Air Rarotonga, the only domestic airline in the Cook Islands, has several daily flights to Aitutaki, and several weekly flights between Rarotonga and the rest of the Southern Group. Other than the high-traffic Rarotonga–Aitutaki route, Air Rarotonga sometimes cancels or moves flights to consolidate passengers if there are too many empty seats.
Flights to the Northern Group are more erratic – there’s a scheduled flight to Manihiki every second Tuesday, and flights to Penrhyn are flown only when there’s sufficient demand.
The baggage allowance for the Southern Group is 16kg, for the Northern Group it’s 10kg. Passengers are allowed one piece of hand luggage not exceeding 3kg.
Shipping schedules are notoriously unpredictable – weather, breakdowns and unexpected route changes can all put a kink in your travel plans. Ships stop off at each island for just a few hours, and only Rarotonga and Penrhyn have decent harbours. At all the other islands you go ashore by lighter or barge.
Taio Shipping is the only interisland shipping company and its vessels are far from luxury cruise liners: there’s limited cabin space and some ships have no cabins at all. Showers and toilets are available to all passengers. Return trips to the islands of the Southern Group cost NZ$250. To the Northern Group, return fares are NZ$1200 in a cabin and NZ$450 for deck space. Ships only run one or two times per month.
All the islands are good for cycling. Rarotonga has a regular circle-island bus service, taxis, and bicycles, motorcycles and cars for hire. Aitutaki has a taxi service, and bicycles, motorcycles and cars for hire. ‘Atiu has a taxi service, rental motorcycles and a couple of Jeeps. You can rent scooters and bicycles on Ma’uke, Mitiaro and Mangaia.
Hitchhiking is legal, though of course never entirely safe, and if you’re walking along an empty stretch of road someone will stop and offer you a lift before too long.
We’re not sure how many registered motorscooters there are in the Cooks, but this egalitarian form of transport is everywhere you look. To see a smartly dressed minister aboard his trusty Honda on the way to Sunday-morning church is a visionary sight indeed. People smoke and chat riding two-abreast, talk or text on the phone and maybe chew a sandwich at the same time. Robust Polynesian mamas perch on the side while tiny children cling on behind.
Locals prefer the manual 110cc ‘postie bike’ but the scooters hired to tourists are usually the automatic type. They’re easy to ride with push-button ignitions, brakes and throttle. Even if you’ve never ridden a motorcycle before, after 10 minutes you’ll be riding like a pro, and after a few days you’ll be walking like a cowhand. Be careful with the proximity of your suntanned legs to the hot exhaust pipe. Get too close and you’ll be in danger of getting a ‘Rarotongan Tattoo’. Watch out also for the occasional stray dog, and avoid riding at night as there's minimal street lighting on most parts of the island.
Remember also if you don't have a motorcycle licence in your home country, you need to head along to the police station in Avarua and get local accreditation when you first arrive.