Where are the Best Places for Snorkelling in the Cook Islands?
A must-do for anyone visiting the Cook Islands, snorkelling is a mesmerising, beautiful and inexpensive activity to enjoy – especially since many of the best snorkelling spots in the Cook Islands are accessible from shore.
Snorkelling gear is available to hire at several dive shops on Rarotonga, while many accommodations provide snorkelling gear for guests on both Rarotonga and Aitutaki. It’s always easier, safer (post-COVID) and more comfortable to have your own though.
8 Quick Tips for Snorkelling in the Cook Islands
- Always snorkel with someone else
- Wear reef shoes and/or fins
- Don’t touch marine life
- Wear reef-safe sunscreen and/or wear a rash vest even on cloudy days
- Avoid snorkelling near passages; they have strong currents!
- Mind your step; there are stonefish camouflaged in the sand that leaves a nasty venomous bite, especially in Aitutaki
- Can you snorkel in front of resorts if you’re not staying there? Of course! What’s more, the resorts’ restaurants and spas are open to casual visitors, giving you more reasons to visit. Just note that the snorkel gear hire is usually for their guests
- Snorkelling at the islands of Atiu, Mangaia, Mauke or Mitiaro? Wait for high tide for the possibility of snorkelling on their reefs (except for Tua’ati Rock Pools mentioned on this list).
1. Tikioki Marine Reserve (Fruits of Rarotonga)
Often referred to as the “Fruits of Rarotonga” snorkelling spot, Tikioki Marine Reserve on Rarotonga is one of the best places to snorkel in Rarotonga. Park just opposite the Fruits of Rarotonga shop and wade out in waist-deep water where you’ll already be able to see the colourful swimming around your legs. There’s a lot of lagoon to take advantage of here, so you can swim out to where the depths get to around 2-3m (6.5-10ft) and see coral bommies with more magnificent displays of tropical fish, giant clams and moray eels.
Location: Opposite Fruits of Rarotonga, Main Road (Ara Tapu), Titikaveka, southern coast of Rarotonga. This snorkelling site is also visited by the lagoon cruises of Captain Tama’s and Koka and snorkelling tours with Ariki Adventures, as mentioned in the 6 Best Snorkelling Tours in Rarotonga.
2. Purple Wall – Aitutaki Lagoon
One of the top snorkelling spots in Aitutaki is one that, indeed, you’ll need to take a lagoon cruise to see. Cruises will drop you off at a shallow 2m (6.6ft) part of the lagoon scattered with coral bommies lined with purple coral, hence the name “Purple Wall“. Buoys mark the length you can snorkel and stop you from venturing off track. With a good combination of colourful fish, coral and clams, Purple Wall is certainly one of the best places to snorkel in the Cook Islands.
Location: Aitutaki Lagoon. Access to the snorkelling spot is available with Kutekute Tours & Transfers and Teking Lagoon Cruises. Find out more in the 10 Best Lagoon Cruises on Aitutaki.
3. Aroa Lagoon Marine Reserve
Just in front of The Rarotongan Beach Resort & Lagoonarium and its sister resort Sanctuary Rarotonga on the Beach, the Aroa Lagoon Marine Reserve is a protected area. While you’re not allowed to touch any of the marine life you see here, it keeps the environment much more vibrant than most of the lagoon around Rarotonga – i.e. excellent snorkelling! You’ll find plenty of small reef fish close to shore, while further out are giant clams, starfish and more. Many of the nearby resorts, like Aro’a Beachside Inn and its Shipwreck Hut (see the 10 Best Bars on Rarotonga) benefit from the marine reserve too, so you can call in for a snorkel then get out just in time for happy hour!
Location: Southwest coast of Rarotonga, in front of The Rarotongan Beach Resort & Lagoonarium, Main Road (Ara Tapu), Aroa Beach.
4. Muri Lagoon
The Muri Lagoon is certainly a hotspot on the island with its main beach lined with resorts and villas. Snorkel from shore and you’ll mostly see sea cucumbers and the odd fish, but make use of any of the kayak hires along the beach and you’ll reach some much more interesting spots! Go for a paddle toward Motu Koromiri or Taakoka and there are plenty of spots to stop for a snorkel – you’ll see through the clear waters what looks good! If you’re lucky, you’ll cross paths with a sea turtle! See more snorkelling sites nearby in The Best Snorkelling in Rarotonga: Top 7 Places to Snorkel.
Location: Muri Beach, Main Road (Ara Tapu), anywhere on the lagoon, southeast side of Rarotonga.
5. Base One – Aitutaki
If you’re looking for the best place to snorkel from the main island of Aitutaki, head to Base One. This is the snorkelling area located at the western end of the old runway – easy to spot with picnic tables and an eco-toilet cabin under the shade of the trees. This sheltered and shallow snorkelling spot has pockets of coral formations with interesting tropical fish species, as well as munching sea cucumbers. We also list this as one of the 10 Best Beaches in Aitutaki.
Location: Northwest side of Aitutaki – western tip of the old runway.
6. Tua’ati Rock Pools
Visit this stunning little corner of Mangaia at low tide and discover all sorts of marine life clinging onto the jagged rocks! With pockets of deep pools to snorkel in, as well as plenty to see through the crystal clear waters on the reef, Tua’ati Rock Pools is well worth exploring. See more stunning free attractions around the island in the 10 Free Things to Do on Mangaia.
Location: West side of Mangaia. Find the small beach between two rock walls, approximately 1.6km (1 mile) south of Babe’s Store in Oneroa.
7. Giant Clam Farm – Aitutaki Lagoon
Giant clams and small native clams can be spotted in many different areas across the Aitutaki Lagoon. Some lagoon cruises, however, use a mooring at a giant clam farm where there are many clams either nestled under coral formations or lying plain-in-sight on the sandy floor. This snorkelling spot is a little deeper than others in the Aitutaki Lagoon at 3-4m (10-13ft). Check out more awesome snorkelling spots in the lagoon listed in The Best Snorkelling in Aitutaki: Top 10 Places to Snorkel.
Location: Access to the snorkelling spot is available with Kutekute Tours & Transfers, Teking Lagoon Cruises and The Vaka Cruise, Aitutaki. See more snorkelling tours in the 10 Best Snorkelling Tours in Aitutaki.
8. Black Rock
At the northwestern side of Rarotonga, Black Rock usually offers calm conditions due to the prevailing southeasterly winds. The popular swimming and snorkelling spot offers an interesting seascape with black volcanic rock jutting out of the white sand. You’ll also find rock pools hiding all sorts of marine creatures. Take your visit to Black Rock a step further by exploring the area, along with its underwater caves, with a scuba diving tour – learn more in The Best Scuba Diving in Rarotonga: Top 25 Places to Scuba Dive.
Location: There’s a gravel car park on the roadside of the Main Road (Ara Tapu), Nikao, northwest side of Rarotonga.
9. Avaavaroa Passage (Warning: Don’t Snorkel Here Without a Guide)
If you want to pretty much guarantee seeing turtles in Rarotonga, then the Avaavaroa Passage is the place to go. But wait! There are extremely strong currents here that have taken lives in the past, so this is not the place to go without experience of the area. Join one of the many turtle tours, as listed in the 10 Best Turtle Swimming Tours in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands who have the safety precautions in place to enjoy a safer swim with sea turtles, rays and oodles of fish among the coral canyons!
Location: Vaimaanga, opposite the YWAM building, south coast of Rarotonga.
10. The Northern Group
With limited island development, no large-scale commercial fishing and locals relying on a healthy marine ecosystem to live, the coral reefs in the Northern Cook Islands are unspoiled and spectacular. Indeed, it’s some of the best snorkelling in the Cook Islands, yet we leave snorkelling in the Northern Group until last due to its limited accessibility. While some snorkelling can be enjoyed from shore, the best snorkelling spots are along coral banks within the lagoon, such as in Pukapuka. If you’re feeling brave, snorkelling in Penrhyn is usually accompanied by reef sharks, while Manihiki and Rakahanga also have plenty to explore. Oh, and remember to bring your own snorkelling gear. Discover more about the Northern Group in the 10 Best Things to Do in the Northern Cook Islands.
More About Snorkelling in the Cook Islands
That’s it for our guide to the best places for snorkelling in the Cook Islands, but if you need more watersports inspiration, make sure you check out our following guides:
- 10 Best Snorkelling Tours in the Cook Islands
- The Best Snorkelling in Rarotonga: Top 7 Places to Snorkel
- The Best Snorkelling in Aitutaki: Top 10 Places to Snorkel
Finally, don’t miss a thing in the Cook Islands with our 101 Best Things to Do in the Cook Islands: The Ultimate List.