Photo: Cook Islands Tourism/Manine Lych
Air Rarotonga is the sole internal airline and operates services to eight of the islands from its Rarotonga base. 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 at around NZ$600 but it's an experience you'll rem ember for a lifetime. I promise!
Islands served by Air Rarotonga from its base on the capital island are Aitutaki, Atiu, Mitiaro, Mauke, Mangaia, Manihiki and Pukapuka. There's also a service to Penrhyn but this is operated on a charter only basis
Only one shipping company currently operates services between the islands and it's a cargo service, with very limited space for passengers, 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 on a yacht or other sea going vessel, you MUST go via the designated ports of entry: 1) Avatiu Port, Rarotonga, or 2) Arutanga Port, Aitutaki. Note that these are subject to change. Access to deserted islands Manuae and Takutea is restricted and you could be prosecuted if you land there without permission
If you're a 'yachtie' 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 whose route is the one main road round the coastal perimeter. All you need to do is decide whether to go in a clockwise and anti-clockwise direction. Services operate throughout the day and into the late evening. Remember though...there's no evening service on Sundays If you're going to use the bus regularly, you can buy a day pass or a book of tickets but make sure you have cash as that's the only way to pay Check the timetable
MOTORBIKES which are really mostly scooters, can be rented on some of the islands. If you're not licenced to ride one at home, make sure you've bought your Cook Islands driving license from the police headquarters in Rarotonga (international licenses are not valid) and to get it you'll need show your passport and take a police supervised test. Crash helmets are compulsory on Rarotonga and you face an on the spot fine for not wearing one
CARS Car rental firms abound on the capital island. Prices vary a lot so shop around. Driving licences from Australia, Canada, the UK, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, the USA and EU member countries are now accepted in the Islands. You are allowed to drive the same class of vehicles as in your home country provided it's a full licence (provisional licences are not acceptable) and you're 16 or over. If your country isn't in that list you still have to queue up at police headquarters to get a Cook Islands licence (but the licence itself is a great souvenir!).
Petrol and diesel FUEL is 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 by clicking here. Beware of unlicenced operators at the airport!
It's a bit hit and miss what transport you'll find ON THE OUTER ISLAND
S. 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! And on some of the more remote islands, don't expect anything at all unless you can persuade a local to rent their own. Boats are often more common than cars