One of the most practiced activities by visitors in Rarotonga is snorkeling. Having owned and ran the Dive and Surf Shop in Rarotonga for over three years, we advised thousands of visitors on how to have a fantastic experience snorkeling Rarotonga.
Rarotonga’s lagoon and passages have a rich marine life that offers terrific snorkeling opportunities. You need to know these four key essentials for a great snorkeling experience.
- How to select the right snorkeling gear for you,
- How to prepare your equipment for snorkeling,
- How to protect yourself while snorkeling, and
- Know where the best places are to snorkel in Rarotonga.
In this article, we will take you through the four points above step by step. But we will also explore hiring vs. buying snorkeling gear, beginner snorkeling basics, advanced snorkeling tips and spots, and how to avoid your mask from fogging up, just to mention a few.
What Gear Should You Have for Snorkeling Rarotonga?
So let’s assume you’re new to or a casual snorkeler. Let’s also assume that you do not currently own your snorkeling gear or considering acquiring new gear. Finally, Let’s assume you have not previously snorkeled in Rarotonga’s waters.
The essential gear you’ll need for snorkeling in Rarotonga are:
- A Mask
- A Snorkel
- A set of fins or perhaps aqua-shoes
- If it’s your first time snorkeling and nervous about it, we recommend either a swimming-pool-noddle or a snorkeling vest to provide extra buoyancy and stability.
In the next section, we’ll dig into the first three items in detail.
Things to Know When Selecting the Right Gear for Snorkeling in Rarotonga.
In Rarotonga, you can snorkel in the lagoons, passages, and open ocean. Each of these areas would require gear that is suited to their specific conditions. Things to consider would be:
- The depth to which you will snorkel. Will you keep to the basics of floating along the water’s surface or occasionally dive down into the lagoon? How deep will you dive? This may influence the type of mask and fins you require.
- Watch the tide. The current is a significant factor when snorkeling in the passages and will impact the type of fins you require.
- Overall weather conditions. Calmer water may require shorter fins, for example.
The Right Snorkeling Mask for You
Masks are the trickiest item of all the snorkeling gear to select.
Masks come in various forms and sizes while made of different types of material. Many brands are available on the market. It is as true to snorkeling as to many other things in life that the more expensive is not necessarily the best. As we have explained so many times to new and even experienced snorkelers, the best mask is the one that fits the purpose but mostly fits your face.
Single or Double Snorkeling Mask Lens?
Masks come in either a single lens or double lenses variant. They both work equally well, making your choice simply a matter of preference. It does often happen that the single lens mask is a better fit for more prominent faces.
Some lenses see the lens(es) curve around the face for better peripheral vision and a more panoramic view.
High or Low Volume Snorkeling Mask?
Masks also come in different volumes. The high to standard volume mask has more space between the eyes and lens and is typically suited to snorkeling. They usually have larger lenses for better vision.
With the low-volume masks, the lens(es) is much closer to the eyes and is more streamlined. They are typically used for free of scuba-diving.
Selecting the Right Mask For You
Mask Tip #1. Your Snorkeling mask must fit well.
We strongly recommend that you buy or rent gear that you can try on for fit (more on this below).
Every face is different, right? We have not yet found the magic mask that fits them all. In the Dive and Surf Shop, we have several masks on the wall for trying before buying.
Do not buy gear prepacked off the shelf.
Fitting a snorkeling mask to your face:
- Place the mask on your face, cover your eyes and close under the nose. The mask should not rest or be close to your top lip. Should you find that the mask is close to your lips even when tight under your nose, you’ll need to find a mask with a narrowed lip under the nosepiece.
- Do not pull the strap over your head.
- Gently breath in the air through your nose so that the mask sucks onto your face. This simulates the water pressure when snorkeling.
- Check for air leaks. The mask should seal all around.
- Check for pressure points. You should feel no pressure from the mask on your face at any point. Typically, a poorly fitting mask will have pressure on the forehead or cheekbones.
- Hold both sides of the mask and tug towards the front. It should resist being pulled off easily.
A well-fitting mask will allow you hours of snorkeling pleasure and significantly lower the likelihood of fogging up.
Mask Tip #2. Only Use Silicone Masks.
Never buy a mask made of any other material other than silicone. For the die-hards, the rubber will do. But no beginner should even consider a rubber mask.
Some of the premium brand mask producers, e.g., Mares and Aqualung, have high-end masks made of premium silicone and up to three different variants in one mask. These are designed to ensure the best fit and seal possible for your face. The softer silicones can be more comfortable and seal better.
Test these premium brands if you intend to be snorkeling for long periods or often in the future.
Mask Tip #3. Ensure your mask has Tempered lenses.
Your mask is under pressure the moment you place your head underwater. The pressure increases the deeper your go. It is vital to ensure that the lenses of your mask explicitly states that it is “tempered.” Some might state that it is “safe” or something similar. Avoid these as they could weaken after use and crack or shatter.
Most good dive shops will have replacement strap clips and straps for the snorkel brands they sell—no need to go out and buy a new mask if your strap snaps or clip breaks.
The Right Snorkel for You
Your snorkel has a clip that attaches it to your mask on the left side of your face.
Snorkels come in four major variants:
- The simplest snorkel has no moving parts or valve. Essentially it is a pipe with a mouthpiece molded to one piece. These masks are either made of a rigged plastic or flexible silicone. The silicon type is more robust. A variation is a removable mouthpiece.
- The next level up is a similar pipe type snorkel with a valve at the bottom to assist with clearing out water that may get trapped. Usually, this mask also has a splash guard at the top tip of the snorkel to reduce water intake.
- Recommended Mask: The next level up is the snorkel with a flexible attachment between the pipe section and mouthpiece. Typically the mouthpiece is removable and the snorkel has a valve. It is made of different types of silicone. Usually, this snorkel also has a splash guard at the top tip of the snorkel to reduce water intake. This snorkel is the recommended type for a snorkel for snorkeling in Rarotonga.
- The fourth type of snorkel is commonly referred to as a Dry-Snorkel. The dry snorkel gets its name from its mechanism that prevents water from entering the snorkel when diving down.
Full-Face Masks. The last few years has seen the introduction of Full-Face Masks. These are masks that cover the entire face and has an integrated snorkel leading out from the top center.
These masks are essentially made for snorkeling on the surface.
While one can submerge a bit, the sure volume and difficulty to equalize pressure with these masks do not make it a good choice for those that want to dive down.
We have had customer report mixed satisfaction results after trying these. For some it worked very well, for others leaking, and fogging was a major issue due to a poor fit. We have heard stories that of users of these masks overcome by carbon dioxide causing confusion and blackouts.
Replacement Parts. Most good dive shops will have replacement snorkel clips, valves, and mouthpieces for the snorkel brands they sell—no need to buy a new snorkel if you only need one of these parts. For hygiene purposes and particularly in COVID times, if you do not have your mask, you can buy your mouthpiece for about NZ$15 to swap out.
The Right Fins for You
Fins come in many different variations, but one of two significant variations is recommended for snorkeling in Rarotonga.
- Open-Heel. The open heel variety has an adjustable strap that is pulled over the heel. This allows it to be used for various foot sizes while ensuring a comfortable fit by adjusting the strap. These fins are shorter than the full foot but perfect to snorkel in the lagoon. They should cover the heel at the bottom to protect your whole foot when putting it down on the bottom of the lagoon. They are lightweight and travel easy.
- Full Foot. The full foot has a silicone heal that is pulled over the foot. It covers the entire foot, similar to a shoe. The full foot fin is longer and wider than the open heel giving more power for snorkeling in mild currents or diving down.
For those that do not wish to wander too far as they snorkel, simply wearing aqua/water shoes will get the job done. You must have the soles of your feet covered when in the water due to the risk of stepping on a stonefish of sharp coral.
When putting on your fins, it’s best to do so at the water’s edge. It is easier to get the full foot fins on when they wet.
Caring for your Snorkeling Gear
Well-selected snorkeling gear has a long life expectancy when taken care of. And taking care of your equipment requires only two simple steps.
- Always rinse your gear with fresh water after use.
- Dry and store your gear out of direct sunlight.
Preparing Your Snorkeling Gear
When you take the trouble to prepare your gear for snorkeling, you have a much higher likelihood of a great snorkeling experience.
Remove the Silicone Protective Layer on the Mask Lenses with Toothpaste.
When you buy a new snorkeling mask, the first thing you need to do is remove the protective silicone layer on the inside of the mask lenses. This ensures better vision and a reduced likelihood of fogging.
Remove the silicone layer on the mask lenses by applying some toothpaste (preferable the white non-gel type) on your finger and rubbing the lenses with it. Take care to use it for the entire area of the lenses. The toothpaste has an abrasive to remove the silicone gently. You only do this once when you buy it. Not again.
Preventing Your Snorkeling Mask Lenses from Fogging Up
You have already reduced the chances of your mask lenses fogging up by following two recommendations discussed above: (1) Ensure the mask fits your face, meaning it seals nicely, and (2) you’ve removed the silicone layer from the inside of the lenses.
Then it’s simple. A couple of minutes before you start your snorkeling session, apply anti-fog spray/liquid or saliva from your mouth on the inside of the lenses. Use your finger to ensure the entire lens is covered.
As you enter the water, rinse your mask in the water. You’re set to go.
The climate in Rarotonga is warm, and so is the water. While in shallower warmer water lenses fogging up may still occur. Luckily, the waters are mostly shallow enough for you to stand in. Simply spit and rinse again.
Anti-Fog Myth #1: Toothpaste as Anti-Fog.
There seems to be a myth that by using toothpaste regularly, the mask will not fog up. Simply not true.
Anti-fog Myth #2: Hold Flame to Mask Lenses. We’ve heard some people say that warming the lenses with a flame reduces fogging. This may be true the first couple of times, and only for a short period, if at all. But it damages your lenses rendering them unusable in a very short time. The heat from the flame not only warps and weakens the structure of the lenses but effectively removes the “temper” from the tempered lenses.
Putting On Your Mask, Snorkel and Fins
You’ve done the above; now you ready to get in the water. Once you’ve rinsed your mask (see the previous step), put the mask on your face ensuring that it is snug below your nose and not resting on your lips. Ensure you have not trapped any hair in the mask sleave; this will cause the seal to break. Only then do your pull the mask strap over your head.
Pull the straps to ensure the mask stays in place. The mask straps should not be pulled too tight. It is a common misnomer that the strap improves the seal of the mask. Not at all. The water pressure pushes the mask onto your face and ensures the seal.
For those with facial hear, meaning beard and mustaches, you have some extra things to consider:
- The best way to avoid any leak is to remove facial hair. I know most of you are now laughing at this suggestion.
- In that case, consider trimming down some hair just under your nose.
If that still does not work, try using a thin film on Vaseline to improve the seal.
Should you Buy or Hire Snorkeling Gear when visiting Rarotonga?
Typically, one would assume that renting snorkeling gear is a viable option if it is an activity that you would not engage in often. To help you decide whether to buy or rent, consider the following:
- With COVID around, do you want to share a mask and snorkel?
- If you answered yes to the previous question, check and even ask for evidence that the masks have been disinfected with an appropriate type of gear wash.
- Are you getting the right fit for a great snorkeling experience? Typical hired or even resort-provided masks do not always offer a good fit.
- Do the math. To hire a mask and snorkel on Rarotonga costs on average NZ$10 for half a day and NZ$15 for a full day. To buy a good mask and snorkel costs about NZ$100.
Protecting Yourself Against the Sun of the South Pacific When Snorkeling
Time flies when you are having fun, and this saying rings true for snorkeling as well. The tropical marine life in Rarotonga’s water is amazing and will captivate you. While you in the water, you are exposed to the sun. Use SFPF 50+ sun protection. For those with sensitive skin, we strongly recommend using SPF 50+ Rash Guards.
Protection Against Getting Too Cold When Snorkeling
It may sound strange that with water temperature varying between 23-32°C / 73-90°F, depending on the season and location, that we would recommend protection against the cold.
Long periods in the water will eventually start to bring down your body temperature, especially those who are a bit more sensitive to cold. To avoid discomfort, we recommend using 1.5mm or 3mm dive vests. You may even want to consider a short arm and leg wetsuit.
Note that Rash Guards will not keep you warm, but protect your skin from the sun.
Protecting Yourself Against Venomous Marine Creatures in the waters of Rarotonga
Ensure your feet are covered when in the water by wearing your fins or aqua/water shoes. Many areas in Rarotonga are home to venomous Stonefish. Stepping on one is guaranteed to spoil your holiday. Stay away from corals and void touching anything in the water.
Hands Down The Four Best Snorkeling Spots in Rarotonga
After exploring all of Rarotonga’s waters, we have narrowed down the top snorkeling (excluding the passages) spots to the following four:
- Tikioki Beach – Fruits of Rarotonga. One of the broadest areas in the lagoon. It offers large coral banks with valleys where you meet schools of small and bigger fish. Closer to the reef, where the area flattens again, it’s the Bluefin Trevallies’ place.
- Around Motu Taakoka, Muri. The most southern motu of Muri lagoon invites you off-the-beaten-path snorkeling. Between the Motu and the reef, you come across pufferfish, moray eels, and stingrays.
- Aroa Beach, Lagoon Marine Sanctuary. The lagoon area in front of the Rarotongan Beach Resort is an excellent example of recovering corals, increasing fish population, and diversity.
- Black Rock. You can watch colorful fish of all kinds between the rock pools and lots of coral.
The 11 Essential Tips for Beginner Snorkelers
Breath! Sounds funny, but I know, but sometimes one has to get used to breathing underwater through a pipe. Take some time to wear your mask and simply sit or lie in the water face down and get comfortable breathing.
- Keep your movements lite and avoid splashing not to scare the fish away.
- Fold your arms or keep them to your side to improve balance and conserve energy.
- If you are going to be venturing far or deep, snorkel with a partner.
- Protect yourself against the sun by using a rash guard or sunscreen.
- Protect your feet against Stonefish or other funnies.
- Prepare your mask correctly to avoid excessive fogging.
- Look after your gear. Rinse with fresh water. Dry in Shade. Keep out of direct sunlight.
- Do not tighten your mask too much. It has the opposite effect in that it breaks the seal rather than makes it.
- Position the mask up against the nose, not on your top lip.
- Position the strap over to the upper back area of your head.
Typically, the snorkel attaches to the left of the mask.
Advanced Snorkeling and Beyond in Rarotonga: Tips and Spots
For the more experienced snorkelers, the passages and open ocean offer more challenging snorkeling experiences. f you wonder where the turtles are in Rarotonga, you’ll need to venture to the passages or at least close to them.
The safest time to go snorkeling in the passages is at low tide and early into the tide coming in. Recommended passages include:
- Ava Avarua Passage
- Avana Passage
- Arorangi Passage
Snorkeling in the open ocean. Tide is less of a concern if you snorkel well clear of the reef.
One of the more popular locations is the shipwreck in Avarua. At low tide, you can cross the reef to reach it. Most often is best to swim out from Avarua Harbor or by taking a boat out there. Free-diving is practiced in Rarotonga, often in combination with spearfishing. Long fins, low-volume dive masks, and spearfishing gear can be bought on Rarotonga. No, hire, unfortunately.
While snorkeling, you will see much tropical fish, including giant Black and Blue Trevally and Eagle rays. See our post about the vibrant marine life of the Cook Islands.
Suppose you are wondering about what sharks you might encounter while snorkeling in Rarotonga. The good news is that as long as you remain in the lagoon, you’ll not be likely to encounter any sharks. See our post about Sharks in Rarotonga.