The Top Watersports in Rarotonga, Aitutaki and the Cook Islands
Encircled by pristine lagoons harbouring all sorts of marine life, from coral to turtles, there are many reasons to get out on the water in the Cook Islands. With balmy temperatures and favourable tradewinds, the Cook Islands is a hub for watersports from kitesurfing to advanced surfing, while relaxing on a SUP board or taking a fun lagoon cruise are more ways to make the most of those placid lagoons. Inspire yourself for things you’ll be doing in or on the water on your next vacation with this list of the best water activities in Rarotonga and the Cook Islands.
Easily one of the best water activities in the Cook Islands, especially on the atolls with a lagoon, such as Rarotonga, Aitutaki, Manihiki and Penrhyn, safe snorkelling can be enjoyed in the crystal clear waters of the lagoon. Aside from the sea cucumbers munching on the lagoon floor, there are coral bommies to explore alive with angelfish, damsels, Napolean wrasse, blue starfish and so much more! Check out some of the best snorkelling spots to hit independently in the Top 10 Places to Snorkel or join a guided experience listed in the 10 Best Snorkelling Tours in the Cook Islands.
2. Lagoon Cruises
A popular way to get out on the water that almost anyone can enjoy, lagoon cruises not only showcase the Cook Islands’ pristine lagoons but incorporate culture and music. A couple of lagoon cruises can be found on the Muri Lagoon on Rarotonga, while a whole wealth of cruises can be found on the Aitutaki Lagoon. The formula for a perfect Cook Islands lagoon cruise is snorkelling, sightseeing on uninhabited motu (islets), an island barbecue… and perhaps ukulele music and a funny coconut show! Compare the top lagoon cruises in the 10 Best Lagoon Cruises in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands.
3. Scuba Diving
If snorkelling is such a winner in the Cook Islands, then it’s no surprise that the scuba diving here is also fantastic! There are many established dive sites across the atolls of Rarotonga and Aitutaki, while the underwater world of the surrounding islands is largely unexplored. From lava tunnels to magnificent drop-offs, there is a range of exciting underwater terrain to discover, while the marine life is just magical (there’s way too much to list here, so check out our guide to Wildlife in the Cook Islands for an example of what you’ll see). As for planning your dive trip, head to the Top 10 Places to Scuba Dive, as well as the 5 Best Dive Shops & Operators in the Cook Islands.
With most beachfront resorts offering a complimentary kayak or two for guests, kayaking is all too easy in the Cook Islands. Glide effortlessly across the placid lagoons and watch the underwater world beneath you through the unbelievably clear water. Get inspiration on where to paddle from our Top 5 Places to Kayak and find kayak rentals, just in case your accommodation doesn’t have them, in the 5 Best Kayak Hires in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands.
5. Stand-Up Paddleboarding
In the same vein as kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) is also a popular way to explore the Cook Islands’ lagoons. Not only do many accommodations hire them out for free to guests, but Rarotonga, in particular, has some excellent SUP lagoon tours, SUP yoga classes and night SUP tours where LED lights are strapped to the boards to illuminate the lagoon! Learn more about getting on the water on a paddleboard in the 6 Best Paddleboard Tours & Hires in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands.
6. Kitesurfing (Kiteboarding)
The butter-flat lagoon waters combined with the favourable trade winds that prevail during the winter season create the perfect environment for kitesurfing (or kiteboarding) in the Cook Islands. Aitutaki is an iconic destination among kitesurfers, especially on Honeymoon Island which has kite centres and even an annual festival there during the kite season. The Muri Lagoon is also a popular place for learning how to kitesurf. Check out where to get lessons or hire gear in The Guide to Kitesurfing in Rarotonga, Aitutaki & the Cook Islands.
Fishing is not only a way of life in the Cook Islands like it is for many Polynesians, but they also know how to make a sport out of it, boating beyond the reef to catch Pacific pelagics like yellow-fin tuna, mahimahi and wahoo. Either join fishing charters on Rarotonga or Aitutaki or enjoy more traditional methods of fishing, like spearfishing in Rarotonga and Aitutaki or reef fishing on Atiu. Bonefishing is also hugely popular in Aitutaki. Learn all about it in The Ultimate Guide to Fishing in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands.
8. Turtle and Whale Swimming
There are so many magnificent marine species in the Cook Islands’ waters that, in recent years, there have been species-specific swimming tours established. A popular one on Rarotonga is turtle swimming tours, taking you to turtle-territory on the otherwise dangerous passages of the lagoon but with the safety of a guided tour. Check out your options in the 7 Best Turtle Swimming Tours in the Cook Islands. Alternatively, during the winter months, humpback whales migrate to the Cook Islands’ waters, where tours especially from Aitutaki allow you to swim with these gentle giants. Find out more in the 7 Best Whale Watching (& Swimming) Tours in the Cook Islands.
9. Surfing and Bodyboarding
Not for the faint-hearted, surfing is serious stuff in the Cook Islands with the only surf breaks available being either reef or point breaks. Rarotonga is the only island with an established surf scene where you can hire surfboards and bodyboards and even guides to take you out to the most pumping spots. Check out The Ultimate Guide to Surfing in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands for all the details.
10. Cave Pool Swimming
Finally, a little-known water activity in the Cook Islands is swimming in cave pools! It’s “little known” because you can only do it at some of the lesser-visited islands of the Southern Group, including Mitiaro, Mauke or Atiu. Some of the best cave pools can be found on Mitiaro with dramatic stalactites towering above refreshing pools. Find all of the best cave pools listed in the 10 Best Caves in the Cook Islands.
More About Water Activities in Rarotonga and the Cook Islands
That’s it for our list of the best water activities in Rarotonga and the Cook Islands. However, a few honourable mentions include windsurfing, boating and sailing tours and simply going to the beach. We elaborate further on these activities in the guides below:
- The Guide to Windsurfing in Rarotonga, Aitutaki & the Cook Islands
- 10 Best Boat & Sailing Tours in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands
- 10 Best Beaches in the Cook Islands
Finally, check out more activities beyond watersports with the 101 Best Things to Do in the Cook Islands: The Ultimate List. Plus, plan all the logistics of a trip to the Cook Islands using The Best Cook Islands Travel Guide.