Where to See Whales in the Cook Islands
The islands of Rarotonga and the Cook Islands are magnificent to visit any time of the year but perhaps even more so between July and October with the prospect of seeing humpback whales! You sometimes won’t believe how close to shore these gentle giants can be seen, often breaching, slapping their flukes and just plain showing off beyond the reef. Discover the best places for whale watching in Rarotonga, Aitutaki and the rest of the Cook Islands in the list below!
Plus, learn more about the whale season in our guide, The Best Time to See Whales in the Cook Islands.
1. Black Rock – The Best Place for Whale Watching in the Cook Islands
Not only a culturally significant site and snorkelling hotspot, but Black Rock is also an excellent place to watch whales in Rarotonga! The elevated position means that you can usually see whales coming in the distance or, at least a group of people pulled over at the roadside is another good indication that whales are around. As a natural attraction with no resort that you may feel obligated to buy a drink at to justify your presence there, Black Rock easily tops this list as the best place to go whale watching on Rarotonga. Learn more about Black Rock as a cultural site in the 10 Best Historical Sites on Rarotonga.
Location: Main Road (Ara Tapu), Nikao, northwest side of Rarotonga.
2. Arorangi – The Best Resorts for Whale Watching on Rarotonga
The district that runs down the western side of Rarotonga, incidentally between our other two whale watching spots of Black Rock and Aroa Beach, is known as Arorangi. It’s where many of Rarotonga’s most popular resorts are located, each offering stunning spots to watch whales, whether it’s the deck of the Magic Reef Beachfront Bungalows or to the alarm of the “whale bell” which is rung at the Castaway Resort. With Rarotonga’s largest resort, The Edgewater Resort & Spa, also on the Arorangi Coast, there are many eyes here often noticing whales breaching just over the reef – another good spot for whale watching on Rarotonga.
Location: West coast of Rarotonga.
3. Aroa Beach – Whale Watching and Marine Reserve on Rarotonga
The southernmost part of the whale watching hotspot of the west coast, Aroa Beach is not only a stunning beach for snorkelling thanks to its marine reserve but seeing whales over the reef’s edge is just another highlight! It’s the last part of the thin stretch of the lagoon before it begins to widen along the south coast thus whale spotting becomes more difficult. Accommodations at Aroa Beach include Aro’a Beachside Inn, The Rarotongan Beach Resort & Lagoonarium and Sanctuary Rarotonga on the Beach – all good spots for scouting out whales; all spots with a bar or restaurant that you can hang out at.
Location: Main Road (Ara Tapu), Aroa Beach, southwest side of Rarotonga.
4. Between Aitutaki Escape and Pacific Resort Aitutaki – The Best Place for Whale Watching in Aitutaki
You didn’t think all the whale action was happening in Rarotonga, did you? You can spot humpback whales from Aitutaki too! Because the Aitutaki Lagoon is so big (and you can, of course, only see humpback whales outside of the lagoon – just to make that clear. If it wasn’t, that can be our little secret), whales are best seen from the northwestern stretch of coast on the main island. There are plenty of stunning accommodations here that offer wonderful views from their elevated decks and beachfront, including Aitutaki Escape, Tai Marino, Paradise Cove Lodge, Etu Moana, Matiriki Beach Huts, Tamanu Beach Resort and Pacific Resort Aitutaki. Learn more about these accommodations in Where to Stay on Aitutaki: The Best Aitutaki Accommodations.
Location: Main Road, west coast of Aitutaki between Aitutaki Escape in the north and Pacific Resort in the south.
5. Avarua Harbour – The Best Restaurant and Tours for Whale Watching on Rarotonga
This large passage along the northern coast of Rarotonga is another decent place for whale watching during the whale season. Have a meal on the elevated decks of Trader Jack’s and you’re likely to see whales breaching in the distance if you keep a close eye. Alternatively, tours with Raro Reef Sub in their semi-submersible vessel in the Avarua Harbour often come across humpback whale sightings underwater! Learn more about the tour in the 7 Best Whale Watching (& Swimming) Tours in the Cook Islands or learn more about eating at Trader Jack’s in The Best Places to Eat on Rarotonga: 10 Best Restaurants.
Location: Main Road (Ara Tapu), the eastern end of Avarua, north coast of Rarotonga.
6. Oneroa and One’unga Beaches – The Best Whale Watching Beaches in the Cook Islands
More outer-island-whale-paradises can be found at the island of Mauke, just a short flight from Rarotonga! An excellent spot to watch whales from this raised coral atoll is Oneroa and One’unga beaches on the north coast of the island. There is no lagoon on Mauke – just reef – so whales are often sighted very close to shore. Learn more about the beaches in the 7 Best Beaches on Mauke.
Location: East of the airport runway and about 600m (656 yards) past the inland turnoff. The beaches are easy to spot off the coastal road at the northeast point side of Mauke.
7. Matavera – The Most Underrated Whale Watching Location on Rarotonga
While the west coast of Rarotonga takes all the limelight when it comes to whale watching, not many people realise how good the whale watching can be on the east coast, especially in Matavera! Matavera is where the narrowest part of the lagoon is located, so when whales are offshore, they are super close! There are not that many accommodations here, but the exceptions are Tropical Sands, ShineAwayHomes and Herons Reef Holiday Apartments. Learn more about the district in The 5 Biggest Towns & Villages in Rarotonga.
Location: Main Road (Ara Tapu), Matavera, northeast coast of Rarotonga.
8. Cook Islands Game Fishing Club – The Best Bar for Whale Watching on Rarotonga
This popular local watering hole (and fishing gets done there sometimes) is an excellent spot to watch whales with views across the reef and off to sea. The Cook Islands Game Fishing Club is where many locals sight humpback whales, usually hanging out for a while. The nearby restaurant, Tamarind House, and the Club Raro Resort also share in the Cook Islands Game Fishing Club’s excellent whale watching spot.
Location: Main Road (Ara Tapu), Tupapa, northern coast of Rarotonga.
9. Avarua Landing – The Best Place for Whale Watching on Mangaia
Avarua Landing is a pretty happening place on the island of Mangaia. Not only is it a hub for fish cleaning when the fisherfolk in their vaka return from the morning’s catch, but it’s the perfect place on the island to watch whales just beyond the reef! Team that up with the epic sunsets and you have some amazing shots! Check out more amazing attractions on the island listed in the 15 Best Things to Do on Mangaia.
Location: On the coastal road between Orongo and Managaia Villas, west side of Mangaia.
10. Te Oneroa Beach – The Best Places for Whale Watching on Mauke
Finally, the longest beach on Mauke, Oneroa Beach, is another amazing place for whale watching in the Cook Islands. This long stretch of sand has many rock formations to explore and the reef has little pockets to swim in at low tide, but your eyes should remain firmly fixed on the horizon during the whale season so you don’t miss that moment the whale breaches!
Location: Easy to find just off the coast road, southwest side of Mauke.
More About Whale Watching in the Cook Islands
That’s it for our list of the best places for whale watching in Rarotonga and the Cook Islands. Discover more ways to experience the Cook Islands’ wonderful marine mammals by checking out the following guides:
- 7 Best Whale Watching (& Swimming) Tours in the Cook Islands
- Cook Islands Whale Season: The Best Time to See Whales in the Cook Islands
- Cook Islands Dolphin Season: The Best Time to See Dolphins in the Cook Islands
Finally, add more items to the bucket list by having a good scroll through the 101 Best Things to Do in the Cook Islands: The Ultimate List.