Dates for some events in 2024 have not been announced yet. Where they are shown these are confirmed dates. For the rest, you can see when they took place in 2023. All events are in Rarotonga unless otherwise stated.
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"TROPICAL CHRISTMAS" HIGHLIGHTS
2 , 9 and 16 Dec: Santa on tour (830-11am) From CITC to Punanga Nui market and through town
7 Dec: Santa Parade (from 4.30 pm) through town
10 Dec: Kīnura Music Festival, National Auditorium (door open at 6 pm)
Dec 13: Island Craft “Bonanza Sale”
Dec 15: BSP Green Day (1-2 pm) with lucky dips and free ice cream
Dec 7,20 and 21 : Late night shopping
21 Dec: "Christmas on the warf"
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
ROTORACT CHRISTMAS IN THE PARK , 14 December National Auditorium - entertainment, food and children's activities
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
50TH ANNIVERSARY OF RAROTONGA AIRPORT
Big celebrations are expected to mark 50 years since Her Late Majesty Queen Elizabeth II opened Rarotonga airport on 29 January, 1974. And a re-enactment of the occasion with the help of Islands' schoolchildren will be one of the highlights. This was a significant point in Cook Islands history because it made air travel much easier for locals and visitors alike. More details will be posted here as they become available
COMPOSERS COMPETITION (TE MIRE ATU)
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 (Held 16 March, in 2023)
PURSUIT IN PARADISE MARATHON, AITUTAKI
29 APRIL-2 MAY
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
DANCER OF THE YEAR (Te Mire Ura)
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. (Held 27 April-12 May in 2023)
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 there's was a NZ$350 entry fee in 2023 (which included meals). But it costs nothing to watch and little to join in the the other fun events.
ECLIPSE OF THE SUN, PENRHYN/TONGAREVA
A solar eclipse is one of the most awe-inspiring events in the natural world and remote and beautiful Penrhyn will be the first place on earth to see this one. It occurs when when the Moon passes in front of the sun and blocks it. It won't quite be a total eclipse on the island but 98.5% of the sun will be blocked out. That will happen at approximately 6.39 am (local time) and the eclipse will end at just after 7.36 am. ON RAROTONGA AND AITUTAKI: A partial eclipse will be visible on the capital island of Rarotonga where 38% of the sun will be blocked out at approximately 6.51 am. On Aitutaki, 47% of the sun will be obscured at 6.49 amMORE DETAILS
TE MAEVA NUI
Cultural festival and constitution celebrations
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". 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.
Events usually begin 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 typically include coconut husking, a Maori food festival and specially themed cultural nights. Constitution Day itself is 4 August and is a public holiday
(Held 28 July-5 August in 2023)
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
This community initiative was established in 2021 and aims to promote health and fitness on Aitutaki. Competitors from Australia and New Zealand were among nearly 100 people showing their weightlifting skills in individual and team events in 2023. And there was also a beginners category which the organisers hoped would encourage islanders to have some fun while getting fitter (Held 31 August-2 September in 2023)
ROUND RARO ROAD RACE 19-25 SEPTEMBER
Top international athletes, veterans and "nutters" share their love of running in this annual event which will be 47 years old in 2024. It kicks off with 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. Other events include a "round rock relay, an island kaikai (feast) and a "Nutters cross island relay" 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
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) 24-29 NOVEMBER
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 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 (Held from 24 November-1 December in 2023)
TE MIRE TIARE (Flower) FESTIVAL
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 (
Held from 27-29 November in 2023)
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!" (Held from 4-8 December in 2023)
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 across other islands
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!
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.