Air Rarotonga carries the distinction of being one of the only South Pacific airlines that is entirely privately owned and profitable to boot. Founded as Cook Islands Airways in 1973, it became Air Rarotonga in 1978. It provides regular air service from Rarotonga to all of the main islands of the southern Cooks and a few of the northern group, including a reduced service on Sunday. It uses a 34-seat SAAB 340 SF3 aircraft to Aitutaki; all other flights are in three 18-seat Embraer Bandeirantes and a Cessna.
The flights to Aitutaki are three times daily (twice daily on Sunday). A reduced one-way fare to Aitutaki is available northbound on the afternoon flight and southbound on the morning flight. Air Rarotonga runs day trips from Rarotonga to Aitutaki which include round-trip airfare, transfers, a lagoon tour, lunch, and drinks, but these are too rushed. Northbound sit on the left side of the aircraft for the best views.
Air Rarotonga flies from Rarotonga to Atiu four times a week, to Mangaia four times a week, to Mauke twice a week, and to Mitiaro twice a week.
Once a week you can fly between Atiu-Aitutaki-Atiu. Unfortunately there are no flights between Atiu, Mauke, and Mitiaro and you must return to Rarotonga.
Manihiki and Penrhyn receive Air Rarotonga flights weekly. There's no flight Manihiki- Penrhyn and only charter flights operate to Pukapuka. The plane can't land at all on Rakahanga. Sitting in a Bandierante for four hours from Rarotonga to Manihiki or Penrhyn can be quite an experience!
Children under 12 pay a reduced rate. Try to reconfirm your return flight, and beware of planes leaving early! Avoid scheduling your flight back to Rarotonga for the same day you're supposed to catch an international flight.
The baggage allowance is 16 kilos, though you can sometimes get by with more. On flights to Manihiki and Penrhyn the limit is 10 kilos. Overweight is not expensive, but if the plane is full and too heavy for the short outer-island runways the airline will refuse excess baggage from all passengers. Thus it pays to stay below the limit.
Taio Shipping Ltd., opposite the Ports Authority Building on Rarotonga's Avatiu Harbor, operates the interisland vessels Manu Nui and the smaller Maungaroa. Taio tries to run a ship around the southern and northern groups monthly. The schedule varies according to the amount of cargo waiting to move and the only way to find out is to ask at the office. It's a four- to five-day round-trip to the southern group while a trip around the northern group takes 12-13 days. Passengers must bring their own food.
Be forewarned that accommodations on this sort of ship are often next to noisy, hot engine rooms and tend to be cluttered with crates. Passengers may have to sleep under a canvas awning, and although it may be a little crowded, the islanders are friendly and easy to get along with. The Manu Nui has two three-bunk cabins, but the Maungaroa has only an open dorm. On the outer islands, check with the radio operator in the post office to find out when a ship from Rarotonga might be due in. Delays of a few days are routine. In practice, not many visitors travel this way.
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