae has become an issue in places.
I have been there at least once a year since 2012 and started noticing algae in 2014. In 2015 Muri Lagoon had a big bloom and it was very depressing – it looked nothing like the postcard idyllic lagoon. There were also some areas along the north parts of Aro’a Beach area and around Black Rock. Similar in 2016 but noticeably better in 2017 in Muri. I don’t know if it is something they are doing but hope it continues to improve.
Atlantan – Sep 24, 2017 – Algae
Search for the term “algae” in the Cook Islands forum on TripAdvisor and you see lots of articles about this problem.
Mark – Sep 24, 2017 – Algae
Fascinating! Thank you, Atlantan. I’m sorry to hear about this problem.
Ray R (NZ) – Sep 25, 2017 – Rarotonga Algae
Thanks Atlantan, a lot of good info on TripAdvisor.
Good to see there have been some improvements and plans to work on the issue going forward.
Susan – Sep 26, 2017 – Cook Islands Snorkeling
We are avid tropical snorkelers and are heading to Rarotonga and Aitutaki in October for two weeks. With luck we’ll have great stories to share.
Ray R (NZ) – Sep 27, 2017 – Cook Islands Snorkeling
Hi Susan, I’m sure you will have some good stories and hope the whole trip is a success.
If this is your first trip I could add some Google Earth images to a reply that can clearly highlight my favorite spots – if it is appropriate on this site.
I have also been told by a local that there are some good spots off the Palm Grove Resort but haven’t tried there.
Nicole & Galen – Sep 27, 2017 – Sharing Images
Hi Ray, you can share an image, but you need to send it to us another way. Send us a contact form message and we will send you instructions.
Ray R (NZ) – Sep 28, 2017 – Maps of My Favorite Cook Islands Snorkeling Areas
Here are two images from Google Earth with highlighted areas that I have found to have consistently good snorkeling in Rarotonga – both for hard corals and fish. Aro’a Beach (first picture) and Fruits of Rarotonga (second picture) specific locations.
There are enough place names for people there, and a scale is on the bottom right hand corner for reference.
Hope they are useful for first timers to Rarotonga.
Atlantan – Oct 24, 2018 – Hesitating…
These are great posts! Now I’m hesitating on making the Cooks the best destination.
Soultrail – Oct 24, 2018 – Dreaming of Cook Islands Snorkeling
Awesome thread, thanks so much, I think I will still go!