In the Cook Islands, the snorkeling in Rarotonga offers clear lagoon waters within the protecting barrier reef. Rarotonga Island is considered to be like Hawaii back in the 1960’s and a much lower-cost version of French Polynesia. Except for the northeast coast, the island waters are protected by a barrier reef creating a lagoon teeming with marine life. Most of the snorkeling is shore-accessed with few snorkel boat tours available. During Rarotonga snorkeling, you many encounter cornetfish, wrasse, green sea turtles, moorish idols, triggerfish, angelfish, sergeant majors, surgeon fish and parrotfish.
The best Rarotonga snorkeling is the Aroa Lagoon Marine Reserve, which is accessible from shore. On the southwest coast, the Aroa Lagoon is a proteted boat-free zone with world-class snorkeling. While snorkeling Aroa, you can expect to see plenty of parrotfish, moorish idols, scorpionfish, stonefish, lionfish, angelfish, emperor angelfish, sunset wrasses and giant clams among the brain coral and pillar coral formations. After a long day of snorkeling, stop by the Shipwreck Hut at Aro’a Beachside Inn for a cool drink to wash away the salt water. The nearby Rarotongan Beach Resort has been a big supporter of the Aroa Lagoon Marine Reserve. In this Rau’i (traditional marine reserve), the water depth and temperature is ideal for fish breeding, and it can be easily snorkeled at low-tide unlike other dive sites.
The Tikioki Beach snorkeling spot is located on the southeast coast near the Fruits Of Rartonga stand. It is one of the most popular dives for brightly colored reef fish among the diverse coral formations. Start walking to the west for 300 feet, and at the cemetary with the radio tower, enter the water. You’ll want to snorkel about halfway to the barrier reef where you’re likely to encounter sea turtles, angelfish, parrotfish, surgeon fish, moray eels and some juvenile white-tipped reef sharks. A little further west from Tikioki Beach is another snorkeling spot called Tikikaveka Beach that is worth checking out.
On the east coast is the well-known village of Muri Beach. While many tourists talk about snorkeling here, it is quite shallow and you can even walk out to the offshore Motus inside the protecting barrier reef. It is best to snorkel in Muri Lagoon just before high tide and head out to explore the waters around the islets.
On the northwest coast, the family-friend Black Rock snorkeling spot offers the calmest water on Rarotonga. It is known for its black volcanic rocks surrounded by the white sand.
If you need a break from snorkeling all day long, you may want to try the challenging Cross Island Walking Track for a real adventure. It starts on the north side of the island just south of Avarua and runs southbound to Rutaki. Use the inexpensive round-island bus service to get back to the start.
To reach the Rarotonga Island snorkeling by air, fly into the Rarotonga International Airport (RAR) located on the northwest side of the Rarotonga Island. There are direct flights at least once a week from Sydney, Auckland, Tahiti (Air Tahiti) and Los Angeles (Air New Zealand). The country is known to occasionally subsidize airfare, so look for coupons. Should you wish to continue on to another island, there are inter-island flights offered by Air Rarotonga to most of the Southern Group islands, such as Aitutaki or Atiu, and some of the Northern Group islands, such as Manihiki, but less frequently. Since Sunday is a major day of rest, make sure not to arrive or depart on Sundays since many services are closed including car rentals and shuttle buses. In order of popularity, the main places tourists stay are Avarua Town on the north shore, Muri Beach on the southeast or Aroa on the southwest coast.
TIP: The Cook Islands cyclone/typhoon rainy season starts in November and ends in late March. The best Cook Islands snorkeling is typically from May through October during the dry winter season, but be aware that the water becomes cooler as the winter season progresses.
Overall, Rarotonga Island is the 1st most popular snorkel dive spot of all 2 snorkeling dives in Cook Islands.