The Best Cultural Performances in the Cook Islands
Cook Islanders love to dance, not just for tourists but as part of annual competitions here and across Polynesia – it’s serious stuff! Adorned in a variety of natural and traditional attire with tassels swishing with every skilful motion to the pounding sounds of the traditional “tangi ka’ara” drum ensemble, the performers of a cultural show in Rarotonga and the Cook Islands are awe-inspiring. When the shows feature fire-dancing, you’re in for a real treat. Find out where you can see the best cultural shows in Rarotonga and the Cook Islands in the list below!
While you’re here, learn more about the local culture in A Traveller’s Guide to the Cook Islands Culture.
1. Te Vara Nui Village
Want to see a show? Many would argue that the best on Rarotonga is the cultural show of Te Vara Nui Village thanks to its unique over-water venue. What’s more, the costumes worn by the talented dancers are stunning, while the story of the legend of “Tongaiti” will keep you captivated throughout the performance. A buffet dinner is also included, featuring dishes from both Polynesian and Western cultures. The buffet and show experience is approximately three hours, starting at 6.30pm on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Plus, see more “island nights” in the 8 Best Island Nights in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands.
Location: Main Road (Ara Tapu), Muri (east side of Rarotonga). Transfers are available for a fee.
2. Highland Paradise
High on the hills of Arorangi, Highland Paradise offers another unique cultural show in Rarotonga and the Cook Islands. The evening begins with a tour of a well-preserved archaeological site complete with traditional welcoming ceremonies, storytelling and crafting displays. After you’ve soaked in the views from the amazing hilltop location, you’ll return to the undercover restaurant with the ambience set by the string band. Indulge in an extensive buffet of traditional Cook Islands dishes, as well as some crowd-pleasers for the more fussy eaters. Then, it’s onto the finale with a captivating show moving through different styles of Cook Islander dancing and drumming. The whole experience lasts approximately 3h30mins, starting at 6pm on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
Location: Transfers are included. Otherwise, you can self-drive to Maungaroa Drive, Arorangi (west side of Rarotonga).
3. Tamanu Beach Resort Island Night
Bringing island nights to Aitutaki, the Tamanu Island Night at the Tamanu Beach Resort starts at around 6pm with live music from a local string band to enjoy while you sip on cocktails (not included). The buffet with both local and international food begins at 7pm, spreading from the indoor to the outdoor area with its array of options on offer! Once the buffet is over, usually around 8.30-9pm, the cultural show begins with energetic Pacifika drumming and dancing from the island’s “fierce” warriors (Ok, they actually look pretty friendly) and graceful ladies. The experience is approximately 3-3h30mins and is available every Thursday. Learn more about Aitutaki’s nightlife in The Guide to Aitutaki Nightlife + 5 Things to Do on Aitutaki at Night.
Location: Tamanu Beach Resort, Main Road on the west side of Aitutaki’s main island.
4. Tumutoa Tours
A fun and interactive cultural experience with a show included, Tumutoa Tours offers an awesome “Umu Feast, String Band & Fire Show” experience. Meet Tumutoa, adorned in traditional Cook Islander attire and a character you will never forget, who will teach you how to make your own “umu”, a traditional underground oven feast, where you’ll prepare everything, even down to husking the coconut and weaving your own plates! The evening concludes with food accompanied by the entertainment of a string band and an exciting fire show! The experience starts at 3pm on a Monday and Wednesday, lasting approximately 4h30mins.
Location: Main Road (Ara Tapu), Arorangi (west side of Rarotonga).
5. The Edgewater Resort & Spa Island Night
Saturday nights are island nights at The Edgewater Resort & Spa. The largest resort in the Cook Islands puts on an epic cultural show starting with a generous buffet of “umu kai”, as well as some crowd-pleasers. After dinner and dessert are done, along with the relaxing island sound of a local string band, the main event begins! Watch an hour-long performance from the talented Ta’akoka Dance Troupe or Akirata Dance Troupe on the stage of the resort’s undercover restaurant. The event starts at 7pm with entertainment up until 11pm (approximately four hours) every Saturday.
Location: Edgewater Resort & Spa. Main Road (Ara Tapu), Arorangi (west side of Rarotonga).
6. Captain Tama’s Lagoon Cruizes
Join the cheeky crew from Captain Tama’s Lagoon Cruizes for a fun day out on the Muri Lagoon which includes a cultural show on Motu Koromiri – one of the lagoons islets. The half-day glass-bottom boat cruise includes snorkelling at the Tikioki Marine Reserve before crossing the lagoon to Motu Koromiri for a barbecue lunch combined with a hilarious cultural show. The show features music from your talented tour guides, coconut husking and tree-climbing demonstrations, as well as a sarong-tying demonstration. Cruises depart every day except for public holidays. Learn more about the cruise in the 10 Best Day Cruises in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands.
Location: Tours depart from Muri Beach, Main Road (Ara Tapu), Muri (east side of Rarotonga). Just look for the yellow boats!
7. Koka Lagoon Cruises
Almost identical to Captain Tama’s Lagoon Cruizes, Koka Lagoon Cruises also offers a fantastic cultural show. The main differences are that the cruise departs a little earlier (10am instead of 11am for Captain Tama’s) and the ukulele band playing on the boat throughout the cruise means there’s never a dull moment! Plus, the crew is a little less “cheeky” but just as friendly. You still have an awesome time snorkelling, indulging in an island barbecue on Motu Koromiri and watching a fun coconut and sarong demonstration. Cruises depart Sunday to Friday.
Location: Tours depart from Muri Beach, Main Road (Ara Tapu), Muri (east side of Rarotonga). Just look for the green and white boats!
8. Umu Experience
Specialising in umu cooking classes, Umu Experience also hosts an awesome dinner show at their cultural centre near Avarua. The more intimate “island night” begins with a freshly prepared umu platter delivered to your table with the option of salads, dessert and other international dishes at the buffet. While you let the scrumptious food digest, sit back with a cultural performance from one of the island’s dance troupes. The experience lasts approximately 2h30mins, starting at 6.30pm on a Monday and Thursday.
Location: Main Road (Ara Tapu), between Tapae and Tupapa (north side of Rarotonga).
9. The Islander Hotel Island Night
A cultural show close to the nation’s capital, Avarua, The Islander Hotel puts on a spectacular evening featuring the Akirata Dance Troupe. The 47-member group with dynamic dancers, musicians and fire dancers are kitted up in award-winning costumes and features the Cook Islands national dancer of the year winners – see the 10 Biggest Festivals in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands to learn more. Before the dancing gets underway, however, you’re treated to a diverse island buffet! The experience lasts approximately three hours, starting at 6.30pm on a Tuesday.
Location: Main Road (Ara Tapu), opposite Rarotonga Airport, Nikao (north side of Rarotonga).
10. Crown Beach Resort & Spa Island Night
The Akirata Dance Troupe are back, this time on Thursday nights at the Crown Beach Resort & Spa! Although the resort is adults-only, visitors of all ages are welcome to their vibrant and dynamic cultural show. The event takes place at one of the finest resort restaurants on Rarotonga, the Oceans Restaurant, mixing delectable cocktails (not included) and serving up an irresistible buffet with all sorts of Cook Island and Western meals along with dessert. The event starts at 6pm every Thursday, lasting approximately three hours.
Location: Crown Beach Resort & Spa. Main Road (Ara Tapu), Arorangi (west side of Rarotonga).
11. Kura’s Kitchen Island Night
That’s right, even the lesser-visited island of Atiu has a cultural show! Well, it’s not exactly a weekly “island night”, such as on Rarotonga, but if there’s enough interest on the island (and some performers available) then Kura’s Kitchen, the only restaurant on the island, will put on an authentic and relaxed evening with a buffet and a show. Learn more about Atiu in our 20 Best Things to Do on Atiu.
Location: Kura’s Kitchen is at Atiu Villas, Atiu.
More About Cultural Shows in Rarotonga and the Cook Islands
That’s it for the best cultural shows in Rarotonga and the Cook Islands. For more cultural experiences, check out the following guides:
- 10 Best Cultural Activities in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands
- How to Have an Authentic Cook Islander Experience
- 10 Best Guided Tours of Rarotonga & the Cook Islands
Finally, add more items to your bucket list with the 50 Best Things to Do on Rarotonga and 101 Best Things to Do in the Cook Islands: The Ultimate List.