The Ultimate Cultural Experience At Te Vara Nui Village, Rarotonga

te vara nui over water dance

Experience The Best Of Cook Island Culture With Te Vara Nui

One of the greatest ways to experience true Cook Island culture is not doubt with a visit to Te Vara Nui Village. With shows held three nights per week and set in an amazing garden you will regret it if you don’t go!

You can opt to do the cultural village tour or the over water night show & buffet dinner, or even better book the combo extravaganza and do both! With friendly staff, a gorgeous location and some impressive entertainment it is a great way to spend an evening.

a welcome a te vara nui rarotonga

women dancing at te vara nui

A Warm Welcoming

Jumping off the minivan and heading into the lobby there is a dampness in the air. This is thanks to a large thunderstorm which passed less than an hour ago. Though, luckily the facilities are all undercover. One of the friendly staff greet us with shell necklaces and directs us inside where we line up and check in.

A complimentary drink is provided and we take in the beautiful view of the pond, as well as the surrounding restaurants. We sip away as all the guests arrive for the cultural village tour.

Soon with everybody checked in a loud thundering noise comes from the middle of the room. A man is standing there introducing himself to the crowd in his traditional flax woven clothing.

receiving a welcome gift at te vara nui

women giving a warm smile at te vara nui

getting a welcome drink at te vara nui

The Village Tour

We follow him outside and through to a large gate, the beginning of the cultural tour. Through that gate we enter a building and learn about the history of Rarotonga and the other motus in the Cook Islands.

Then its on to learning about the marae, which are extremely different to the New Zealand version, and afterwards discovering local medicine and its uses. Next, we follow one of the gentlemen into another building where we are shown the local boats and how they navigated the seas back in the day. Lastly, its time to learn about the clothing and how it is made. More volunteers are needed and we all have a good laugh, but not before one more demonstration on coconuts and the importance they have in the Cook Islands.


entertainer staff at te vara nui rarotonga

local clothing at te vara nui

friendly faces at te vara nui

Buffet Dinner

After the interesting cultural village tour and having gained a whole new appreciation to the Cook Islands culture it is time for the buffet dinner portion of the evening. With darkness setting upon us we are sat in our preallocated seats and mingle among our diner mates.

Drinks are ordered including the ever so popular cocktails to get the evening going. Soon enough dinner is served and each table is brought up one by one. There is an amazing selection, even for the fussy vegetarian eater like me.

Each dish is labelled with its name, whether it is vegetarian, vegan, gluten free and if it is a local dish or not. Having a buffet provides the perfect opportunity to try new foods.

A soup is also on offer which tames the hungry stomachs of those who have to wait a little longer for their table to be called. Everything you would imagine is available. Including the local favorites of poke and orange salad are available, to the western favorites of scallop potatoes and even sushi!

Also if you have children, do not worry, there are plenty of options for them.

salads for dinner buffet te vara nui rarotonga

buffet dinner at te vara nui

Amazing Over Water Show

As people begin to full up after their second and third helping the lights begin to dim for the over water show. Seats are taken on the front of the restaurant overlooking the pond and the anticipation grows among the crowds.

Soon the live band starts playing. One of the local legends are told and shown through the dances of the performers. Both on the stage and on the surrounding water their amazing moves captivate both the crowds and their cameras.

Men with fire sticks dance around the stage while lighting some of the candles. The women hypnotize the audience with their hips. Each segment of the show is finishes with a massive cheer from the crowd.

dancers at te vara nui over water show

fire dancer at te vara nui

Local dance at Te Vara Nui

Fire show at Te Vara Nui

over water dance show at te vara nui rarotonga

Delicious Dessert To Finish The Evening

After the amazing over water show the dessert is served. Which is good because all that clapping has worked up an appetite. A delicious spread of a variety of dishes is set on the buffet tables. From fresh fruit like papaya and watermelon to chocolate cakes and tiramisu.

It is the perfect way to end the evening and fulfills my sweet tooth cravings. While this is going on the dancers come around to the restaurants to interact with the guests. They show off their moves up close and personal while our cameras keep snapping.

Once the electric moods starts to die down as people prepare to depart we head off into the wet Rarotongan night. This experience has truly opened my eyes to the Cook Islands culture. Especially, providing me with greater opportunity to understand the history.

fruit platter for dessert at te vara nui

assorted cakes at te vara nui for dessert



Want more Cook Islands inspiration? Check out….

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. So, if you click on it and purchase something, I get a small percentage at no extra cost to you. As always all opinions are my own and your support is much appreciated.

Backpackers Wanderlust was a guest on the Combo Extravaganza Tour with Te Vara Nui Village while in The Cook Islands, however, as always, all opinions are my own.

  • about tasha amy sidebar

    Your typical New Zealander, now discovering the world one country at a time. With a high-end backpacking style I prefer to glampack across the globe by embracing the best of each destination. All of which I share right here on Backpackers Wanderlust. 




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  • 47 Responses

    1. Wow, so much cultural Immersion ! I already fall in love with the Cook Islands 🙂 Your experience looks really fabulous. I like to discover traditional clothing and dances from other cultures especially Polynesian culture after having been to Easter Island !

    2. Wow, what a great post. It really looks like an amazing experience. Your pictures are gorgeous and the Cook Islands just went up on my bucket list 😉

    3. This looks so amazing! Your photos are so beautiful too. I’ve never been to the Cook Islands before but definitely want to go now.

    4. So much Cultural Immersion! This looks like the perfect way to spend a day. Amazing food and traditional dances, and most importantly getting to interact with the locals.

    5. Fabulous outfits! And what a way to experience the local culture through music and dance. Very atmospheric 🙂

    6. Wow! The over water show looks like a blast! And, your dessert shots have me sold with the papaya and tiramisu! This looks like a magical experience!

    7. It is my dream to ever get to travel in that part of the world, visiting either Cook Islands or Solomon islands. So unique and beautiful .

    8. This region is soo on my list! Looking at your pictures (and especially those mouthwatering desserts and fresh fruit!) I want to go even more. I recently got a gift certificate for a travel guide of my choosing, looks like I should redeem it for Cook Islands book 🙂

    9. So jealous! I’ve been wanting to go to the Cook Islands for ages! Great post and really cool activities!

    10. This looks like so much fun – reminds me of the luaus I’ve attended in Hawaii…always an amazing evening and I love learning about the history of Polynesian culture!

    11. Best kind of place to spend time at! Food Drinks, a one of a kind show as well? Sounds like a great time! I am not going to lie though I had to look up Cooks Island though so, I am so glad you wrote this! Love reading and learning about new places! Great read 🙂

    12. I haven’t heard much about the Cook Islands so this was very informational. What a beautiful place and your photos capture the ceremony perfectly. Lovely post!

    13. I haven’t heard much about Cook Islands so this was very informational. What a beautiful place and your photos capture the ceremony perfectly. Lovely post! Thanks for sharing.

    14. This looks like such a fun evening! I know it’s very touristy but I’d love to see it myself. The dances especially.

    15. What an amazing experience this must be, and I have to say, I love your night shots, great quality (I`m a photographer so I always pay attention to that kind of thing, hehehe).

      Now I`m dreaming about that buffet dinner…

    16. Your photos are beautiful. It’s somewhere i always wanted to visit. The over water show sounds incredible, not too mention all that food. Time to google flights 🙂

    17. The food looks Devine. I have recently watched a travel segment on the Cook Islands and it has really made me want to go.

    18. This looks fantastic! I love that you get to see the island, experience some culture and eat some really tasty looking food! What a brilliant day!!

    19. This looks amazing! One of my favourite things that I like to see from other cultures is their traditional clothing and dances. Thank you for sharing!!

    20. Cultural dance shows are the best! Always bring you closer to locals, especially if you can join them for a bit 🙂
      I really wanna go there now!

    21. Thanks so much for sharing! I am absolutely fascinated with Polynesian culture after having been to Hawaii, Easter Island and New Zealand – lands so far apart, yet so similar in culture. Now I need to add Cook Islands to my list! 🙂

    22. I would love to see the show – it looked amazing. I must admit that I love buffet, because I get to taste different stuff ? the dessert looked so yummy too ?

    23. Amazing! I went to a similar thing in Hawaii and it was a great experience! Your photos are awesome!

    24. What an amazing experience. I would love this island life. Beautiful place and traditions, and I’m betting delicious food 😀

    25. Wow the Cook Islands look amazing!! Such a refreshing read as its not somewhere I hear of people going often. I attended a similar cultural “show” in Hawaii and love the history behind it. Beautiful post!

    26. Looks like you had a great time here! Thanks for sharing this! Definitely excited to visit Cook Island in the future 🙂

    27. This experience looks absolutely incredible! I would love to be able to do this and really get to experience the culture of the Cook Islands. Such beautiful pictures too!

    28. This sounds like such a cool experience! I love shows that tell local history through song and dance! I also love the red costumes the female dancers wear ?

    29. The culture in the Cook Islands looks fascinating. I like that this experience was educational to help you understand the history and not just all for show! I’d love to visit the Cook Islands some day 🙂

    30. Wow this looks idyllic! Sounds like a fab way to spend a day.
      You have some amazing photos too!

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