The Best Time to Go on a Cruise to Rarotonga & the Cook Islands© Aranui Cruises
The Best Time to Go on a Cruise to Rarotonga & the Cook Islands

The Best Time to Go on a Cruise to Rarotonga & the Cook Islands

© Aranui Cruises

Cruises to the South Pacific and the Cook Islands: When is the Best Time to Go?

The South Pacific is an incredible cruising ground, where passengers experience diverse cultures and islands from day to day. Here at Cook Islands Pocket Guide, we’re a little biased in saying that the Cook Islands is one of the best Pacific destinations to hit on the cruise itinerary, boasting amazing lagoons and inviting people. Before you start packing your bags, however, it’s worth considering when is the best time to take a cruise to the Cook Islands. We answer that very question in this guide, covering the climate, seasons and activities that are only available at certain times of the year.

For more cruise talk, open up the 7 Best Cruises That Visit Rarotonga & the Cook Islands.

5 Tips for Taking a Cruise to the Cook Islands

  1. Look for cruises that depart from Papeete (Tahiti), Auckland (New Zealand), Sydney (Australia) and San Diego (United States) – these are the departure ports for the most cruises that visit the Cook Islands
  2. Get familiar with the Cook Islands’ ports of call: Rarotonga, Aitutaki and Palmerston. All the details and tips can be found in The Complete Guide to the Ports of Call in the Cook Islands
  3. Book island tours independently to save money on shore excursions – tours will pick you up from port
  4. If you’d rather explore independently, car rentals can be delivered to port or catch the round-the-island bus (the latter is only available on Rarotonga)
  5. Bring snorkelling gear, swimwear and reef-safe sunscreen to port; getting in the water is kind of what the Cook Islands is all about.

For tips that are more generic for travellers visiting the Cook Islands for the first time, head to the 30 Tips for Travelling in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands.

The Best Time to Go on a Cruise to Rarotonga & the Cook Islands©

The Seasons in the Cook Islands and the South Pacific: What is the Climate Like for Cruising?

Being close to the equator, the South Pacific only has two seasons, the wet season and the dry season. In the Cook Islands, the dry season, also known as winter, is from April to November and the wet season, also known as summer, is from December to March.

As cruises that visit the Cook Islands only visit the Southern Group of the Cook Islands, we will only talk about the climate in this group.

Dry Season – April to November

The average temperature in the dry season in the Cook Islands is 26°C (79°F) during the day. The sea temperature is approximately 24°C (75°F), while the average rainfall per month is 132mm (5.2″).

About the Dry Season

  • Less rainfall
  • Less risk of cyclones
  • Low humidity
  • Cooler temperatures
  • High season for tourists – more crowded

The dry season is when you’re less likely to have rain and tropical depressions, which can be the biggest weather factors affecting your cruise. If you only have one day to explore your ports of call in the Cook Islands, then most prefer it to be sunny rather than rainy.

On the downside, while temperatures are still warm enough for most standards, the dry season is also the “coldest” time of the year to cruise the South Pacific. You may want to take a thin extra layer to port with you. If you want warmer temperatures, aim for April or November or the wet season.

Wet Season – December to March

The average temperature during the wet season in the Cook Islands is 29°C (84°F) in the day. The average sea temperature is around 28°C (83°F), while the average rainfall is around 220mm (8.7″) per month.

About the Wet Season

  • More rainfall
  • Risk of cyclones
  • Warmer temperatures
  • High humidity
  • Low season – fewer crowds, more discounts

The wet season is the warmest and most humid season to cruise the South Pacific, which are aspects that many travellers want from their tropical cruise! On the downside, there are more rainy days during the wet season, which may coincide with the one day you’re visiting Rarotonga or Aitutaki. At least, in many instances, rainy showers pass quickly.

Another downside for your South Pacific cruise is that the wet season is also the cyclone season where tropical depressions can build up in the South Pacific from November to April – some can become a cyclone. This makes for occasional stormy weather and is not much fun for those who suffer from seasickness. Learn more about the cyclone season in our guide, Cyclone Safety in the Cook Islands.

Have more questions about the seasons in the Cook Islands? Check out our complete guide about yearly climate, as well as the climate month-by-month, Rarotonga & the Cook Islands Weather, Seasons & Climate.

The Best Time to Go on a Cruise to Rarotonga & the Cook Islands©

Seasonal Activities That Might Affect Your Cruise

Other than the weather, what other seasonal occurrences are there that might affect your trip? If you’re coming to the Cook Islands with a particular activity in mind, the season is important to keep in mind.

Whale Season

If you’re coming to the Cook Islands in hope of seeing humpback whales, whether from shore or on a whale watching cruise, aim for a South Pacific cruise between July and October. Find out more about the season in The Best Time to See Whales in the Cook Islands.


Kitesurfing is huge in Aitutaki, as well as the Muri Lagoon on Rarotonga. If you’re keen for a day lesson or want to rent some gear if you know what you’re doing, then the best time to come is between May and October. Check out our full guide, The Guide to Kitesurfing in the Cook Islands.


Rarotonga is a destination for advanced surfers, offering awesome reef and point breaks. The surf is best between November and March. Find out more in The Best Time to Surf in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands.

Scuba Diving

There isn’t really a bad time to scuba dive in the Cook Islands, but it tends to be better for certified divers between April and November when most of the dive sites are accessible. The wet season sometimes cuts off some of the dive sites due to unfavourable prevailing winds. Find out more in The Best Time to Dive in the Cook Islands.


Again, fishing is great in the Cook Islands no matter what time of year it is. If you’re targeting a specific species, however, some seasons are better than others. All of that is covered in The Best Time of Year for Fishing in the Cook Islands.

The Best Time to Go on a Cruise to Rarotonga & the Cook Islands© Cook Islands Tourism

Conclusion: The Best Time to Cruise to the Cook Island and the South Pacific

If you haven’t concluded yourself on the best time to cruise the South Pacific and the Cook Islands with the information already provided in this guide, no worries!

The general consensus for the best time to take a cruise to the Cook Islands is either from April to May or from September to October. These months are also known as the shoulder seasons of the Cook Islands, benefitting from a little bit of both the dryer climate of the dry season and the warmer temperatures of the wet season. By not being right in the middle of the high tourist season, you also may benefit from more availability on cruises, as well as the potential for discounts.

Still not sure about the best time to cruise to the Cook Islands? Luckily, we have even more on the subject in our complete guide to The Best Time to Visit Rarotonga & the Cook Islands: A Month by Month Guide.

More About Cruising in the Cook Islands

That’s it for our guide on the best time to take a cruise to Rarotonga, Aitutaki and the Cook Islands. Need more cruising advice? Check out our other cruise guides:

Finally, discover more ways to get to the Cook Islands with our guide, Getting Here: How to Get to Rarotonga & the Cook Islands?


Laura S.

This article was reviewed and published by Laura, editor-in-chief and co-founder of Cook Islands Pocket Guide. Since arriving solo in the South Pacific over 10 years ago with nothing but a backpack and a background in journalism, her mission has been to show the world how easy (and awesome) it is to explore a paradise such as the Cook Islands. She knows the islands inside out and loves sharing tips on how best to experience Raro’s must-dos and hidden gems. Laura is also the editor of several other South Pacific travel guides.

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