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If you're planning a visit to the Islands in 2019, these are some of the main events.  It's not everything.   Some dates are also unconfirmed and these are marked with a star.  Click on underlined items for more details further down this page.
Cook Islanders have a passion for dance and each year there's a keenly fought competition to find the best dancers from across the Islands. 
(Cultural festival of music and dance, and celebration of the constitution)
The most important event in the Cook Islands calendar is the annual celebration of self rule, granted in 1965.  Formerly called the Constitution Celebrations, it was renamed in 2001 because the Prime Minister of the time wanted a Cook Islands Maori name to capture the essence and joy of the annual festival.  "Te Maeva Nui" translates as "the major or most important celebration"

21-28 NOVEMBER: VAKA EIVA (Canoeing Festival)
In 2004, the Cook Islands Canoeing Association hosted the inaugural Rarotonga Vaka Eiva - a series of canoeing races including a round Rarotonga relay for the main prize of the Pacific Cup.  And it's now an annual event and proably the biggest sporting event of the year, with a host of fun activities as well as the races.   Upwards of 850 competitors compete in  around 100 teams.  The Association has its own web site with full details and videos .
Gospel days are held on each of the islands and celebrate the arrival of Christianity through dramas which re-enact aspects of this event.   Some very original and very modern approaches are taken.   On Rarotonga for example, motorbike riders resembling Rambo were a memorable feature of a past event!  The days are organised by the Christian Church in the Cook Islands (CICC).  Very photogenic, and loads of fun!      Find out more  Photo: Cook Islands News
Each year, performing artists from Rarotonga and the outer islands gather at the National Auditorium in Rarotonga to present new dances, songs, drum beats and costumes expressing the cultural theme chosen for that particular year.  And it all begins with a float parade through town from Avatiu Wharf to Panama on 26th.

Teams from the outer islands also sell crafts and produce from their home during  island days throughout the festival.   Other events during the festival include coconut husking, and a Maori food festival

WANT TO KNOW MORE?  Click here for the detailed programme of events (opens in a new window or tab)The scale, scope and spectacle is hard to describe, so I recommend having a look at the Ministry of Cultural Development website which has lots of videos and photos from previous years and up to date details of the 2019 events.  To find out more about what the islanders are celebrating, click here

Events are held for juniors, intermediates, seniors and "golden oldies".   The National Auditorium in Rarotonga is the usual venue for the final and it's a spectacularly noisy and colourful event not to be missed.    Photographs from Cook Islands News

WANT TO KNOW MORE?  The Ministry of Cultural Development website has videos and interviews from previous years and nearer the date will also have more information about the 2019 events
The event also includes a competition among the Islands to build and race a canoe built in the traditional manner by carving a tree trunk
Te Maeva Nui dancers
Cook Islands dance troupe
Te Maeva Nui parade
Mangaia team
Traditional canoe
Special Events in the Cook Islands Calendar
ACKNOWLEDGEMENT/COPYRIGHT: The Te Maeva Nui and Vaka Eiva photos on this page are the work of a very talented photographer, Harvie Allison.   They are reproduced with his kind permission, and in order to protect his copyright, I have added an indelible, hidden watermark which is instantly traceable back to this site. not reuse thse pictures...please contact Harv for his permission.   And I also recommend highly a look at his website which includes many more superb photographs. 
Cook Islands dancer
Male dancer
Colourful dancer
Another dancer
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Decorated for turama
Graves may not be everyone's idea of a tourist attraction, but on Rarotonga they're a spectacular sight on 1st November each year when islanders decorate them with flowers, and candles (real and solar powered!) which burn throughout the night.   Turama is a an ancient Roman Catholic celebration of All Souls Day (2nd November) when people gather at gravesides, laugh about happy times and tell stories of their departed loved ones.

Laying flowers
Whales swim close to shore off the Cook Islands
HUmpback breaching off Rarotonga
Nobody organises this one, but for many visitors it's the event of a lifetime!  Between mid to late July and October, the waters off the islands are full of whales.   They swim close to shore as they head for warmer waters to mate, give birth and rest.  In  Rarotonga they come so close that you can even watch from the main road through town (Avarua)

On the evening of the 1st, the church holds a requiem mass at the cathedral in Avarua.  The priest blesses holy water and takes it to the nearby cemetery at Panama, close to the airport.  He sprinkles it on the graves as a symbol of the water used at baptism as a sign of the promise of eternal life.   After a short prayer service, and as the sun sets, people light the candles. 
Watch a short video about Turama
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Continue the tour
In the week before Christmas each year, the Rotoract Club of Rarotonga organise a huge picnic in the park which is not only a family fun event, but also raises loads of money for community projects.   The emphasis is on families having fun. It's held at the Punanga Nui market site down by the harbour and, of course, Father Christmas is on hand to make the event complete. 
Picnic in the park
Santa's arrived!
Dancer of the year national final, 9th
Palmerston Gospel Day, 25th
Opera in Rarotonga
, 31st
Mangaia Gospel Day, 15th
Celebration concert
, 2nd        
Atiu Gospel Day, 19th
Mitiaro Gospel Day, 21st
Mauke Gospel Day, 23rd   
Whale watching season begins
Cultural Festival (Te Maeva Nui) from 26th to 5 Aug

Te Maeva Nui (cultural festival) continues until 5 Aug
Manihiki Gospel Day, 8th
Rakahanga Gospel Day, 15th
Round Raro road race, 19th-25th
(starting with a fun run on 19th, main race 21st)
Aitutaki Gospel Day, 26th
National gospel day, 26th

By law the following are PUBLIC HOLIDAYS
Every Sunday
Good Friday and Easter Monday
Christmas Day and Boxing Day
New Year's Day and 2nd January
Anzac Day (25th April each year)
Queen's Birthday (HRH Queen Elizabeth II): 3 June in 2019
Ra O Te Ui Ariki (House of Ariki) public holiday: 5th July in 2019
Constitution Day - observed on 5th August in 2019
*Not Palmerston which celebrates the birthday of the late Queen Victoria instead
Turama, 1st
Vaka Eiva Festival, 22-29th
Pukapuka Gospel Day, 6th
Christmas in the park, Rarotonga*

Jakne Numanga Snr
The ukulele is likley to be the first sound visitors hear  as Jake Numanga snr (pictured right) greets their arrival, as he's done for over 30 years.   This festival is a unique celebration of the instrument.  It includes performances by local and overseas artists, coaching, a mini expo with ukulele related stalls and what promises to be a memorable climax.  A parade will set off from Constitution Park (near the Catholic Cathedral) to the National Auditorirum where a golden ukulele concert will round off the three day festival. Author's noteIt's not clear why the organisers are spelling ukulele in the way they are (ukalele) but regardless, this promises to be a great three days
WANT TO KNOW MORE?   A programme of events and details of how to book is on the festival's own website here
First held last year, this event is set to be a regular part of the calendar now.   Local runner Kelly Pick was first across the line in 2018 for the full marathon with a time of 3 hours 36 minutes and 37 seconds.  And marathon world record holder Brent Weigner marked his 325th marathon making the Cook Islands the 156th country in which he has run.   But if you're not up to the 26+ miles there will also be a half marathon and 10k run....or you could just watch!

Pursuit in paradise Aitutaki marathon
WANT TO KNOW MORE?  The event website here has all you need to know, including how to enter for any of the events and a video of highlights from last year
WANT TO KNOW MORE?  Find out where and how to see the whales in our whale watching guide
Gospel day on Rarotonga
Mana Titaki week poster
Medicine making, coconut husking, pearl shell carving, traditional quiliting (Tivaevae) and  garland (ei) making are among the free activities in a week celebrating the rich culture and heritage of the Islands.   Performances by local dancers and singers and the sale of fresh food using only biodegradeable and eco-friendly products will complement the fun-filled week promoted by Cook Islands Tourism.  All the events, from 10 am to 2 pm each day, are at Maire Nui Park across the road from the Visitor Information Centre in Avarua (Rarotonga).  
WANT TO KNOW MORE?  Call in at the Tourism Information Office in town (Avarua) or contact Maire McFadzien by email or phone (+682 29435)
2019 sees the 10th annual concert of "Opera in Rarotonga" and 10 artists who've featured in this event over the years will be returning to provide what the organisers describe as "a showcase concert like none other".  Motone Production are organising two events.  The first is a family affair on 31st May under the Domes at the National Auditorium and the two and half event will feature Disney classics and Pacific Island songs as well as opera.  It costs NZ$15 for adults and NZ$7 for under 12s.  The second is an intimate close-up recital at Coastal Kitchen with just 250 tickets each costing NZ$120.  Artists at the concerts include young Cook Islands born tenor and rising star, Ridge Ponini (pictured right  after his 2014 performance, photo from Cook Islands News)
Tenor Ridge Ponini
Round Raro race 2017
Top international athletes, veterans and "nutters" share their love of running in this annual event which kicks off with a a lighthearted fun run on 19th where everyone is encouraged to dress up.   The main 31km race round Rarotonga is on 21st with a 530 am start.  Then, at 730 am, a shorter 10km race starts at  Bahai Faith in Ngatangiia.  There's also an island kaikai (feast) and a "Nutters cross island relay".   Photo: Cook Islands News
WANT TO KNOW MORE?  To register for the Round Rarotonga 31km run or get your mates together for the 10km run - write to