Cook Islands

The bright yellow butterfly fishes are some of Aroa lagoons friendly inhabitantsBy MoniqueHaving no expectations is the best attitude, but rest assured youll be welcomed by friendly smiles in whatever destination you choose amongst the Cook Islands.

Recreational diving is well established in the Cook Islands, with a number of qualified operators both in Rarotonga and Aitutaki with fully equipped boats offering all weather access and minimal boat travel time. Experience the island culture and hospitality, exotic local fare and the most amazing snorkelling and diving around the various atolls and reefs. These famous tropical waters with incredible visibility are suitable for advanced and novice divers. Morning, afternoon and night diving is available, along with dive training at various levels. The outside reef diving boasts amazing drop offs, passages and incredible colourful fish life and even whales are a possibility. Depths range from 12- 30 metres with water temperature being a cosy 23 to 30 degrees.

Easy diving and snorkelling inside the outer reefs is fascinating in the various marine reserves (Raui/no-fishing zones), such as Tikioki or Aroa Lagoon situated on the southwest coast.

Candace Hood, a Marine Biologist for the Rarotongan Beach Resort, offers some insight into these fascinating reserves. The local communitys commitment to this traditional form of conservation (Raui) is vital to secure fish stocks for future generations. Being a major fish-breeding ground, Aroa Lagoon possibly provides the best snorkelling on the island. Described as: like swimming in a big colourful fish tank with an array of vibrant, rainbow-coloured tropical fish. As well as doing scientific monitoring of the lagoon life, Candace takes snorkelling tours teaching marine conservation, and proving how friendly the inhabitants of Aroa or Tikioki Lagoons are.

During the recent octopus breeding season, snorkellers were lucky enough to have had up-close-and-personal encounters with these intelligent creatures known for their mastery of disguise. The witnessing of two large octopus acting in love play eventually finishing with the male using a right arm to insert sperm into the females mantle cavity, left everyone spellbound. After fertilization the female retreats to her lair where she builds layers of rocks in a cave opening, in order to protect her and her eggs. So if you see a pile of small rocks you know who is responsible.

Another interesting phenomenon is the cleaning station. The cute blue cleaner wrasses job in life is to clean larger fish of parasites and debris, for their food source. Setting up stations for fish needing to have their teeth brushed, gills cleaned out or a general drive through car wash.

A popular misconception is that fish never sleep. Fish do sleep but they cannot close their eyes. At night you can see parrot fish sitting in the rocks asleep wrapped up in a protective night blanket, a cocoon of thick, clear fluid which they use to stop their scent reaching the nose of a moray eel, their greatest enemy which has bad sight but an excellent sense of smell.

Unique night guided snorkelling tours offer visitors the opportunity to see what the night shift in the lagoon has in store, including large stingrays which are a rare treat. Very occasionally they venture over the reef when tides are high enough, or come through a reef opening, however whilst scuba divers in the open ocean commonly see them, they are infrequently seen within the lagoon. These opportunities to get close to creatures living in the wild gives us humans an awesome experience.

Keen snorkellers and divers can venture out closer to the reef (dont touch though), where there are beautiful coral formations and larger populations along with a greater variety of fish life. For those who dont want to venture far, there are always the topsail drummer fish, rabbit fish, cornet fish and needle fish which hang around the shore at Aroa Beach, and are great fun to watch.

The Coral Gardens Initiative was introduced to the Cook Islands by Counterpart International to which The Rarotongan Beach Resort and Spa is currently committed. A number of project activities include: raising awareness, enforcement of regulations, coral reef monitoring, coral restoration, and habitat enhancement with the purpose of creating areas of healthy reef with dense coral formations. Coral gardeners assist with transplanting and restoring the coral on the reefs. It is not something you can often be a part of, and it is great that visitors can become involved with such a different kind of gardening!

When diving is not possible, Rarotongas mighty volcanic pyramid remains offer fantastic scenery amongst the razorback ridges and tropical jungle separated by steep valley streams and waterfalls. Various cultural activities found along the way allow us visitors an insight to the Cook Island traditions, history and legends which the friendly locals are always willing to share.


COOK ISLANDS FACT FILE:

Dry Season:
April to November 20oC – 26oC

Wet Season:
December to March 22oC – 28oC

Language:
Cook Islands Maori

Currency:
New Zealand Dollar

Accommodation:
Available from 5-star luxury to back packer (no camping)

Local Time:
10 hours behind Greenwich Mean Time (GMT).


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