The Best Places to Take Photos in Rarotonga, Aitutaki and the Cook Islands
With vibrant palms and white sands contrasting with turquoise lagoons topside while crystal clear waters offer vivid displays underwater, the Cook Islands sure is a photographer’s paradise (or anyone’s paradise, for that matter). With Rarotonga being the most visited of the Cook Islands, most of the recommendations in this list of the best places to take pictures in the Cook Islands are within Rarotonga. We do, however, mention a few hidden gems on Aitutaki and the other outer islands, should you feel like going on a real photography adventure.
1. Black Rock
A volcanic outcrop among the white sand, Black Rock is not only a stunning place to take photos in Rarotonga but it’s also a spiritual place and stellar snorkelling site. The rock is said to be where Rarotonga’s spirits depart to the afterlife, which you can learn more about on the interpretation panel erected in front of the rock. Capture the mana of this place that, incidentally, looks best at sunset as one of the 10 Best Places to Watch the Sunset in the Cook Islands.
Location: Main Road (Ara Tapu), Nikao, northwest side of Rarotonga.
2. The Sandbank
Among the turquoise waters of the Aitutaki Lagoon, this hotspot for lagoon cruises, aptly known as “The Sandbank“, is a picturesque spot and must-do for photographers. The pure white sand surrounded by azure waters is the best place in the Cook Islands to get your drone out (presuming you have followed the advice we give in What You Need to Know About Flying a Drone in the Cook Islands).
Location: Southeast side of the Aitutaki Lagoon. See which cruises you can access the sandbank with in the 10 Best Lagoon Cruises on Aitutaki and check out water taxis in our Aitutaki Transport Guide.
3. Papua Waterfall (Wigmore’s Waterfall)
Cool off and get some “cool” photos at the Papua Waterfall on Rarotonga. Also known as Wigmore’s Waterfall, the falls can be found among the forest in a clearing with picnic tables. The waterfall is at its best when there hasn’t been a dry spell (which, luckily, isn’t too often on Rarotonga). Remember to take some insect repellent with you! See more stunning Raro sights in the Sightseeing on Rarotonga: Top 10 Sights on Rarotonga.
Location: End of Papua Road, Vaimaanga, south side of Rarotonga. To drive up the road to the waterfall, you may be asked for a donation (around NZ$2 for bikes and NZ$5 for cars/trucks).
4. Avaavaroa Passage
A top underwater photography spot in Rarotonga that you don’t even need to take your camera for, the Avaavaroa Passage is a turtle hotspot where guided turtle swimming tours will provide professional photos for you! Join award-winning photographer, Charlotte Piho, for some gorgeous underwater photos of you with the turtles on her turtle tour – find out more on Viator and Tripadvisor. Compare the tours with others, some of which also provide photography, in the 7 Best Turtle Swimming Tours in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands.
Location: Vaimaanga, south side of Rarotonga.
5. Ara Metua (Back Roads of Rarotonga)
When scouting out photography locations in Rarotonga, take the back roads, just a few metres away from the main coastal road. Built a thousand years ago, Ara Metua is the original road of Rarotonga where you’ll find locals living traditional lifestyles – living off pawpaw, arrowroot and taro plantations. These quiet roads, some symmetrically lined with coconut palms and fringed with flowers in summer, capture the lush and verdant side of Rarotonga.
Location: Ara Metua spans from Rutaki in the south, up the west coast, along the north coast and all the way down Matavera, ending in Ngatangiia, Rarotonga.
6. Raemaru Track
While the Cross Island Track tends to steal all the limelight for scenic hikes on Rarotonga, the Raemaru Track‘s vistas definitely rival it but only take a fraction of the time. The hike can take anywhere between 1h30mins to up to 3 hours if you’re adventurous enough to tackle the 15m (30ft) rockface with the aid of steel handholds and ropes. There are breathtaking photo opportunities from the forest and the mountaintop and everything in between! See a full description of the hike in the 10 Best Walks & Hikes in the Cook Islands and check out guided options in the 8 Best Guided Walks in the Cook Islands.
Location: Raemaru Heights, Arorangi, west side of Rarotonga.
7. Muri Beach
If you’re looking for the ultimate sunrise photos of Rarotonga and the Cook Islands, head to Muri Beach. Looking out toward the lagoon’s four motu (islets), striking silhouettes are cast in front of the vibrant hues of the sunrise. And with so many of Rarotonga’s resorts located on Muri Beach, for many of us, there’s no excuse not to wake up early one day to catch the sunrise. Check out more stellar sunrise spots in the 10 Best Places to Watch the Sunrise in the Cook Islands.
Location: Muri Beach, Muri, southeast coast of Rarotonga.
8. One Foot Island (Tapuaetai)
One Foot Island – its Moari name Tapuaetai – is not only the most popular stop for Aitutaki lagoon cruises but an effortlessly photogenic place. Many cruises stop here for a barbecue lunch, leaving you plenty of time to explore the sights and grab those shots. Head to the front or back-facing sides of the islands to “navigate” the crowds and walk down the beach toward the channel for more picture-perfect beaches.
Location: Southeast side of the Aitutaki Lagoon, Aitutaki. See the link above for operators to take you there. Water taxis are also available, as outlined in our Aitutaki Transport Guide.
9. Vai Nauri
We can’t get this close to the end of our list of the best places to take photos in the Cook Islands without mentioning the sights of the other outer islands! The islands of Atiu, Mangaia, Mauke and Mitiaro all have breathtaking caves that make for some epic photos. Vai Nauri (pictured) can be found on Mitiaro and is, in our opinion, the most stunning cave pool in the Cook Islands with its limestone features and crystal clear water. Discover more photo-worthy caves in the 10 Best Caves in the Cook Islands.
Location: West side of Mitiaro. A short dead-end road to Vai Naui can be found a few hundred metres north of the Lake Rotonui turnoff.
10. Departure Flight
Don’t put the camera away just yet! On the flight departing Rarotonga, you’ll get one of the best photo opportunities of your whole trip. On some international flights departing the Cook Islands, the plane circles the island as it gains height, making for some epic views of this green jewel jutting out of the Pacific Ocean. Sit on the left side of the plane for the best views! For more about getting the best views on flights in the Cook Islands, check out The Best Scenic Flights in the Cook Islands.
Location: Rarotonga Airport, Nikao, north end of Rarotonga.
More on Where to Take Pictures in the Cook Islands
Now that you know some of the best places to take pictures in the Cook Islands, as well as the best photography spots, discover more picture-perfect places listed in the guides below:
- The 10 Most Famous Places in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands
- Sightseeing in the Cook Islands: Top 10 Sights in the Cook Islands
- The Top 10 Natural Wonders in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands
Finally, add more to the bucket list using the 101 Best Things to Do in the Cook Islands: The Ultimate List. Plus, work out all the logistics of planning a Cook Islands getaway in The Best Cook Islands Travel Guide.