How to Travel Around the Cook Islands by Boat
You’ve probably seen it across the other countries of the South Pacific: ferries carrying passengers to the outer islands and even cargo boats that all of the locals use to get a cheap inter-island voyage. We hate to break it to you but there are no ferries in the Cook Islands and rarely does anyone use the cargo ships for travelling between the islands. Shipping schedules are way too fluid for travellers to plan around, while the cost isn’t all that enticing. Still want to know more about travelling around the Cook Islands by boat? If we didn’t scare you off, here’s all our advice on travelling by cargo ship in the Cook Islands.
Frequently Asked Questions About Travelling the Cook Islands by Boat
Before we jump into this guide to all things “ferries/cargo ships/boats” in the Cook Islands, see if your question isn’t already answered by the internet’s most asked questions about travelling by boat in the Cook Islands.
Is There a Ferry from Rarotonga to Aitutaki?
No, there are no ferries from Rarotonga to Aitutaki. The only way to get to Aitutaki is to take a flight from Rarotonga Airport – more on that in our Domestic Flights Guide.
How to Get from Rarotonga to Aitutaki by Boat
It is extremely difficult and rare to be able to get a boat from Rarotonga to Aitutaki. The cargo ship from Rarotonga rarely stops by Aitutaki. The only way to get to Aitutaki is to take a flight from Rarotonga Airport – more on that in our Domestic Flights Guide.
Passenger and Cargo Ship Schedules for the Cook Islands
Schedules? What schedules?
The Cook Islands cargo ship schedule is, in the words of Captain Barbosa: “what you’d call ‘guidelines’ than actual rules.” The inter-island cargo shipping service is run by Taio Shipping. The official schedule of Taio Shipping is as follows:
“[Taio Shipping] runs approximately once every two months to Penrhyn, Rakahanga and Manihiki and once every two and a half months to Palmerston and Pukapuka. Also once or twice a month to Atiu, Mitiaro, Mauke and Mangaia.”
Which of the Cook Islands Does the Cargo Ship Travel to?
The cargo ship travels to the following islands from Rarotonga:
How Long Does it Take to Travel by Boat in the Cook Islands?
It takes approximately a day for cargo boats to reach the Southern Group islands of Mangaia, Atiu, Mauke and Mitiaro or four days for the cargo boat to visit all four and return to Rarotonga. Note that the cargo ship rarely visits Aitutaki.
Trips take approximately three to four days to reach the Northern Group islands of Penrhyn, Rakahanga, Manihiki, Pukapuka or Suwarrow. The service that travels to all of these islands (except Suwarrow) takes approximately 10-12 days.
How Long Do Cargo Boats Stay on the Islands
As a rule of thumb, cargo boats stay on the islands for a few hours; enough time to unload cargo. As the only decent harbours are in Rarotonga and Penrhyn, most travel to the islands from the ship is by barge.
How to Find Upcoming Boat Schedules for the Cook Islands
For schedules for the upcoming month, it’s best to inquire with Taio Shipping. Their phone number is 24905 (Cook Islands dialling code is +682). They are located at the Avatiu Harbour, Avarua opposite the A-frame Ports Authority building. Opening hours are from Monday to Friday, 8.30am to 4pm.
Alternatively, announcements for upcoming departures are (sometimes) posted on the Taio Shipping Facebook page.
Finally, if you’re feeling old school, check out announcements printed in Cook Islands News – you can usually find a copy in Rarotonga’s cafes.
The Cost of Travelling by Cargo Ship in the Cook Islands
Travelling by cargo ship isn’t as “cheap” as you might expect in the Cook Islands. Some approximate prices are as follows (but are subject to change):
- Rarotonga to one island in the Southern Group – NZ$250 per person return
- Deck space for Rarotonga to the Northern Group – NZ$450 per person return
- Cabin space for Rarotonga to the Northern Group – NZ$1,200 return.
For more costs to help budget for your trip, check out Rarotonga & Cook Islands Travel Budget: How Much Does a Trip to the Cook Islands Cost?
Other Ways to Travel Around the Cook Islands
Ok, so cargo ships are quite expensive and difficult to plan around. What’s the alternative for getting around the Cook Islands? Unless you own a sailing yacht (if you do, check out our Sailing Guide to Rarotonga & the Cook Islands: Tips for Yachting in the Cook Islands – by the way), the only other way to travel between the Cook Islands is by domestic flight. Domestic flights are the main way to travel between the islands for visitors and locals alike!
Head over to our Domestic Flights in the Cook Islands: Your Guide to Interisland Flightsfor our complete guide on how scheduled flights in the Cook Islands work.
Note that for islands like Penrhyn and Pukapuka, there are no scheduled flights, but charter flights are available. Find out more about those in our other guide, How to Hire a Plane in the Cook Islands: A Guide to Plane Charters.
More About Cargo Ships and Travelling by Boat in the Cook Islands
That’s it for our guide to cargo ships, boats and travelling by ferry in the Cook Islands. We know, we might have burst your bubble about boating across the Cook Islands, but hopefully, we can make up for it by providing more useful advice for travelling around the Cook Islands:
- Cook Islands Transport Guide: 15 Best Ways to Get Around the Cook Islands
- The Complete Guide to Public Transportation in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands
- 10 Things You Need to Know About Flying in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands
Finally, plan the rest of the ins and outs of a trip to the Cook Islands using The Best Cook Islands Travel Guide and the 30 Tips for Travelling in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands.