All events are in Rarotonga unless otherwise stated. All information is provided in good faith, but in these uncertain times, events may be cancelled or the dates changed. This is a large page, so if you have a slow connection, you might want to look at the summary version by clicking the button below.
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BEACH GAMES 6-21 JANUARY
This community event started in 2020 and is now an annual feature organised by the Cook Islands Sports and National Olympic Committee. Islanders compete against each other in seven sports over the course of the games...netball, handball, football, air badminton, 3v3 basketball, beach touch and volleyball. And of course it's all on the beach and complete with a live DJ
COMPOSERS COMPETITION (TE MIRE ATU) 16 MARCH
The competition is a celebration of original Cook Islands compositions. This is also a great chance to listen to some beautiful, traditional music from the Cook Islands as composers and singers vie for the top honours. Held at the National Auditorium
PURSUIT IN PARADISE MARATHON, AITUTAKI 20-23 MARCH
First held in 2018, this event is now a regular part of the calendar and attracts entrants from all over the world, as well as Cook Islanders. Australian Stuart Price holds the record for the fastest time; he was first over the line in 2019 in 3 hours 35 minutes and 49 seconds. But if you're not up to the 26+ miles (42.2 kms), there's a half marathon, and a 10k course. A 5k fun run is also held 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 as stunning
The organisers describe this as "a fun packed week of island fun and fitness" as well as an Olympic distance triathlon race.
Events include a social mountain bike tour, a fun run and Tour de Raro cycle race. If you want to enter all the events and the triathlon itself on the Saturday (6th) there's a NZ$350 entry fee (which includes meals). But it costs nothing to watch and little for the other fun events. Get more details here
DANCER OF THE YEAR (Te Mire Ura) 27 APRIL-12 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. Contests are held for juniors and 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.
BI-CENTENNIAL CELEBRATIONS: MITIARO, 15-23 JULY. MAUKE, 19-23 JULY
The churches on both Mitiaro and Mauke have special celebrations marking 200 years since the arrival of Christianity on their islands. Mitiaro's events include a cultural show, market day and a sports day on the 17th. The main celebration is on Saturday 22nd. On Mauke, as well as special daily services conducted by each denomination on the island, residents of the villages will take part every evening in cultural events
NATIONAL GOSPEL DAY BI-CENTENNIAL 26-27 JULY
This annual celebration of the arrival of Christianity will be particularly special in 2023 as it marks the 200th anniversary. Arorangi Cook Islands Christian Church has set a budget of NZ$0.5 million and more than 3,000 people are expected to attend what will be the biggest event in the district's history. The programme will include prayer services, commemoration ceremonies, festivals, uapou’s (imene tuki), gospel choirs and a dinner. Commemorative stones will also be unveiled. Photo: Cook Islands News
JULY TO OCTOBER: WHALE WATCHING SEASON
Nobody organises this one, but for many visitors it's a highlight not to be missed. 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) Photos: Cook Islands News
FITNESS FESTIVAL, AITUTAKI 31 AUGUST-2 SEPTEMBER
This community initiative was established in 2021 and aims to promote health and fitness on Aitutaki. Competitors from Australia and New Zealand will be among nearly 100 people showing their weightlifting skills in individual and team events. And this year includes a beginners category which the organisers hope will encourage islanders to have some fun while getting fitter
ROUND RARO ROAD RACE 21-27 SEPTEMBER
Top international athletes, veterans and "nutters" share their love of running in this annual event which will be 46 years old in 2023. It kicks off with a lighthearted fun run on 21st where everyone is encouraged to dress up. The 31km race round Rarotonga on the 23rd is the main event, usually with a 530 am start. Other events include a "round rock relay"(27th), an island kaikai (feast) and a "Nutters cross island relay" on the 26th which starts in Titikaveka and heads over mountain ridges, across rugged valleys and riverbeds down to the coast at Avatiu
Photo: Destination Management Cook Islands
OPERA IN RAROTONGA
New Zealand born lyric tenor, Benjamin Fifitia Makisi has been dubbed "the Pavorotti of the Pacific" and he'll be top of the bill when Opera in Rarotonga returns for the first time since the pandemic. The historic Tamarind House restaurant with its beach backdrop is the new venue for this event which celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2019 (the last time it was held). Motone Productions who organise it say "Popera" events will be happening around the island during the week of the concerts where singers could just pop up next to you and perform. Tickets on sale from 1 September Photo: Townsend Management
TURAMA 1 NOVEMBER
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 when people gather at gravesides, laugh about happy times and tell stories of their departed loved ones. These days other denominations also join in.
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.
VAKA EIVA (Canoeing festival) 24 NOVEMBER-1 DECEMBER
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 competition, and probably the biggest sporting event of the year, with a host of fun activities as well as the races. Previously, upwards of 850 people have competed in around 100 teams. The 2022 event was scaled back and featured only local entrants, but it's an international competition again in 2023.
The festival - the biggest sporting event in the islands - normally also includes a competition among the Islands to build and race a canoe built in the traditional manner by carving a tree trunk...like this entry from Mangaia
TE MIRE TIARE (Flower) FESTIVAL 27-29 NOVEMBER
The sight and scent of flowers is everywhere on Rarotonga during this annual festival. Highlights include a float parade, a pageant to choose Miss Tiare and competitions for the best decorated businesses and government buildings.
MOTU2MOTU, AITUTAKI 4-8 DECEMBER
Motus are tiny islets in the Aitutaki lagoon and these are races around and between them. This multi-award winning annual event has been going since 2011 (2020 and 2021 excepted) and attracts entrants from all over the world who compete in what must be the most stunning location in the world - the picture perfect blue waters of the Aitutaki lagoon. The races range from those for novices to iron man events. And if you're still wondering if it's worth watching, the organisers sum it up as "the most unique paddling event on the most stunning lagoon on the planet!"
ROTORACT CHRISTMAS IN THE PARK, National Auditorium - entertainment, food and children's activities Held on 14 December in 2022
SANTA PARADE through Avarua. Festive floats and more. And don't forget to take a stroll through town where the main street has a fun way of decorating for the season, including coloured street lights, palm frond Island-styled Christmas trees and lots of decorations
KONI RAONI, AITUTAKI 26 December, 2023 and 2nd January, 2024 Unique to Aitutaki; a host village visits other villages dancing, singing and raising funds; annual event
Hotels and resorts also have special events for their guests. And even if you're not a regular church-goer, a visit to one of the many services will not only remind you of the true meaning of Christmas it will leave you with memories of some amazing harmony singing
PUBLIC HOLIDAYS AND GOSPEL DAYS
By law the following are PUBLIC HOLIDAYS
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 (HM Queen Elizabeth II): first week of June*
Ra O Te Ui Ariki (House of Ariki) public holiday: first Friday in July
Constitution Day - 4th August
*Not Palmerston which celebrates the birthday of the late Queen Victoria instead. Following the death of HM Queen Elizabeth II, the government will decide whether there will be a different holiday
These are also public holidays local to 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) and are on different dates on each island. Very photogenic...and loads of fun! The National Gospel Day on Rarotonga and celebrations on Mitiaro and Mauke this year will be particularly special (see July above)
ACKNOWLEDGEMENT/COPYRIGHT: The Te Maeva Nui and Vaka Eiva photos on this page are the work of a great photographer, Harvie Allison. They are reproduced with his kind permission. So...do not reuse these pictures...please contact Harv for his permission. And I also recommend a look at his website which includes many more superb photographs.