Captain Cook explored the world, naming place after place, but it's these islands that bear his name. If you like laid-back, endless empty beaches and shady palm trees that fringe a volcanic, mountainous island that looks almost to beautiful to be real, you'll like the 15 islands that make up the Cook Islands. This is especially true of the main island and dive region of Rarotonga. With a coral fairy ring surrounding a lagoon, a lot of the dives take place on the drop-offs outside barrier reef. Noted for fields of healthy hard coral, you'll find sea turtles, gangs of sergeant majors and unicornfish, tridacna clams and legions of elegant lionfish. You'll find some interesting swim-through with wildly colorful invertebrates. Dogtooth tuna and trevally are common on most dives. Visibility outside the lagoon exceeds 40 meters/120-feet consistently.
When to go:
You can dive year round, although the wettest and hottest months of the year are from November to March.
Marine Life Seasons:
July to October is a good time to visit as there is the possibility of seeing humpback whales
When to Get the Best Deals:
Rainy season from November to March.
What to Pack:
3/2 wetsuit, sunscreen, mosquito repellent, sturdy shoes for mountain trekking, DAN card.
Seasonal averages: 25°C/75°F in winter and 30°C/86°F in summer.
Seasonal averages: 27°C/82°F year-round.
New Zealand Dollar; Credit cards accepted at larger hotels and resorts.
Valid passport, no visa required.
Included in your airfare.
What to Eat:
Like other Polynesia islands, traditional Cook Island food is cooked in underground ovens called 'umu. Taro, sweet potatoes, yams, pig, chicken, fish and goat are often wrapped in taro leaves and smothered in coconut cream, then left to steam in the ground under layers of banana leaves. Fresh seafood and locally grown fruits and vegetables also fill the menus of local restaurants.
What to Drink:
Matutu and Cooks Lager are two local brewed beers, but you'll also find lots of imported New Zealand beers. On the island of Aitu you can find "beer drinking schools" that serve a home-made brew called tutumu, which is served in a ceremony somewhat like other places partake of kava. Fruit juice and cocktails involving fruit juice mixes abound.
Mountain bike or trek to tour an ancient village on Raratonga. Sea kayak the islands.
Customs and Culture:
The people of the Cook Islands are welcoming, warm and laid-back.
Vaka Eiva Festival, November; Manea Games, Mangaia, October; Tiare Festival, October; Te Maeva Nui Cultural Festival, July/August.
Electricity and Internet:
240 V and 50 Hz; Internet is somewhat available.
Drink the water?
Bottled water is recommended.
Cook Islands Maori dialects. English is widely spoken.
Amazing Marine Life
These schooling fish have a pointy "horn" on their heads which gives them their name.
This enormous baleen whale, growing up to 15 meters/50 feet in length, feeds on small plankton, and migrates annually to breed in warm waters.
White-tip Reef Shark:
These sharks can occasionally be found resting on the sand between coral heads.
A favorite among sport fishermen, this pelagic fish can grow up to three meters/nine feet long and 90 kilograms 200 pounds, swim up to 105 Kilometers/65 miles per hour in open water, and are noted for their sword-like noses and their tall blue dorsal "sails."
Spotted Eagle Ray:
Gentle rays with long, dramatic sweeping tails and white dots on their backs.
These predatory fish are often seen on the reefs.
This bright red nudibranch has a ruffle all the way around, resembling a dancer's skirt and can "swim" when threatened.
Most often found in holes, caves, and wrecks, moray eels sometimes venture out so divers can see their entire snakelike length.
Striking in appearance with orange-and-black stripes and frilly venomous spines, these fish remind one more of a tiger than a lion.
This striking yellow and blue schooling fish moves over the reef in large, fast moving aggregations.
Top Dive Spots
A shallow, curving coral shelf leads to swim-through caves with several different exit points and plenty of light from above. The shallow coral shelf also houses a wide variety of reef life.
Another cave system dive, but only for experienced divers. The entrance to this chain of large caverns is through a well-hidden fissure in the reef and inside you will find lionfish, moray eels, Spanish dancers and even sometimes a resident white-tip reef shark sleeping in a dark corner.
Arorangi Rock Wall:
Sloping coral reef starts shallow then drops off. Look for eagle rays, unicornfish, moray eels, fusiliers, lionfish, and white-mouth moray.
A river of sand sloping down to a steep drop off with coral nooks and crannies on either side. The coral on either side of the sandy channel is home to plenty of reef fish and on the wall it is possible to see some bigger pelagics.
Rich with fish life against a stunning landscape of coral, this site features swim-throughs, coral bommies, and a profusion of fish.
A bed of coral alongside a sand area, leading into a sandy drop-off. Look for the anchor caught between two large coral bommies.
A pair of towering pinnacles, encrusted in coral and sponges, stand beside a deep drop-off. Look for barracuda and pelagic swimmers.
The Mataora was a Tongan cargo vessel deliberately sunk to provide an artificial reef. She now lies in 18 meters/60 feet just off the reef to the north of the island. Look for lionfish.
Eagle rays and reef fish swim among a forest of mushroom-shaped bommies rising all around.
A gentle current creates a relaxing drift dive at this site. Look for lobster, moray eels, and schooling fish.