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If you're planning a visit to the Islands in 2020, these are some of the main events. Where actual dates are shown, they are confirmed.  Events are in Rarotonga unless otherwise stated.  Click on underlined items for more details
CANCELLED - to be replaced by a national dance competition from 13-24 July (details to be confirmed)

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"

20-27 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.

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.  The 2020 events will also be added to this site

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 2020 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.
Competitor registration is now open.  Email for details

Te Maeva Nui dancers
Cook Islands dance troupe
Te Maeva Nui parade
Mangaia team
Traditional canoe
Special Events in the 2020 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 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!
Beach Games (new for 2020), 6-11th
Golden Ukulele Festival, 7-12th
Marlin Fishing Tournament, Aitutaki 9-14th
Te Mire Atu (composers competition) 12th
Penrhyn Gospel Day, 13th
LGBT+ Pride Day, 27th
Pursuit in Paradise Aitutaki marathon, 23-26th
Mana Tiaki (culture and heritage) Week, TBC
Dancer of the Year Contest (Te Mire Ura) 23 Apr to 7 May

Constitution Day (public holiday), 4th
Manihiki Gospel Day, 8th
Rakahanga Gospel Day, 15th
Round Raro road race, 17th-23rd
Aitutaki Gospel Day, 26th
National gospel day (Nuku), 26th - public holiday

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): 1st June in 2020
Ra O Te Ui Ariki (House of Ariki) public holiday: 3rd July in 2020
Constitution Day - 4th August in 2020
*Not Palmerston which celebrates the birthday of the late Queen Victoria instead
Aitutaki Gospel Day, 26th
National gospel day (Nuku), 26th - public holiday
Turama, 1st
Vaka Eiva Festival 20-27 Nov
Tiare (flower) festival, 27 Nov-4 Dec
Pukapuka Gospel Day, 6th
Christmas events, Rarotonga

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.  It all starts with a pasta dinner on the 23rd for runners and supporters and ends with a day out on the lagoon and prize giving on 25th.  Even if you're a seasoned marathon runner, it's unlikely you'll have raced anywhere quite so stunning as Aitutaki.

WANT TO KNOW MORE?  The event website here has all you need to know, about how to enter.  There's a video of last year's event and more details of this year's activities will be added as we get nearer to the date
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 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. Details of the 2020 event haven't been announced yet.
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 and intimate close up recital  This year's line up and the exact dates are yet to be confirmed.

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
WANT TO KNOW MORE?  To register for the Round Rarotonga 31km run or get your mates together for the 10km run - write to
Aitutaki 2019 marathon winner
WANT TO KNOW MORE?  Contact the Cook Islands Tourism Department
The sight and scent of flowers is everywhere on Rarotonga during this week long annual festival.  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
WANT TO KNOW MORE?  The Aquafest has its own Facebook page and website.  Keep an eye on both for more details
Islanders claim the waters around Honeymoon Island in the Aitutaki lagoon are "the best location on the planet" for kitesurfing and this year is the 10th anniversary of the Manureva Aquafest which sees some of the best exponents in the world competing for top honours. There are a whole host of other water based sports and fun activities during the five day event and what happens when depends on the wind and sea conditions.
kite surfer
WANT TO KNOW MORE?  Te Tiare Association has its own website
For the first time, the Cook Islands is holding a Pride Day to  raise visibility of the country's LGBT+ community and celebrate the value of diversity and community inclusion. A sausage sizzle, music and dancing, face painting and food stalls will be among a day of events under the domes at the National Auditorium. It's organised by Te Tiare Association, the body that represents the Cook Islands' LGBT+ community and is open to all, regardless of age and sexual orientation.

LGBT+ group photo