Photo: Cook Islands Tourism/Manine Lych
Air travel has opened up the islands like never before, but it's quite costly. Ships are still an important lifeline, particularly for the outer islands, but their irregular schedules mean that few tourists have the time to use them. This page is just giving a few pointers about getting around and the practicalities of that
Air Rarotonga is the airline of the Cook Islands and operates scheduled services to nine of the islands. Prior to the pandemic they also ran a Northern atolls adventure tour taking in Penrhyn, Manihiki and Pukapuka but it's not operating at the moment.
If you're pushed for time, I would strongly recommend the day trip to Aitutaki. It includes flights, of course, a tour of the island and a boat trip to some of the motus in the lagoon, complete with on board barbecue. It's not cheap but it's an experience you'll rem ember for a lifetime. I promise!
Islands served are Aitutaki, Rarotonga, Atiu, Mitiaro, Mauke, Mangaia, Penrhyn, Manihiki and Pukapuka. You can check out a detailed timetable on line
Only one shipping company currently operates services between the islands and it's a cargo service, although vessels do sail from other ports. Details are published daily in Cook Islands News. Remember that if you're going to some of the outer islands, it could be many weeks or even months between ships. If you're planning to sail to the islands, there are five designated ports of entry...Rarotonga, Aitutaki and Atiu in the Southern Group, and Penrhyn and Pukapuka in the Northern Group
If you're a yachtsman (or woman) I recommend a look at the Cook Islands pages in noonsite.com for specialist information for the cruising community.
On Rarotonga, the best travel tip is to take COOK'S ISLAND BUS which circles the island, clockwise and anti-clockwise throughout the day and into the late evening. If you're going to use it regularly, you can buy a day pass or a book of 10 tickets. Remember though...there's no evening service on Sundays
MOTORBIKES which are really mostly scooters, can be rented on some of the islands. Make sure you've bought your Cook Islands driving license from the police headquarters in Rarotonga (international licenses are not valid). And CAR RENTAL firms abound on the capital island. Prices vary a lot so shop around
Petrol and diesel fuel are quite expensive, with the outer islands more pricey than Rarotonga. American visitors will be horrified at the cost, but British and European visitors will find them similar if not slightly cheaper than back home
TAXIS are a great way to and from Rarotonga airport or if want an alternative to the bus or self-drive. Look out for the green taxis run by members of the Cook Islands Taxi Association. All Association members conform to a code of conduct and fares are fixed. You can find details of Association members and fares here. Beware of unlicenced operators at the airport
It's a bit hit and miss what transport you'll find on the OUTER ISLANDS. But that's the beauty of them. The local tourist information offices will help you plan your trip and offer advice on getting round when you arrive. Mopeds and motorbikes are ubiquitous, but don't expect anything sporty!