The sheltered reef surrounding Rarotonga makes it a great place to snorkel. The reef hosts a large variety of marine wildlife including turtles, eels, and rays. Partner this with calm, crystal clear waters.
Snorkelling is a safe activity to try in Rarotonga, provided you stick to the recommended snorkelling locations. There are a few passages and it is highly discouraged to swim or snorkel in these locations as a strong current may sweep you out past the calm lagoon.
These passages include :
- Arorangi School Passage in between Black Rock and Aro’a beaches
- Rutaki, Papua and Avaavaroa Passages between Aro’a Beach and Tikioki Marine Reserve
- Avana Passage north of Muri Beach
These may not be clearly signposted so the best way to avoid these is to only snorkel in the recommended locations. We’ve marked these locations below to make it easy for you to find the places to avoid swimming, and where you should snorkel to see the best marine life.
Make sure to also check out our detailed Rarotonga travel guide to find out everything you need to know for a perfect holiday.
Rarotonga Snorkel Locations
Tikioki Marine Reserve
This is, without a doubt, our favourite snorkelling spot on the island and is one of our favourite things to do in the Cook Islands. It is located in the southeast of Rarotonga in Titikaveka, one of the best places to stay in Rarotonga. If you’re driving, there’s a car park available, otherwise, tell the bus driver to stop off at Fruits of Rarotonga. This is a well-known cafe across the road from the beach.
The best spot is directly opposite the cafe and you don’t need to go far to start seeing fish. Even at waist-deep water, you’ll see trevally, angelfish, butterfly fish, and zebrafish. This makes it a great option for those who aren’t comfortable in the water, or for younger children.
If you go further out, you’ll see bright blue starfish, parrotfish, bluefin trevally, wrasse and moray eel. Apparently, you may also be able to see reef sharks near the edge of the reef but I am still yet to see one!
We brought our own snorkelling gear over but if you don’t have your own, most snorkelling spots have shops where you can hire both child and adult snorkelling gear. You shouldn’t have to pay more than $15 NZD per set, making it a cheap and enjoyable activity.
At Titikaveka, both Fruits and Rarotonga and Charlie’s Cafe hire out snorkelling equipment. And the best part is when you go to return your equipment, you can grab a refreshing smoothie or a bite to eat. With all that exercise, you’ve probably worked up an appetite!
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This snorkel spot is characteristic of a multitude of coral bommies which is a sight in itself! Look closely when you find them – you’ll find hundreds of baby fish (mainly butterflyfish and zebrafish) in these areas. Like Tikioki, Aro’a is also a marine reserve so you don’t have to go out very far to see many species of marine life. Go further out to see giant clams and starfish!
Two great places to hire snorkelling gear are the Dive Centre and Adventure Cook Islands Ltd.
There are quite a few resorts on this part of the island with beachfront bars. A great tip is to drop in to snorkel in the early afternoon so you can catch happy hour once you’ve finished. Happy hours often run daily and usually run sometime between 3 pm and 6 pm. Shipwreck Hut is a popular bar in the area and is open from 5 pm. Not only the drinks, but the food here is good too!
Aitutaki is a smaller island off the coast of Rarotonga. It has earned a nickname used by both locals and tourists, Honeymoon Island. With turquoise waters, white sand beaches, and lush greenery, it’s clear why.
The best snorkel spot on the island is on the western side. Aitutaki marine life is characteristic of fish larger than you see on the main island of Rarotonga. Trevally upwards of 50 kilograms have been spotted, as well as rays and moray eels. Dive Aitutaki will hire out snorkel gear to you if require.
Black Rock Beach
Black Rock Beach is located at the northern end of Ka’anapali Beach, relatively close to the airport and city centre. Filled with black volcanic rock formations, this provides great contrast against the blue sky and turquoise waters. You’ll be able to see locals fishing and jumping off the rocks here.
This place is of great cultural significance in Rarotonga. Locals believe Black Rock Beach is where spirits depart the island.
We went snorkelling here on a windy day so we weren’t able to see a lot. We’ve heard otherwise from others that this is one of the best spots to snorkel on a calm day. Hire snorkel gear here from Dive Rarotonga.
There are four Motu, or islets, off the coast of Muri beach. They can all be seen from the shore and Koromiri Motu is just a short kayak away. Pack a picnic lunch and enjoy it on the island to avoid the hustle and bustle of tourists occupying Muri beach. At 200m away from Muri beach, confident swimmers could make their way over too.
The sheltered lagoon harbours a myriad of colourful marine life. Hire your snorkel gear from Ariki Adventures or Captain Tama’s in Muri.
Speaking of, Captain Tama’s also offers Lagoon Cruises. They’re a must-do for those interested in snorkelling. The cruise lasts four hours and costs $79 NZD per person. Children under six are free and children over six years are $40 NZD each.
The tour includes a cruise in a glass bottom boat to a marine reserve for snorkelling. Since we were brought far from the shore, we were able to see large blue trevally, coral bommies, and giant clams. You get to see a larger variety of species than what you would do closer to the shoreline. This is an interesting experience, especially if you’ve been snorkelling a few times already and have seen all there is to see. They provide snorkelling gear and life jackets for those who aren’t as confident in the water.
We had a local style buffet at Koromiri Motu in Muri then finished off the tour with entertainment. The tour was a lot of fun and the crew is such a laugh.
Check out Captain Tama’s Lagoon Cruises if you’re interested:
Koka Lagoon Cruises offer a very similar day out. They also stop over at Koromiri Motu for lunch and the tour prices are exactly the same as Captain Tama.
You can also do snorkelling day trips out to Aitutaki. Aitutaki Adventures hosts a great tour for a little more than the aforementioned at $125 NZD for adults and $50 NZD for children.
You can hire equipment at major snorkelling spots, or alternatively, check with your resort. They may have some available for you to take with you each day.
If you don’t want to carry around snorkelling gear every day or are only looking to snorkel once or twice, then we’d recommend hiring the gear. We own our own snorkel gear as we love to go snorkelling. We ended up snorkelling every day of our nine-day trip, so as you can imagine, hireage at $10 NZD to $15 NZD each day would cost a lot more than a full set of decent flippers, goggles, and snorkel.
I have used this snorkel mask and fins set on multiple overseas trips to the islands and Southeast Asia. The flippers are too long to be kept in a backpack, so I usually carry them around in a mesh drawstring bag. There are plenty of options for shorter flippers available on Amazon.
Waterproof Phone Case
We didn’t rent a car when we travelled to Rarotonga, so we needed a place to store our valuables while we were in the water. We were reluctant to use a waterproof armband to hold our phones, but we gave a highly-rated armband on Amazon a go. We have no regrets!
It’s big enough to hold a couple of small phones (or one bigger one), resort keys and some cash. When yours do arrive, make sure you test it out by putting tissue paper inside and submerging the band in your water-filled sink.
Rarotonga is very safe, but there have been a few reports of break-ins into the under seat compartment of scooters. Bear this in mind if you are thinking of leaving valuables there.
Aqua shoes can come in handy when going from the water to land, and they also play a part in protecting the soles of your feet. Stonefish, although scarce, are poisonous and camouflage on the seafloor. If we weren’t wearing flippers, we’d wear aqua shoes especially if we were just going out to swim.
The great thing about aqua shoes is you can find many at reasonable prices. Just be sure to buy ones with rubber soles for grip and protection. They’re light and take up little space in your luggage. If you’re dealing with little luggage space or just carry on, aqua shoes are a more convenient option compared to fins. At just $12 NZD, they won’t break the bank.
Towels take up a lot of space in your bag which was particularly annoying when we were on long trips for a month or more. Instead, we invested in a microfibre towel. The Sea to Summit Drylite Towel is incredibly compact, quick-drying and can absorb a large amount of water. You can even use these a few times without it holding a damp smell.
To our surprise, this towel takes up a fraction of the size of regular travel towels. For one-baggers or those with little luggage space, it’s a lifesaver! Twigs tend to stick to regular microfibre towels but a soft, suede finish prevents this from happening.
I have the large size and my partner uses the extra-large size.
A foggy snorkel mask can completely ruin your snorkelling experience. Having to stop every few minutes to rinse your snorkel gets irritating. We read a hack to use non-whitening toothpaste as an alternative to antifog and gave it a go – it does work! Since you’ll be carrying toothpaste on your holiday anyway, it doesn’t take up any extra space in your suitcase.
You may already know not to stand on coral. Coral are fragile and can be easily killed. Not to mention, they can be very sharp so it’s in your best interest not to come into direct contact with them. If you need to stand up to adjust your mask or take a break, swim over to the sand instead.
If you have nowhere to put your valuables and you do not feel comfortable to ask a nearby beach-goer to look after your possessions, there are some options for you. Put all your valuables in a Ziploc bag or empty sunscreen bottle and bury this partially in the sand underneath your towel. Put your bag over the top of this in case a corner or your towel blows away. Another option is to dig a hole to fit your bag and cover this with your towel.
Once again, we’d recommend you either keep your valuables in your car or with you in a waterproof armband.
Also, there are many stray dogs wandering around the beach all day. These are all very friendly so no need to be alarmed. In fact, locals and resort owners often feed them daily. A great tip would be not to leave food out unattended – man’s best friend may treat themselves to your after-swim snack!