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As part of measures to keep out the Coronavirus, nearly all events in 2020 have been cancelled.  The purpose of this page is to give you an idea of what normally takes place when to help you if you're planning a visit in 2021. All events are in Rarotonga unless otherwise stated. Some scheduled dates are now shown; others will be added as they're announced

Scheduled for 23 April to 6 May

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.This is one of the biggest events of the year.
TE MAEVA NUI (Cultural festival of music and dance, and celebration of the constitution)
Scheduled for 20 July to 7 August
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"

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. Now an annual event at the end of November, and probably the biggest sporting event of the year, with a host of fun activities as well as the races. Upwards of 850 people compete in  around 100 teams.The Association has its own web site with videos
Gospel days are also public holidays held on each of the islands to celebrate the arrival of Christianity.  And its not just church services...all kinds of special events are held and there's much partying and feasting. The days are organised by the Christian Church in the Cook Islands (CICC).  Very photogenic, and loads of fun! There's also a national gospel day (Nuku) on Rarotonga in October
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.

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?  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

Contests 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 will have details of the 2021 event when it's organised
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.

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 weeks immediately before Christmas, the Rotoract Club of Rarotonga organise events, which also raise loads of money for community projects.   The emphasis is on families having fun.  Details are announced around November time.  The pictures below are of a huge picnic in the park which was the highlight two years ago and is typical of the type of events.
Picnic in the park
Santa's arrived!
GOLDEN UKULELE FESTIVAL Scheduled for 24-28 Mar

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 which began in 2019 is a unique celebration of the instrument and has included performances by local and overseas artists, coaching, a mini expo with ukulele related stalls and a memorable climax in the form of a ukelele concert at the National Auditorium
WANT TO KNOW MORE?   Email the organisers at
First held in 2018, this event is now a regular part of the calendar.  Australian Stuart Price (left) was first over the line in 2019 with a time of 3 hour 35 minutes and 49 seconds. But if you're not up to the 26+ miles, there's a half marathon, a 10k course and a 5k fun run on the airport runway..after the last plane of the day has left. Even if you're a seasoned marathon runner, it's unlikely you'll have raced anywhere quite so stunning as Aitutaki. Typically held in the last week of March

WANT TO KNOW MORE?  The event website here has all you need to know, apart from when it might take place in 2021.There's also a video of the 2019 event
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 were among the free activities when this was first held in 2019, 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 complemented the fun-filled week promoted by Cook Islands Tourism
There's no opera house on Rarotonga, but for the past 10 years that hasn't stopped Motone Productions bringing local and rising opera stars to the capital island.  Last year's artists included young Cook Islands born tenor, Ridge Ponini (pictured right). 2019's event also included an intimate close up recital  Typically held in the last week of May
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 where everyone is encouraged to dress up.  The 31km race round Rarotonga is the main event usually with a 530 am start.  Then, a couple of hours later, a shorter 10km race begins. There's also an island kaikai (feast) and a "Nutters cross island relay".  
Photo: Cook Islands News
Aitutaki 2019 marathon winner
WANT TO KNOW MORE?  Contact the Cook Islands Tourism Department
Scheduled for 26 November to 3 December
The sight and scent of flowers is everywhere on Rarotonga during this week long annual festival which begins at the end of November. Highlights include a float parade, a pageant to choose Miss Tiare and competitions for the best decorated businesses and government buildings.
Photos: Cook Islands News (left) and Ministry of Cultural Development (right)

Tiare parade
Tiare float
What a whopper!
Weighing in at 445 kgs, this massive black marlin was caught a mile off Aitutaki in 2013 by Aitutaki Game Fishing Club President Clive Baxter.  The club planned to host the country's first open marlin fishing tournament in 2020 but lockdown got in the way! There are hopes that the event will now take place in 2021
WANT TO KNOW MORE?   Contact Aitutaki Fishing Club treasurer Kimiora Ngapare at or call 00682 57599; club secretary Aitutaki Terangi Ngaoire at 00682 71601, or the president Clive Baxter on 00682 54025.
WANT TO KNOW MORE?  The Aquafest has its own Facebook page
Islanders claim the waters around Honeymoon Island in the Aitutaki lagoon are "the best location on the planet" for kitesurfing and 2020 was going to be the 10th anniversary of the Manureva Aquafest which sees some of the best exponents in the world competing for top honours. The event also includes a whole host of other water based sports and fun activities over five days - typically at the end of August
kite surfer
WANT TO KNOW MORE?  Te Tiare Association has its own website
The Cook Islands was due to hold its first Pride Dayin 2019 to  raise visibility of the country's LGBT+ community and celebrate the value of diversity and community inclusion. It was cancelled because of lockdown but It's organisers, Te Tiare Association, the body that represents the Cook Islands' LGBT+ community is hoping to have a Pride Day in 2021, although it may not be in March
LGBT+ group photo
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): first week of June
Ra O Te Ui Ariki (House of Ariki) public holiday: first week of July
Constitution Day - 4th August
*Not Palmerston which celebrates the birthday of the late Queen Victoria instead