Rarotonga Dive Sites

Our scuba dive sites around Rarotonga in the Cook Islands

Rarotonga ‘s dive sites offer conditions for every level of experience. If you are looking for easy, relaxed diving, the reef plateaus surrounding Rarotonga offer a great playground with fascinating fish life and usually great visibility. Rarotonga‘s south side passages are adrenaline pumping dives with usually medium to strong currents and great fish life. The west coast has different caverns and tunnel systems and are very exciting to explore. If you like to go deep and explore the abyss, Rarotonga’s drop-off’s offer ideal conditions as the water depth surrounding the island lays between 1000 and 4000m.

Rarotonga dive sites in the Cook Islands

Rarotonga’s Marine Life

The marine life around Rarotonga offers a big diversity. Rarotonga is home to many hundreds of reef fish species. Apart from the smaller tropical fish species, you may see turtles, eagle rays and reef sharks on our Excursions Plongées. Furthermore, you may spot moray eels, trevallies, humphead wrasse, dogtooth tunas or barracudas . If you are really lucky, you may also catch sight of hammerhead sharks, tiger sharks and humpback whales. On a blue water dive there is also the chance to see mahi-mahi, marlin, sailfish or wahoos.

North – West – South -East

Our favourite dive sites in Rarotonga are the south- and east coast passages and drop offs. However, due to prevailing south-easterly winds, Rarotonga‘s south and east coasts are often not dive-able, so please don’t be disappointed if we cannot take you there. Some dive site names on Rarotonga are being used by all operators whereas other sites have up to 4 different names, depending on which operator you are diving with. To create less confusion, nearly all our dive site names are relating to their geographical location around the island.

North coast

Wreck of the MV Mataora

MV Mataora Wreck

The MV Mataora was an outer island cargo schooner that was purposely sunk on the 11th December 1990 to create an artificial reef for divers in Rarotonga. Originally 45m in length, the 300 tons vessel lays today in 10 to 18 m depth of water. After many tropical cyclones the wreck is severely broken up but the bow and stern are still recognisable today. This is a good spot for finding lion fish and the surrounding reef has some of the nicest hard coral structures on Rarotonga. Depth 10m to 25m

Turtle on Northern Reef in Rarotonga

Northern Reef – Ngatipa – Pue

The northern reef stretches all along from ‚Edna’s Anchor’ in front of Trader Jacks to the‚ MV Mataora’ close to Tamarind House. It includes dive sites like Ngatipa and Pue. You can literally dive anywhere along that stretch and find similar conditions. Massive porites hard coral structures, usually no current and friendly fish make this a favourite dive spot on Rarotonga for introduction dives as well as a relaxing reef dive for qualified divers. Depth 10m – 28m

Ednna's Anchor dive site in Rarotonga

Edna’s Anchor

This site in front of Trader Jack’s has received its name from the anchor of the schooner Edna, which later sunk in Atiu. The anchor lies between two big coral bommies in 24m, which makes it perfectly clear why Edna lost its anchor.
The dive follows the sand/ reef edge towards Rarotonga ‘s drop off. At about 22m, the sand starts sloping off like a ski slope. On the reef side, the bottom dramatically stops at 30m and drops down to about 65m. This is an easy deep dive with usually very clear water. Depth 12m – 40m

RMS Maitai shipwreck in Rarotonga

RMS Maitai (Wreck)

Being the most famous shipwreck in Rarotonga, this 1892 built, 3400 tons steam ship struck the reef outside Avarua Harbour on Christmas Day 1916. The engine block sticks out of the water right in front of town, and every single person coming to Avarua gets at least a glimpse of this massive vessel. After over 100 years of resting just below the surf zone, this wreck is now part of the reef. The main superstructure is still visible as well as the rudder drive shaft, various boilers and of course the engine block. The wreck is scattered over a large area and still today artefacts like old glass bottles or Ford Model-T car tyres can be found. It is the shallowest dive site on Rarotonga and can only be dived when sea conditions are extremely favourable. Depth 10m max.

Turtle close up at dive site Goldmine

Goldmine

There is no gold to be found on this dive – the site is situated in front of “The Goldmine” jewellery shop which is on the Eastern end of the Punanga Nui market in town. There are nice coral bommies at around 24m, which makes it a good first dive site. Turtles are often spotted here. Depth 15m – 25m

Rarotonga reef at dive site Avatiu Drop Off

Avatiu Drop Off

This dive site right outside Avatiu Harbour has the shortest boat ride on Rarotonga. The site features a nice drop-off starting at around 18 metres and dropping off straight into the Abyss. Fish life in the shallows is very good here and there is a good chance to see bigger predators when following the drop-off edge. Depth 12m – 40m

Hawkfish at dive site Panama in Rarotonga

Panama

This site to the west of the main harbour has nice coral formations, similar to the northern reef sites. It makes for a nice, easy and relaxing dive. Depth15 – 22m

West Coast

Eagle ray at Rarotonga dive site Panama

Runway

Guess where this site is located… Ascend to the surface and have a 767 flying straight over your head! Due to frequent currents, this can be a good site for eagle ray sightings in season. Big hard coral bommies and seamounts cover the bottom. Depth 18 – 26m

Labyrinth swimthroughs in Rarotonga

Labyrinth

One of our favourites! This site has many names – Dave’s Cave, The Maze, Blackrock Tunnels, … Being one of the shallowest sites on Rarotonga it makes it a great 2nd dive. A tunnel and cave system underneath the surf zone that stretches all along from the Runway to Black Rock. Great for spotting crayfish (lobster), lion fish and shell fish. This site can only be dived in very calm seas. Depth 10m max

Crayfish at Blackrock in Rarotonga

Black Rock

Situated right in front of Black Rock. This site features a series of reef plateaus rising off the bottom. The bottom consists of healthy coral bommies and together with interesting swim-throughs these are the main features of this dive. If divers have sufficient air left, it is worth exploring the shallow caverns at the end of the dive. Crayfish and lionfish are often found here. Depth 12m – 28m

Shipwreck of the FV Maritime Reefer

FV Maritime Reefer Wreck

This Fishing Vessel was the first ship on Rarotonga that got sunk (in 1981) to create a dive site. Like the MV Mataora, this wreck has suffered major damage by the storms. However, due to it’s depth it is somewhat better protected than the MV Mataora. Moray eels and lion fish have found their home here. Depth 20m – 30m

Reef shark in Sunste Lava Tubes

Sunset Lava Tubes

This is another easy second dive. A large coral shelf that rises from 18m to 5m below the surface. There is a cavern and small tunnel system with different overhead exit points to explore. This is an easy overhead environment site. Also good for finding nudibranches, lion fish, scorpionfish, cowrie shells and anemones. Ah yes, and the odd reefshark in the tubes! Depth 10 – 20m

Eagle ray at Arorangi Drop Off

Arorangi Drop Off

A gradually sloping reef with massive coral bommies to explore. Due to frequent currents this can be a good place to find eagle rays and bigger predators. Depth 20m – 30m

Crocodile sand eel at Arorangi Passage

Arorangi Passage

There are different canyons and swim-throughs on the outside to explore and you may see lion fish and reef sharks. It is the smallest and shallowest of all the passages can still have very strong currents. This site has been dredged out in recent years to make it suitable for smaller vessels and cruise ship tender boats. Depth 12m

South Coast

Trevalleys at Pinnacles dive site in the Cook Islands

Pinnacles

There are two large coral bommies (pinnacles) of which one is completely collapsed. A very relaxing dive inspecting the pinnacles which are occupied by soldier fish, crayfish, lion fish and eels. Don’t forget to look into the blue; you never know what might pass. Depth 20m – 30m

Giant moray in Rutaki passage in Rarotonga

Rutaki Passage

This boat passage can be an excellent site conditions permitting. The deepest passage on Rarotonga has narrow, vertical canyon walls that start just below the surface. Visibility is usually limited to 10 to 15 metres, which adds to the passages’ natural spookiness. Together with swim-throughs and frequent strong currents it makes it a very exciting dive. Along with the other two passages on the south coast it is one of the best places on Rarotonga for turtles and whitetip reef sharks and eagle rays are frequently seen here. Large schools of fish can often be found at the entrance and moray eels and other reef predators call this passage their home. Not recommended for heavy breathers! Depth 20m – 29m

Barracudas at Rutaki Drop-off in Rarotonga

Rutaki Drop Off

The most impressive drop off on Rarotonga! The deeper you go, the nicer it gets…
On this site everything or nothing is possible. This is one of the best places on Rarotonga for barracudas and tunas. This is also a parrotfish mating site. Depth 20m – ?

Papua Passage

Whitetip reefshark in Rarotonga

An amazing dive for the beginner to highly experienced divers alike. The shallowest and shortest of the south-coast passages is also the prettiest. This site is usually the best place for turtles, and whitetip reef sharks are seen often. The giant resident star puffer fish seem to have fallen for this site too. Shallow, light indulged caverns and an amazing marine life make this a very special dive.  Fish life is often improved by strong currents, which makes it more challenging and exciting at the same time. Depth 18m max

Eagle rays at dive site Papua Drop Off

Papua Drop-Off

A very easy dive for total beginners to experienced divers. There is a cavern at about 10m and if you like to go deeper you find a resident crayfish population at around 40m. This is one of the best sites for spotting eagle rays on Rarotonga. Turtles are also frequently sighted. Depth 12m to 40m

Grey reefshark at Avaavaroa Passage in Rarotonga

Avaavaroa Passage

Another one of our favourite sites! The meaning of the name is “long passage”. This site can have the strongest currents on Rarotonga, which makes it challenging yet exciting dive. Due to the current it is the best spot for reef shark sightings. From April until mid August this is one of the few spots around the island where grey reef sharks can be seen when the current is strong, sometimes in large numbers. It is also home of a resident school of eagle rays that can be over 40 in numbers. Turtles and moray eels are common here. Not recommended for heavy breathers! Depth 12m – 24m

Hammerhead shark at Avaavaroa Drop Off

Avaavaroa Drop-Off

This is another very impressive dive and one of our favourite drop-off dives in Rarotonga. Swim along a sand channel to the drop-off and into the big blue! This dive can be one of the best as you may see everything at once – sharks, eagle rays, turtles, lion fish and schooling tunas that come and check you out. This is also one of the best sites to see tiger sharks or hammerhead sharks. Like Rutaki Drop Off, this is also a parrotfish mating site. Depth 16m to 40m

Queens Reef

Leafscorpionfish at Queens Reef in Rarotonga

The coral reef here features one of the healthiest coral on the island. This is an easy drop-off dive and we dive here frequently when currents and visibility around the passages are not favorable. You may see pelagics patrolling the very steep drop-off. Depth 18m – 25m

East Coast

Avana Passage

Nudibranch in Avana Passage in Rarotonga

You can either dive the outside of this sandy passage or dive through the passage into the lagoon. The passage itself is a good place for finding lion fish and eels. On the outskirts of the passage there are nice rock formations that can give you a feeling of being in an underwater ancient ruin. Depth 10m – 25m

Lionfish at Ngatangiia School in Rarotonga

Ngatangiia School

A great reef dive with a steep drop-off that makes for a very interesting dive. The the reef starts to slope off at around 15 metres, making this an easy drop-off dive even for the less experienced diver. For the more experienced frog men there is a swim through at 27 metres where divers usually get greeted by a school of black trevallies that curiously circle the divers and play with their bubbles. This dive site has suffered severe damages during the cyclones 2005 but has recovered very nicely and recently has become one of our favorite spots (conditions allowing). Depth 12m – 30m

Rainbow Runners at Matavera Wall

Matavera Wall

Lying just south of Matavera Point, this is a great and easy drop-off that can be dived by experienced divers and total beginners alike. Starting at 12m, this 20m long near vertical wall drops off to about 35m from whereon the bottom slopes off into the abyss. This is a good site for spotting moray eels and scorpion fish and turtles are frequently found in the shallows.The drop-off usually offers very clear water. Depth 12m – 30m

Fish school at Matavera Point in the Cook Islands

Matavera Point

Located just north of Matavera Wall, this site can be dived on it’s own as a deep dive or in conjunction with Matavera Wall. A reef plateau at around 20 metres sticks out into the blue and forms a corner where the currents meet. The top of the reef plateau is fairly barren here. Once you start getting closer to the edge of the drop-off you will see the true gem of this site: the fish life is extremely prolific here and as you start descending the vertical wall you find huge schools of fusiliers and damsel as well as many other species of reef fish. Apart for the resident school of chevron barracudas and trevallies this is a good spot to see open ocean pelagics. The drop off here is one of the most impressive drop-offs around Rarotonga as it is basically a vertical wall that keeps falling into the abyss. Due to the currents hitting the reef corner here, this site has usually exceptionally good visibility. Depth 20m – 40m

Whitetip reef shark at Dive site Tupapa Sandriver

Tupapa Sand River

A sand channel with reef on both sides that starts in the surf zone and extends into the abyss. Both sides of the sand river offer unique features. The north side has a very steep wall and, when going a bit deeper, shark sightings are frequent on the south side where the reef slopes off into the abyss. Depth 18 – 35m

Deep coral reef on Rarotonga

Deep Drop-Off Dive Sites

Due to the very deep ocean surrounding Rarotonga, it is possible to do deep mixed gas dives on basically any of the above drop-off sites. The south coast offers incredible steep drop-offs with fantastic marine life. On the north- and east coast drop-offs, it is is relatively easy to find Rarotonga’s elusive fish species like the Peppermint angelfish, Narcosis angelfish and the Pitcairn angelfish, as well as many other generally hard to find fish species. Stunning soft corals and se fans combined with spectacular steep pinnacles that rise up from the abyss will leave you breathless (hopefully not). For experienced mixed gass CCR divers only!

Open Ocean

Bluewater Diving

The dives are mainly around the FADs in the north, east and west of Rarotonga. These different Fish Aggregating Devices (FADs) have been installed around the island. They consist of floats of some kind, which are moored onto the ocean floor some hundred meters or more deep. By growing algae and other marine life on it, these floats attract smaller fish, which then attracts the bigger predators. During a blue water dive you might see nothing but deep blue water or you might get rewarded with tunas, mahi-mahis and other open ocean pelagics. Depth 10m – 40m

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