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Things to see and do
Go whale watching
Come face to fin with humpback whales, which frequent the archipelago’s crystalline waters between July and October. In addition to observing the whales from a boat, it is possible to snorkel with them. The waters around the Cook Islands is a designated whale sanctuary, so there’s a good chance you’ll see one.
Immerse yourself in the underwater world
The Cook Islands are a mecca for scuba divers and snorkelers; visibility is seldom under 30m (100ft) and the underwater sights are stunning with canyons, caves, colourful coral reefs and bountiful marine life. Impressive dive sites include the Matavera Drop-off, the Ngatangiia Swimthroughs, the Koromiri Coral Garden, Mataora Wreck, Papua Canyon and Sand River.
Book yourself on a tour
Whether you want to discover the Cook Islands by foot, in the saddle or on a bike, a land tour will ensure you get the most out of your trip. On the water, kayaking tours, lagoon cruises and excursions in semi-submersible vessels offer the chance to get close to coral reefs and colourful marine life. A cultural village tour provides the opportunity to learn about local traditions such as weaving, coconut husking, fire making and carving.
Take a hike
Hiking trails abound on Rarotonga, the most popular being the Cross Island Trek, which wends along ancient warpaths. Other popular trails include Pa’s Mountain Walk, which takes hikers through the island’s lush interior; Te Kou Trek, with its steep ascents and great views; and the Ikurangi Trek, which also provides rock climbing opportunities. Guided reef walks are possible at low tide along Rarotonga’s coral fringe.
Embrace the festival spirit
There are various jamborees taking place on the Cook Islands throughout the year, most famously Te Maeva Nui Festival, which happens every July. A celebration of independence, as with most festivals here it is marked with float parades, singing, dancing and sport. Festivals on the islands are often characterised by mixture of traditional rituals grafted onto Christian music and ceremony.
Escape to the Takuvaine and Avatiu Valleys
Scenic drives into the Takuvaine and Avatiu Valleys offer a pretty panorama of lush, tropical scenery. Head inland from the newly redeveloped Avatiu Harbour for the scenic excursion and find maximum tranquillity along the aptly named Happy Valley Road in Takuvaine.
Take a dip at Papua Waterfall
Also known as Wigmore’s Waterfall, this is the only waterfall on Rarotonga and is a popular spot for a dip. There are pony treks to the falls, which take you through steamy forests, but be warned; the humid conditions are a breeding ground for mosquitos.
Seek out Arai Te Tonga
On the outskirts of Avarua lie the stone ruins of Arai Te Tonga, one of the most sacred marae sites in the Cook Islands. Before the Europeans arrived this is was the administrative capital of the islands; it was where the ruling Makea family lived and where tribal chiefs were sworn in. It takes a bit of finding, with the quiet back roads proving as exciting as the destination.