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If you're planning a visit to the Islands in 2017, this is a guide to what's on when.   All events are in Rarotonga unless otherwise stated.  This page will be updated as events are confirmed.   At this stage, it's just to help you understand what's usually happening when.

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". 

END OF 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 one of the most important 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 many 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.   Back in  2006 in Rarotonga in for example, motorbike riders resembling Rambo were a memorable feature!  The events are organised by the Christian Church in the Cook Islands (CICC). 

Very photogenic, and loads of fun!     
Find out more
Each year, performing artists 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.  Other events during the festival typically include coconut husking, and a Maori food festival.  And it all begins with a not-to-missed parade of floats through town (Avarua).

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
Gospel day
Right:  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
The three photos above and the near the bottom of the page of Vaka Eiva 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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The Miss Tiare contest has long been the highlight of the annual tiare (flower) festival on Rarotonga, and it keeps getting bigger and better.  The Ministry of Cultural Development has expanded it into an event called 'Te Mire Tama", which now includes a competition for young men as well.  They compete for the "Young Warrior" (Tama Aito) title.  Travel Kaukura and Heiarii Ioaba (left) were previous winners.

The young women have to choose a flower that best represents them, while the young men pick a plant or tree.  And both boys and girls have to recite a speech and showcase their own personal talent, all of it aimed at increasing the self-confidence of young people

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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). 
Find out where, where and how to see them in our whale watching guide
Details at the foot of this page

Kite surfing at Aitutaki
But at it's very simplest, this is a colourful and very entertaining event, not to be missed.  Pictured left are previous winners,  Travel Kaukura and Heiarii Ioapa 

The annual Round Rarotonga Road Race offers a chance to go sightseeing and end up with a sense of achievement!  You can opt for the full 32kms around the capital island, the slightly less demanding 10km run...or you could just sit back and watch it.  The big race starts around 530 am at the tourist information centre in town and the winners cross the finishing line two to three hours later.  The 10k run begins at 730 am from the Bahai centre in Muri.   If you're really could try the Nutters Cross Island Run …which starts in Titikaveka and heads over mountain ridges, across rugged valleys and riverbeds down to the coast at Avatiu!

Round Raro road race starters
Te Mire Atu song composers competiton, tbc
Penrhyn Gospel Day, 13th
Dancer of the Year Contest (Te Mire Ura)
Dancer of the year      
International triathlon week. 11th-17th
Golden oldies rugby mini festival tournament, tbc
Oceania Masters Squash tournament, tbc
Palmerston Gospel Day, 25th
Opera on the beach
Kumete sports day, tbc
Pacific netball series starts, tbc
Mangaia Gospel Day, 15th
Atiu Gospel Day, 19th
Mitiaro Gospel Day, 21st
Mauke Gospel Day, 23rd   
Whale watching season begins
Te Maeva Nui (cultural festival) starts


Te Maeva Nui (cultural festival) continues   
Manihiki Gospel Day, 8th
Rakahanga Gospel Day, 15th
Manureva Aquafest (Aitutaki) tbc (may be end of Aug)
Round Raro road race, 21st-27th
Rugby club 15s grand finals, tbc
Manea games (Mauke), 4th-17th
Te Mire Tama (flower festival contests), 9th
Aitutaki Gospel Day, 26th
National gospel day, 27th
International rugby "7s in heaven" (continues into Nov)
Turama, 1st
Rotary Presidents Golf Tournament tbc
Vaka Eiva Festival, tbc
'Motu 2 Motu' canoe races, Aitutaki (may be end of Nov)
Pukapuka Gospel Day, 6th
Christmas in the park, Rarotonga

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
Continue the tour
Te Mire Tamas winners 2012

Rarotonga's own creative production company, Motone have been organising this amazing event since 2010.  Of course, there's no opera house on the capital island, or anything approaching the setting is typically in a beach location at one of the luxury resorts.  2017 tickets go on sale in January, and you can find out more here.  If you want a taste of the event, take a look at this YouTube video.  Last year's tickets were NZ$55 and included a glass of fizz and canapes!

If the event follows previous years, the competition will take place off the Maina Iti motu (islet) which nestles in the crystal clear turquoise blue waters of the Aitutaki lagoon.  The organisers say it's an ideal location because spectators can be right next to the action and the competitors have a clean wind with no obstructions. The actual days of the competition always depends on wind conditions. You can find out more at the offical website (which is currently still about last year's event)

The great thing about the international triathlon festival is that it combines a host of sporting challenges with lots of opportunities to eat!  It all begins on May 11th with an 800 metre boiler swim near Trader Jacks, followed by a "carbo loading pasta dinner" at the Edgewater Resort.   The big event is the internationa triathlon on 13th with an awards dinner on the 14th.  An island feast is hard on the heels of the Hash House Harriers fun run on the 15th.  The 16th sees the Turtles Tour de Raro cycle race - 31 kms round the island with BBQ prize giving evening.  And the Matuta mile on the 18th is a fun run and sausage sizzle (not at the same time though!). And  overseas visitors are welcome to take part.  Don't be put off if you're not Olympic the words of the organisers, all events are "of a social nature yet with a competitive edge." 
Find out more on the official information page.
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!
Triathlon cycling
Stilt walking
Every two years, teams and individuals from the southern group islands partcipate in their own unique games.  Alongside the familiar such as football, cricket and volleyball, you'll also find traditional sports including stilt walking (right) and Pei Tupe which involves throwing wooden discs at a target.  This year, for the first time, they'll be held in Mitiaro; the dates haven't been finalised but the games are usually in October.
This festival started life three years ago as the Aitutaki international kitesurfing competition and it's drawn big names including twice world kitsurfing champion, Jesse Richman (left).  The new name better reflects that this is not just a kiteboard spectacular, but also includes a host of other water challenges, including outrigger canoeing, swimming races and lots of partying!  
Photos from
This started out in 2011 as a bit of a footnote to the big Vaka Eiva...a chance to see the beautiful Aitutaki lagoon from a different perspective and making a race of it.  Now, it's an event in its own right, with a whole host of competitions and dozens of international competitors.    But it's still very much a fun event, albeit with some earnest racing.   The exact dates haven't been confirmed yet.   You can get a taste of what it's all about in this videoPhoto from the motu2motu facebook page
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Opera poster
whale breaches surface
motu2motu racing, Aitutaki
By law the following days are official public holidays in the Cook Islands:
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)
The Queen's Birthday (HM Queen Elizabeth II)*: Usually in the first week of June
Ra O Te Ui Ariki (House of Ariki) public holiday: 7th July in 2017
Constitution Day: observed on 4th August (public holiday date can vary)
*Not Palmerston which celebrates the birthday of the late Queen Victoria instead