The Festivals of Rarotonga and the Cook Islands
The Cook Islands sure know how to throw a party. Not only have they got the stunning venues of tropical islands and winterless weather, but they have a certain knack for hosting elaborate events. There are two main types of festivals in Rarotonga and the Cook Islands: culture festivals and sports festivals. If you were looking for a festival experience that was out of the ordinary, with captivating Polynesian dancing, raise-the-roof singing, fierce sporting competitions and even sports that you have probably never seen before, then give the Cook Islands a go. Here are the biggest festivals in Rarotonga and the Cook Islands.
1. Te Maeva Nui Festival
Arguably the biggest cultural festival of the year (in the Cook Islands and the world), Te Maeva Nui Festival is a week-long celebration of the Cook Islands culture.
Starting at the end of July and ending on 4 August, Constitution Day, Te Maeva Nui celebrates the Cook Islands as an independent nation with an action-packed schedule. Events take place between Punanga Nui Market and the National Auditorium in Avarua, Rarotonga, consisting of an opening ceremony, float parade, market days, choir and cultural performances, trade shows, and then the big one: the dance competition. That’s right, the Cook Islands have several dance competitions throughout the year and this is one of the big ones. The main event is the finals, called Te Maeva Nui, held at the National Auditorium. Prices are super affordable so there’s no excuse not to check it out!
2. Te Mire Ura Festival
We told you that Cook Islanders like to dance so there’s another chance to see the best of the best at Te Mire Ura Festival.
Te Mire Ura is the “Dancer of the Year” festival where dozens of dancers across different age groups take the centre stage to show off their best moves. There are amazing costumes and talent, so take a seat at the National Auditorium in Avarua for the finals and have a night to remember. You could even join in on the “Visitors” category!
This festival in the Cook Islands typically takes place in October but check out the events page on the Cook Islands Tourism website or in The Top Events & Festivals in the Cook Islands for the latest dates.
3. Te Mire Tiare Flower Festival
Another one of the top cultural festivals of the year, Te Mire Tiare Flower Festival is a must-see.
Typically happening in November and/or December, Te Mire Tiare Flower Festival can’t help but put a smile on your face with shops, government buildings and homes adorned in floral decorations, usually following a certain theme.
Aside from adding vibrancy to the villages of the Cook Islands, the flower festival is also the time of the Mama Muumuu Pageant where contestants are introduced at the opening ceremony and float parade at Punanga Nui Market. By the end of the festival week, the Maine Tiare and Tama Aito are crowned.
4. Te Mire ‘Atu Festival
Not only do the Cook Islands have plenty of talent for moving their bodies but there are some fine singers and composers too. This is celebrated at Te Mire ‘Atu Festival, the islands’ composers’ song competition. It’s a chance to listen to some fabulous traditional-style Cook Islands music. Again, this festival is held at the National Auditorium on Rarotonga.
5. Manureva Aquafest
When you’re not immersing in the culture of the Cook Islands, you’re lapping up the amazing watersports and that’s what Manureva Aquafest is all about! Held in the lagoon of Aitutaki, this watersports festival is a five-day competition for kitesurfing, oe vaka (outrigger canoeing), SUP and swimming. Watch the action from Ootu Beach, enjoy traditional food and crafts at the Manureva Night Market, and watch the closing ceremony with captivating fire dancing.
6. Golden Ukulele Festival
Nothing says “island music” quite like the ukulele, so see what this little instrument is capable of at the Golden Ukulele Festival in the Cook Islands. Watch performances from local and international artists, join a coaching session, take a look at the ukulele merch at the mini-expo stalls, and watch the grand finale at the National Auditorium.
The Golden Ukulele Festival takes place on Rarotonga, typically in March but dates are subject to change. Check out the Cook Islands Tourism website or in The Top Events & Festivals in the Cook Islands for the latest dates.
7. Vaka Eiva Festival
Outrigger canoeing is not only an inherent part of the Polynesian lifestyle but an exciting sport where hundreds gather to race them at the Vaka Eiva Festival at Avarua, Rarotonga.
Watch exciting sprint races on the Avarua Harbour as you sip on a drink at Trader Jacks or head down to Muri Beach for the mid-week novelty races.
Vaka Eiva Festival is typically held for a week in November, but dates are subject to change. Check out the Cook Islands Tourism website or in The Top Events & Festivals in the Cook Islands for the latest dates. If you miss this event, you also have the opportunity to check out Motu2Motu on Aitutaki for some hardcore oe vaka racing at the end of November.
8. Round Rarotonga Road Race
While not a festival in the traditional sense, this sporting event is well worth mentioning as one of the biggest participation events of the year. The Round Rarotonga Road Race, or “RRRR” if that’s too much of a mouthful, is a week-long running extravaganza with the main race being the 31 km run circumventing Rarotonga. The running festival in the Cook Islands is for every type of runner: the social, the recreational, the competitive and the spectator who’d rather sip on cocktails. There are all sorts of races to choose from, some with a fun theme and dress-up for extra hilarity.
Round Rarotonga Road Race takes place in September. Instructions on how to enter are on the Destination Management Cook Islands (DMCK) website.
9. Turama Festival
More of a traditional festival, Turama takes place on 1 November each year to commemorate those that the Cook Islanders have lost. Locals decorate graves with gorgeous flower displays and candles that burn throughout the night. The tradition is from Roman Catholicism, the same as their “All Souls Day”. Turama also involves a requiem mass held at the Catholic cathedral in Avarua where the priest blesses gravestones with holy water and people light candles.
10. Cook Islands Oldies Rugby Mini Festival
Finally on our list of the biggest festivals in Rarotonga and the Cook Islands, the Cook Islands Oldies Rugby Mini Festival is a great example of what the Cook Islands sports community is all about! Older rugby teams from the Cook Islands and abroad get together for a festival of “fun, friendship and fraternity”. If you’ve got a rugby team and grey hair, why not get the team together and have a go? Instructions on how to enter are on the DMCK website.
The Cook Islands Oldies Rugby Mini Festival is a biannual festival typically held in May on Rarotonga.
More About the Biggest Festivals in Rarotonga and the Cook Islands
That’s it for our complete guide to the biggest festivals for the Cook Islands and Rarotonga. If you didn’t find a festival exciting enough, check out more ideas in the following guides:
- Cook Islands Christmas Ideas: How to Spend Christmas in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands
- Cook Islands New Year Ideas: How to Spend New Year’s Eve in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands
- Public Holidays in the Cook Islands (& Other Important Dates)
Finally, for more ideas for your Cook Islands visit, check out our 101 Best Things to Do in the Cook Islands: The Ultimate List.