2 million KM squared coloured in the bottomless blue unique to the Pacific Ocean and 15 reef-protected islands make up the Cook Island collection. A cluster of islands steeped with Polynesian culture and the foundations of a true tropical paradise, six hundred miles from Tahiti, French Polynesia and five hundred from the Kingdom of Tonga. The islands are some of the most remote in the world, minus a price tag to match this far-off island group, costing around half of what you would expect in Bora Bora and Fiji.
Let’s take a look at the best dive sites in Rarotonga and how much scuba diving here costs.
Main dive areas
The islands most accessible and ones likely to explored for diving will be Rarotonga and Aitutaki. Rarotonga being the colourful capital brings with it a population of 16,000. A daily market, community activities and many options of places to eat, sleep and where to have fun into the early hours of the morning, give a relaxed but active island life. The shops, cafes and restaurants of Rarotonga give variety in the food they supply and amenities are relatively easy to come by.
Rarotonga has a unique climate, being cooler because of the altitude to the landmass, often dipping in the afternoons. When comparing this to Aitutaki, the closest island 144 miles north, it has more consistent temperatures but is easily 3-4C higher with matching increased humidity.
Because of the increasing far-flung location, the variety found at home and in Rarotonga is not found here. Nothing happens in a hurry, so take in the easy island life. Expect paradise beaches that are yours and yours only, sunsets to rival anything you see on Instagram and pinch yourself is this real life.
Both islands offer a similar variety of dives, with Aitutakis waters being higher in temperate and carrying marginally better visibility. The difference is splitting hairs, both islands offer a fantastic variety of diving at some of the cheapest prices in the South Pacific.
When to visit Cook Islands
Being in the Southern Hemisphere, summer months run between October to March, but it is considered year round to have a temperature of 25-29C.
Rarotonga in the winter months means more rain, cloud coverage so on occasions you may need an extra layer. The cyclone season is also something to consider in the rainy months of mid-November until mid-March. The temperatures of the water do vary in the months, with Rarotonga sitting at the cooler end of 24C.
What will I see underwater?
The variety of fish is typical of the South Pacific, expect a brightly coloured myriad of unicorn, butterfly, snapper, grouper and angelfish with each dive. The waters have plenty of green and hawksbill turtle if you’re lucky, white-tip shark, moray eels and eagle rays galore.
In Rarotonga expect some dramatically beautifully drop-offs to explore with relaxed shark varieties catching up on shut eye around you. The intertwining corals of pinks, purples, reds and yellows on the sea bed and rocks, is a feature that makes diving in the Cook Islands incredibly special. With each submersion comes a completely new coral geography, enticing a wide and differing medley of fish and pelagic species.
Diving in the Cooks Islands you will find some of the most prime locations for spotting humpback whales coming to the surface to breed between the months of June-September. Head to the dive sites nearest the marina in Aitutaki or Trader Joes in Rarotonga, for the best chances to spot them!
Best Dive Sites in Rarotonga
Between two blossoming corralled juts of reef lies the anchor of the schooner Edna, along with other anchors and hooks coming from whaling boats while it was still legal. The Anchor sits at the ideal location of around 23m/75ft. A sloping white sanded valley where many of the brightest and varied reef fish; angel, parrot and damsels have made this paradise their home.Expect an easy dive with good visibility, as you slowly make your way to the edge of the reef and Rarotonga’s drop off at around 65 meters/200 feet.
The Tongan sailing vessel after years of being beaten up by tropical cyclones was purposely sunk for the benefit of marine life and divers in Rarotonga back in December 1990. Sitting between 10-20 meters the 45 meter ship is now in colossal chunks on the sea bed, rising from the ashes of its once industrialised use, it is now a platform of growth for Flora of the underwater world for corals and algae needing shaded, cooler areas. This increased diversity also entices variety of vegetation feeding fishes. The site however is best known as the hub for lion fish along with the hard coral edges sitting opposite, attracting the usual reef fish suspects, butterfly, snapper, unicorn and many more!
Rutaki Passage and Drop off
The main and largest passage that sailing vessels head through in order to enter Rarotonga. The passage itself is a narrow vertical canyon of crinkled edged walls made up of corals and reef, giving the most impressive drop off in Rarotonga to dive! The stronger currents of the pass produces sediment and as a result visibility of around 10-15 meters in the shallow water, being a named parrot fish mating ground. But the real excitement of the dive is diving into the darker, deeper blue abyss to find hang out spots for tunas, white tips, turtles and barracudas. This spot is for more experienced divers taking into consideration the depth, current and swell, but one that truly blows divers away with good conditions.
Diving in the deepest of blue oceans is something most divers dream of. But here in Rarotonga they have added FADs (Fish Aggregating Devices) to make the experience even more worth while. A piece of concrete attached to a rope is dropped to the ocean floor, visible on the surface via a floating object. The rope overtime builds up with algae inviting a food chain along with it- at times you will see nothing but small fish nibbling at the ropes algae and other times there are chances to see what is truly in the deep blue, schools of tunas, barracudas, mahi-mahi and numerous shark varieties. Depending on what their is to see, the depth of the dive varies from 10 to 50 meters.
Also check out the diving in Aitutaki and it’s best dive sites there!
How much does it cost to dive in Rarotonga
(All prices in NZD)
Flight from NZ: $700
Food and drink:
Hotels and resorts: $100
Open water PADI:$390
two tank dive: $180
Written by Phoebe Howlett who 4 years ago was diagnosed with an illnesses that made her so ill, they said she would never be able to recover to lead a normal life again. However, she completely changed her lifestyle; diet, exercise, and attitude to life and with these changes came her recovery. She now want to show that everyone can make the most of their life, creating The Chance of Choice to do so. Follow her journey on Facebook.