Getting to the Cook Islands, in the center of the South Pacific, can be a relatively simple adventure.
Our own recent journey would qualify as the easy version.
After a delightful (and direct) Air New Zealand flight of about 10 hours from Los Angeles (LAX), we arrived in the early morning at Rarotonga’s airport (RAR). While Rarotonga may be the most populated of the Cook Islands, its airport, the hub for the whole island group, is decidedly laid back.
A native drum group greeted our arrival, and in a space about the size of a post office, it took ten minutes to go through customs and grab our luggage. A whopping four airlines operate here — Air New Zealand, Air Rarotonga, Air Tahiti, and Pacific Blue — and chickens run freely around the largely outdoor, Polynesian-themed space.
Bags in hand, we had all of a 20-second walk to catch our connecting flight to Aitutaki (the second-largest of the Cooks)…but an hour-and-a-half wait. This gave us plenty of time to exchange a little cash (the Cooks’ official currency is New Zealand’s, thankfully weak against the U.S. dollar), scare up coffee from the airport’s one concession, and hunker down amongst a small and sleepy cluster of British, French, German and Aussie couples.
With the sun came our Air Rarotonga flight. Strolling out across a wide tarmac bordered by jagged, jungly mountain peaks, we boarded a plane that offers seating for 20, zero soundproofing from propeller noise, and from every window, a magnificent view. Just when we’d popped at least one eyeball out of our heads watching the cerulean jewel of Rarotonga recede, the white-capped Pacific yawned navy and silver across the world…and in crept a slow and steady vertigo.
It’s gobsmacking to imagine: The early Polynesians, between 800 and 1200 A.D., crossed this entire, massive ocean in canoes. And here we were, ever so slightly nervous in a shiny white airplane.
Inside of a fleeting hour, we arrived at Aitutaki’s airport (AIT), which has the distinction of making RAR look positively palatial. Though built with the sweat of U.S. and New Zealand military engineers during World War II, this is without a doubt the sweetest, smallest airport we’ve yet seen.
The parking lot holds about 10 cars, luggage-handling comprises three rolling carts, and while there’s no TP or paper towels in the washrooms, the little kiosk indoors offers one of the best homemade meat pies you’ll ever have in your life.
If you’re staying at a resort, like we were (the gorgeous Pacific Resort Aitutaki), a flower-crowned representative will meet you with a fragrant lei at the front door of the airport’s main, turquoise hut. This creates the welcome impression that AIT actually smells like tuberoses, instead of mildly like jet fuel — nice.
Our whole journey was almost ridiculously simple, but for most of its history, getting to the Cook Islands was the exact opposite. And depending on how much exploration you’d like to do around this deceptively spread-out island chain, it could still be pretty darn complicated.
Flying ‘Round the Cooks: The Not-So-Easy Version
See related posts:
TWT Travel Binder: Cook Islands
Pacific Resort Aitutaki? Yes, Please
Aitutaki Discovery Safari Tours: Story of an Island, Part 1
Aitutaki Discovery Safari Tours: Story of an Island, Part 2
The Small Blue Yonder: An Aitutaki Lagoon Cruise
Ever Thought About Moving to Paradise?