Getting there & away
Often a stop on Aitutaki is included in trips from Rarotonga to the Northern Group islands. The narrow reef passage is too hazardous for large ships to enter, so they are loaded and unloaded outside the reef by barge. Aitutaki, a popular yachting destination, is an official port of entry for the Cook Islands.
Aitutaki's airstrip was built by US forces in WWII. It's the only airport in the Cooks with a two-way runway and, relative to the size of the planes that land here, it's enormous - big enough for Boeing 737s. There are rumours that the airstrip might be developed to cater for larger planes; the tumbledown terminal has recently been rebuilt and is now rather grandly referred to as 'Aitutaki International Airport'. Watch this space.
There are several daily flights from Rarotonga to Aitutaki from Monday to Saturday, as well as one flight on Sunday. Regular fares are NZ$168 each way; cheaper fares are available if you book early and are happy to lock yourself into a particular flight.
Air Rarotonga also offers an Island Hopper Pass (NZ$400). The pass includes a round-trip of flights from Rarotonga-Aitutaki-'Atiu-Rarotonga; you're free to select any flights from Rarotonga to Aitutaki and from 'Atiu back to Rarotonga, but there is only one weekly flight from Aitutaki to 'Atiu, which runs on Tuesdays.
The Air Rarotonga office (31888; www.airraro.com; Arutanga) is in a small hut on the main road in Arutanga. There's also an information desk (31347) at the airport.
All the Rarotongan travel agents offer packages for flights, transfers and accommodation on Aitutaki, which can work out cheaper than booking things yourself, though you'll probably have to stick to a predefined schedule. Book as early as you can: certain flights and hotels can sell out pretty quickly, and if you leave it too late, chances are your first choices won't be available.