With excellent weather year-round, there isn’t a bad time to visit the Cook Islands. But with a little planning, you’ll be able to get the most out of your visit.

With pristine coral sand beaches, challenging mountain treks, lively bars and a surprisingly cosmopolitan dining scene, there’s plenty to offer every traveler. Here’s our guide to help you choose the right time to visit this tropical paradise, whether a solo traveler or a family seeking adventure on this remote South Pacific island archipelago.

Air Rarotonga Embraer EMB-110P1 Bandeirante airplane on tarmac
Air Rarotonga, the quickest way to hop the many islands and inlets of the Cook Islands © Holger Leue / Getty

High Season: July to August

Best time to visit to enjoy near-perfect weather

Located just south of the equator, the Cook Islands are blessed with a tropical climate that reaches near-perfection from July to August, coinciding with school holidays in New Zealand and Australia. This is when warmer temperatures draw families seeking sunshine as they escape the Southern hemisphere winter to explore Rarotonga’s lagoon and trek the island’s interior. Strong trade winds also make it the best time of the year for kitesurfing. Be sure to bring a sweater for those evenings when the occasional Antarctic cold front can make things a little chilly.

This is peak season, so expect to see higher accommodation rates, sold-out tours and busy cafes and restaurants.

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Shoulder Seasons- April to June & September to December

A lovely combination of sunshine and warmth - without the crowds

An optimal balance of warm temperatures and drier skies make much of the shoulder season an excellent choice for the traveler with a little flexibility. The most populous islands of Rarotonga and Aitutaki are quieter during these months, but by no means are they sleepy, particularly in December when many Cook Islanders travel home to spend the holidays with family. December also marks the beginning of cyclone season, and while rare, residents always take precautions to ensure they are ready if a storm strikes.

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Paddling a canoe on the Raratonga coast
Paddling a canoe on the Raratonga coast © Pete Seaward

Low Season - January, February, March

Great deals for those who can beat the heat

The beginning of the calendar year coincides with hot and humid days, making this time of the year perfect for beach lovers. The islands will be at their quietest, so expect to find deals on accommodation and little traffic while snorkeling in Rarotonga’s vibrant lagoon. This is also rainy season, but downpours often come in sharp bursts followed by a return to sunshine.

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A month-by-month guide to visiting the Cook Islands

January  

The calendar year kicks off with peak heat with temperatures averaging in the high 20’s. This is rain season but showers are typically short in duration. A great time of the year to frolic in warm waters, open a book under the shade of a stand of coconut palms and explore the lagoon with a guided tour.

Key event: Cook Islands Beach Games

February

The heat and humidity continue for what is typically the quietest month of the year. An excellent time to visit Papua Vai Marere - also known as Wigmore’s waterfall - for a refreshing dip.

Snorkeling in the Cook Islands
Snorkeling in the Cook Islands © Ray Hems / Getty Images

March

Small but vibrant, the LGBTQ+ community comes out in force to celebrate diversity and inclusion in the Cook Islands, where homosexuality is technically illegal but ongoing efforts are trying to change that 

April

A passion for dancing runs deep among Cook Islanders, and April is when the best hit the stage to compete in the annual ‘Te Mire Ura’ event, which seeks to find the nation’s best.

Friendly women wave on the beach of the Aitutaki Lagoon, Cook Islands
A friendly smile and wave

May

With temperatures beginning to drop, the wind begins to pick up marking May as the beginning of kitesurfing season. And what better place to hit the water than the island of Aitutaki, which many consider to have the most beautiful lagoon on the planet.

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June

A great time of year to explore Rarotonga’s interior. Take advantage of some of the nicest weather of the year to complete the cross-island trek – a 6km trail that connects the north and south coasts of the island and offers excellent views of this Polynesian paradise. 

July

Whale watching season is usually in full swing by July, although climate change is believed to be altering the migrations of Rarotonga’s humpback whales. Take a guided tour and you may be lucky to catch one of these magnificent mammals breach. This is peak season, so book early. 

Muri Lagoon
Stand-up paddle-boarding on the clear water of Muri Lagoon © Dallas Stribley / Getty

August

Cook Islands culture is at its peak this month with the annual Te Maeva Nui festival, which marks the day (August 4) when the Cook Islands became an independent nation. Dance, music and art are front and center for this weeklong event.

Key event: Te Maeva Nui 

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September

After a busy few months, Rarotonga slows down for several months until the holiday season, offering deals for travelers with flexible itineraries.

Key event: Round Rarotonga Road Race 

October

Shoulder season continues as the Cook Islands enters spring. Temperatures begin to climb but with the rainy season still a way out, this is a great time to enjoy outdoor activities such as trekking, snorkeling or test your luck with one of Rarotonga’s lively fishing charters.

Key event: Gospel Day celebrations 

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Guides playing ukuleles aboard a glass bottom boat tour in Muri Lagoon, Rarotonga, Cook Islands.
The guides of glass-bottom boat tour share songs of the island on ukeleles in Muri Lagoon, Rarotonga, Cook Islands © Chester Voyage / Alamy

November

Watersports are a draw year-round, but the ocean becomes the main draw in November when paddlers from around the world travel to Rarotonga for the annual Vaka Eiva canoeing festival. This is perhaps the nation’s biggest sporting event of the year, and often includes great entertainment with top-notch regional musicians and bands.

Key event: Vaka Eiva canoeing festival

December

Throughout the year you’ll see locals with a flower in their ear and women adorned with an ‘ei katu’ (a crown made with fresh flowers). You’ll also likely be greeted at the airport with a flower necklace, known in Cook Islands Maori as an ‘ei’. But Rarotonga reaches peak bloom in December with the Te Mire Tiare flower festival, which includes competitions, a parade and a pageant.

Key event: Te Mire Tiare flower week festival

Lonely Planet's Best in Travel 2022

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The Cook Islands are on our 2022 Best in Travel list. For more stories from some of the world’s most exciting destinations click here.

Safety recommendations and restrictions during a pandemic can change rapidly. Lonely Planet recommends that travelers always check with local authorities for up-to-date guidance before traveling during Covid-19.

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