Although it may seem like your world stands still while on the Cook Islands, there’s always a vibrant culture moving all around you. The local people love to shut down practically the entire country for big events where everyone comes together for fun and entertainment. If you’re visiting during one of the country’s main extravaganzas, there really isn’t a better way to immerse yourself in modern South Pacific culture.
It’s not all island dancing, log drum-offs and vaka races either. Contemporary events showcase talented locals across a range of current sports, and there’s even a chance for you to join in during some of them.
The Cook Islands doesn’t host a large amount of events compared to other countries and if you want to increase your chances of witnessing the bigger ones, you’ll need to visit between the months of April and November. However, the variation and injection of exciting atmosphere into a typical laid-back country are two big reasons why locals and visitors continue to flock to the island, hoping to be part of Cook Islands history.
National Dancer of the Year (Te Mire Atu) Competitions
17th April 2014 to 1st May 2014
Dance has long been a significant part of the Cook Islanders' culture and is a way for them to express joy and love for their history and country. The National Dancer of the Year Competitions (Te Mire Atu) is a celebration for the local community's dancing talents. Held across multiple weeks, the competitions attract the best dancers from every island who fiercely compete to win their respective age groups. Categories include all ages from juniors to 'golden oldies, so everyone has a chance to dance. The finals are held in Rarotonga at the National Auditorium and are known for being very entertaining.
Cook Islands Bowls Carnival
Open to professional, amateur and even first-time lawn bowlers, the Cook Islands Bowls Carnival is a fun event that coincides with the Te Maeva Nui festival. Although it's a social event, there are still prizes to be won, so the competition heats up, providing excellent entertainment for those playing and watching. It's a great opportunity to dish up cracker bowls alongside international and local players.
Te Maeva Nui Celebrations
28th July 2014 to 4th August 2014
Te Maeva Nui translates into 'the most important celebration', so it's not surprising that this is the biggest event in the Cook Islands. It's held to celebrate the moment the Cook Islands was declared a self-rule country back in 1965. During the cultural festival, the National Auditorium hosts dancers, singers and other performing artists from Rarotonga and the other islands. Stalls are opened out on the streets, selling crafts and produce, and there are various events held throughout including coconut husking (opening a coconut). The celebrations are kicked off with an impressive and colourful float down the main streets of Rarotonga.
Round Raro Road Race
18th September 2014 to 24th September 2014
Designed to raise funds for junior athletics in the Cook Islands, the Round Raro Road Race is an annual event that lasts an entire week. There are a range of fun events held throughout the week including the Local Fun Run, Round Rock Team Relay and the Nutters Cross Island Run, which cater to families and social and competitive runners. To really test your physical limits, head down on the Saturday to partake in the main event: a 32-kilometre race around Rarotonga; across beaches, past lagoons and through the tropical inland trails.
1st September 2014 to 5th September 2014
Held off the Maina Iti islet in the beautiful waters of Aitutaki Lagoon, the Manureva Aquafest is an exhilarating water-based competition filled with kitesurfing, outrigger canoeing, swimming and of course plenty of parties. The 2014 competition features two-time kitesurfing world champion, Jesse Richman, along with an array of talented athletes competing for big prizes. The event's location allows spectators to enjoy clear and up-close views of all the action. The actual days of competition can vary depending on wind and weather.
Cook Islands International 7s Rugby
30th October 2014 to 1st November 2014
Known as ‘Sevens in Heaven', the Cook Islands International 7s is one of the South Pacific’s most exciting events, featuring exhilarating rugby action from both men and women. Talent is definitely on display during the competition, as more than 20 teams face off for the chance to be named tournament champion. There are novelty events held throughout, including a costume competition and the ANZ Dash for Cash.
21st November 2014 to 28th November 2014
Started in 2004, the Vaka Eiva is a canoeing festival that is designed to incorporate tradition with modern competition. Teams from all the islands come together and battle it out on the water in traditional outrigger canoes (vaka) made from carving out a tree trunk. The main prize is awarded to the winner of a relay race around Rarotonga and there are various events unrelated to canoeing held throughout the week-long festivities.