A Complete Guide to Visiting Rarotonga and the Cook Islands with a Disability
We’ll be honest; with lots of sandy beaches and limited facilities for the disabled, Rarotonga is not the most accessible destination for disabled travellers – the outer Cook Islands, even less so. But if you are craving some tropical sun, there are a few resorts on Rarotonga that have “wheelchair-friendly” facilities, providing a glorious place to unwind. In this complete guide to accessibility in the Cook Islands, we list wheelchair-accessible accommodations, things to do for the disabled, and some added advice for disabled travellers.
5 Tips for Travelling with a Disability in the Cook Islands
- Stick to Rarotonga – Disabled access facilities are limited on Rarotonga but even more so in the outer islands
- There is no wheelchair-accessible transport in the Cook Islands for visitors but if you give prior notice (or sometimes not even), drivers are usually happy to assist with folding and storing wheelchairs, finding the most accessible place to sit, etc.
- Bring an all-terrain wheelchair if you want to make the most of the Cook Islands’ glorious beaches; there are no all-terrain wheelchair hires in the Cook Islands
- If you need any specific facilities or assistance on tours or at your accommodation, it’s a good idea to contact companies prior to your visit so they can either provide advice or get themselves prepared
- Come with a travel buddy – Most shops, cafes, restaurants and even pavements have one or two steps that make handling a wheelchair on your own very challenging. You’ll need the assistance of a trusted travel companion to help you with these minor hurdles.
Accessibility at Rarotonga International Airport
Rarotonga International Airport and Aitutaki Airport are where you’ll perhaps find the best facilities for disabled travellers visiting the Cook Islands. There are staff on-hand to assist disabled travellers, even from the moment you land.
While most flight passengers use stairs to get onto the tarmac, there is an ambulift for passengers in a wheelchair. The ambulift is also used for entering the plane for your departure flight, where wheelchair users and their families/friends will be the first to board the plane.
There are disabled access bathrooms both inside the arrival and departure lounges, as well as outside of the terminals.
Aitutaki Airport is also wheelchair-friendly with a disabled access bathroom (the only one we’ve seen on the whole island) and the airport and building are flat and paved. There are no facilities at the airports of the other outer islands, except a shelter.
Learn more about what to expect from Cook Islands airports in our guide, Airports in the Cook Islands: Where Can You Fly to in the Cook Islands?
10 Best Cook Islands Accommodations with Wheelchair Access
There are a few accommodations and resorts around Rarotonga that have wheelchair-accessible facilities. Note, however, that they by no means meet the same standards as, perhaps the New Zealand Accessibility Standards for buildings. They are put together at the accommodation’s own discretion.
If you require specific facilities, such as rails in the bathrooms, for instance, or anything else, it’s best to get in touch with accommodation providers directly. For facilities such as braille, none exist as far as we know.
1. Aro’a Beachside Inn
Perhaps one of the best accommodations for wheelchair users in Rarotonga and the Cook Islands, Aro’a Beachside Inn has two units that are fully accessible. The bathrooms or “wet rooms” of these units have rails installed, as well as a shower chair. Their onsite beach bar, Shipwreck Hut, has wheelchair ramps. These villas at Aroa Beach have self-catering facilities and are exclusively for adult guests, as listed in the 20 Best Adults-Only Resorts in the Cook Islands.
Check Aro’a Beachside Inn out:
2. Nautilus Resort
The luxury resort with large spacious villas with private plunge pools, as well as a communal lagoon pool and an on-site restaurant, is wheelchair accessible across the resort. There are no rails in the bathrooms, however, but they do have roll-in showers. See more lavish stays like this in the 10 Best Luxury Resorts in the Cook Islands.
Check Nautilus Resort out:
3. Edgewater Resort & Spa
The largest resort on Rarotonga has a few rooms and self-contained villas that are fully wheelchair accessible, while their on-site restaurant and bar are also accessible. Edgewater Resort & Spa is set along the palm-lined beach of Arorangi holding a prime position for glorious sunsets. Rooms are simplistic in their design but airy with service making up for the lack of aesthetic luxury. Learn more about the resort in The Top 50 Resorts in the Cook Islands.
Check Edgewater Resort & Spa out:
- Edgewater Resort & Spa on Booking.com
- Edgewater Resort & Spa on Trip.com
- Edgewater Resort & Spa on Expedia
4. Manuia Beach Resort
The adults-only boutique resort of Manuia Beach Resort has two units that are to New Zealand Accessibility Standards. However, the restaurant and pool area have a step or two that are not as easy to access; it’s Ok if you have assistance though. All in all, Manuia provides a relaxed yet beautiful adults-only stay without pretentiousness. See more like this in the 10 Best Boutique Resorts in the Cook Islands.
Check Manuia Beach Resort out:
5. Motu Beachfront Art Villas
Working in harmony with the locals and environment, Motu Beachfront Art Villas or simply “MOTU” gives back to the local community with proceeds from your stay going toward healthcare, education and the arts. The 10 ground-floor “art villas” have a fresh and minimalistic design to emphasise the collection of works in your villa and the surrounding premises. All rooms are wheelchair accessible, which is best demonstrated by the lack of barriers in the villas’ sleek bathrooms (see image).
Check Motu Beachfront Art Villas out:
- Motu Beachfront Art Villas on Booking.com
- Motu Beachfront Art Villas on Trip.com
- Motu Beachfront Art Villas on Expedia
6. Sunset Resort
As the name suggests, Sunset Resort benefits from the wonderful sunsets captured along Arorangi Beach. They have a wheelchair-accessible suite available with a bathroom equipped with handrails and a shower chair. There are two generously sized pools at this resort, while the on-site Anchorage Restaurant is not only highly recommended on the island but a complimentary breakfast is served for guests there each morning.
Check Sunset Resort out:
7. Palm Grove
A boutique resort on the absolute beachfront of Rarotonga’s southern shores, Palm Grove is a popular choice for families and couples. The “Garden Studio” and “Two Bedroom Garden House” don’t have any steps so are suitable for wheelchair users if these are the only accessibility facilities needed. Learn more about the resort in the 20 Best Family Accommodations in the Cook Islands.
Check Palm Grove out:
8. The Rarotonga Beach Resort & Lagoonarium
Set on the shores of Aroa Beach and a marine reserve, The Rarotongan Beach Resort & Lagoonarium is wheelchair-friendly with its flat winding garden paths to each of the resort’s accessible facilities, including the restaurant, shop and conference room. They have some rooms that are accessible for wheelchairs, but that’s about the extent of their accessibility.
Check The Rarotongan Beach Resort & Lagoonarium out:
- The Rarotongan Beach Resort & Lagoonarium on Booking.com
- The Rarotongan Beach Resort & Lagoonarium on Trip.com
- The Rarotongan Beach Resort & Lagoonarium on Expedia
9. Sanctuary Rarotonga on the Beach
The sister resort of The Rarotongan (see above) and right next door, the four-star Sanctuary Rarotonga on the Beach is your adults-only side of the popular resort complex. The resort gives you the option of a refreshing dip in their pool with a swim-up bar. The airy high-ceiling suites on the beachfront are truly irresistible with both levels of suites being accessible with a wheelchair. Like The Rarotongan, that’s about the extent of their disabled access.
Check Sanctuary Rarotonga on the Beach Resort out:
- Sanctuary Rarotonga on the Beach on Booking.com
- Sanctuary Rarotonga on the Beach on Trip.com
- Sanctuary Rarotonga on the Beach on Expedia
10. Sea Change Villas
A collection of villas designed for romantic getaways, Sea Change Villas each feature a king-size four-poster bed, a spacious shower in your ensuite with showerheads for two, a lounge in front of your private pool, and more. There are villas that are easy to access with a wheelchair, while there are also ramps throughout the property. Also offering an array of romance packages, Sea Change Villas makes an appearance in the 10 Most Romantic Honeymoon Resorts on Rarotonga.
Check Sea Change Villas out:
[Bonus] Rumours Luxury Villas & Spa
When it comes to an indulgent getaway on Rarotonga, Rumours Luxury Villas & Spa pulls out all the stops. The villas are wrapped in luxury, each with uniquely designed private pools, such as waterfall features, while guests are treated to a welcome gift basket and bubbles on arrival. Most villas have good wheelchair access with no steps for normal access and large showers but no other accessibility facilities.
Check Rumours Luxury Villas & Spa out:
Accessibility at Shops, Cafes, Transport, etc.
The facilities for disabled people in the Cook Islands are extremely limited. Pavements (footpaths/sidewalks) are mostly limited to Avarua where there are limited dips in the pavements, so assistance is needed for pretty much everywhere. There is the odd disabled parking spot in Avarua town centre.
Very few shops have disabled access, only the CITC Pharmacy in Avarua springs to mind, while one of the limited cafes with a wheelchair ramp is the LBV Cafe in Muri – see the 10 Best Cafes on Rarotonga for more information. The restaurants and bars of the accommodations mentioned above are also wheelchair-accessible (unless stated otherwise) and are open to non-guests. Learn more about them in The Food Guide to Rarotonga: Places to Eat & Food Tours.
When it comes to transport, there are no rental vehicles with wheelchair lifts nor does the local bus that runs around Rarotonga have wheelchair access. Transport provided on land, such as bus tours, are not wheelchair-friendly but guides are usually happy to assist wheelchair users and find a spot for fold-up wheelchairs on the bus.
There are no rentals for all-terrain wheelchairs in Rarotonga and the Cook Islands. If you have one, it’s best to bring your own to make the most of one of the highlights, the country’s glorious beaches.
5 Things to Do in Rarotonga and the Cook Islands with a Disability
Needless to say, the majority of Rarotonga and the Cook Islands’ highlights are water activities, but there are few experiences wheelchair users can enjoy. Tour guides are usually happy to assist wheelchair users, but it is usually best if you have someone who knows you well on holiday with you to also assist.
1. Discover the Cook Islands History at the Te Ara Museum
This contemporary museum and cultural enterprise centre in Muri packs in key aspects of the Cook Islands’ history through captivating displays. Te Ara Museum is an affordable all-weather activity that will only take an hour or so from your day. What’s more, it is one of the very few buildings in the Cook Islands with wheelchair-accessible facilities, including a bathroom with rails. Learn more about it in the 5 Best Museums in the Cook Islands.
2. Meander Through the Punanga Nui Market
The Punanga Nui Market of Avarua comes to life on a Saturday morning until noon. The island’s passionate artists, chefs, growers and gatherers come together in a whirlwind of tropical produce, smoothies, barbecued treats, pareu (sarongs) of all colours and locally farmed black pearls. Most of the market area is paved, but there are some gravel sections where wheelchair users may need assistance. Punanga Nui is not the only market, so check out more in the 5 Best Markets in the Cook Islands.
3. Make an “Umukai” with Tumutoa Tours
A fun and interactive cultural experience, Tumutoa Tours offers four awesome evening tours on Rarotonga. Your guide, Tumutoa, adorned in traditional Cook Islander attire and a character you will never forget, will teach you how to husk a coconut, prepare an “umukai” and more depending on which tour you chose. Find out more in the 10 Best Cultural Activities in the Cook Islands.
4. Join an Art Class with the Little Red Gallery
Not only can you browse and purchase gorgeous paintings at the Little Red Gallery, but you can join the studio’s artist for a six-hour painting workshop! Learn effective techniques and come away with a painting of a hibiscus flower (or something else, if you have your own ideas) that’s a size value of NZ$350! The Little Red Gallery is open Monday to Thursday, from 9am to 3pm. See more galleries to visit in the 5 Best Art Galleries in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands.
5. Take a Scenic Flight Over Rarotonga
As long as you can get onto a plane with just some assistance, Air Rarotonga‘s scenic flight is an amazing scenic experience to enjoy even with a disability. Enjoy 30 minutes of circling Rarotonga getting a wonderful birds-eye perspective of inland valleys and plantations, the towering volcanic peaks of the island’s interior, as well as the encircling turquoise lagoon. Learn more about the flight in The Best Scenic Flights in the Cook Islands.
More Things to Do in a Wheelchair in the Cook Islands
Of course, all disabilities are different in their limitations, so be sure to have a browse of the 50 Best Things to Do on Rarotonga or 101 Best Things to Do in the Cook Islands to see what you think you will reasonably be able to do.
Where to Find More Information About Visiting the Cook Islands with a Disability
If you need any more assistance or advice for your visit to Rarotonga and the Cook Islands with a disability, then the Cook Islands National Disabled Council may be able to assist. While they mostly work with disabled people in local communities, they can provide advice for visitors too. Their phone number is +682 202122, email: email@example.com.
More About Accessibility in the Cook Islands
That’s it for our full guide to accessibility in Rarotonga and the Cook Islands, including information on disability and wheelchair access. For more tips that you might find useful, see the following guides:
- Is it Safe to Travel to Rarotonga & the Cook Islands? – Cook Islands Safety Tips
- Cook Islands Travel Tips: 30 Tips for Travelling in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands
- 29 Tips for Your Family Rarotonga & Cook Islands Vacation with Kids
Finally, get a complete guide to planning your trip to the Cook Islands from scratch using The Best Cook Islands Travel Guide: Plan a Trip the EASY Way.