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Cook Islands - Getting there & away, getting around

Cook Islands - Getting there & away

Air New Zealand and Aloha Airlines are the only international carriers serving the Cook Islands. Package deals may well cost less than airfare alone. There are several weekly flights between Rarotonga and Auckland. Travellers from North America typically connect in Honolulu or Tahiti; those from Asia connect in Fiji. There's an airport departure tax of just over US$10.

The most common way to arrive and depart by sea is by private yacht, or to do a one-day stopover as part of a cruise.

Getting around Cook Islands

The airport on Rarotonga is on the north-western coast, just a few kilometres west of Avarua. There are car hire agencies there and taxis are available. Aitutaki's airstrip is at the northern end of the island; there's a bus connecting the airstrip with town, and there are places to hire cars, motorcycles and bicycles at several places around the island. There's an airstrip on the northern coast of Άtiu, a short drive from the five villages. Motorcycles and bicycles are available for hire at a few motels.

The round-the-island bus is a good way of getting around Rarotonga. It plys the coast road in both directions, originating in Avarua (though you can flag it down anywhere). It runs during business hours on weekdays, half the day on Saturday and not at all on Sunday. There are also taxis available on Rarotonga and Άtiu.

You can rent a car on Rarotonga, Aitutaki and some of the other islands, but nothing would be more than a half hour away. The real advantage is with 4WDs and sturdy motorcycles, which can get you to some of the more out-of-the-way spots and up the steeper roads. You'll need a local driver's permit (available from the police station in Avarua); driving is on the left. Keep your wits about you on Friday and Saturday nights, when there's heavy drinking going on. Bicycles are a good way to get around and readily available for hire.

The fastest way to get between the islands is by plane. Via 18-passenger turboprop planes, Air Rarotonga connects the main island with most of those in the southern group and several in the northern. The longest trip takes about 4 and a half hours; the shortest are under an hour. You can get 30-day 'Paradise Island Passes' for around US$50 per sector.

You can also get between the islands by private yacht or passenger freighter. Rarotonga, however, has a small harbour, and if your ship is too large you'll most likely have to get to land by lighter - which is how you'll get to shore on every other island save Penrhyn, the northernmost island, the only other one with a wharf. Getting to the outer islands can be a challenge, as ships make it out there infrequently and there are no firm schedules. You can snatch a few hours here and there if you want to keep going with your ship, but if you decide to get off for a longer stay be prepared to wait days for the next boat.

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