The Only Budget Travel Guide to Aitutaki You’ll Ever Need
Aitutaki and its picture-perfect lagoon might evoke images of a luxury island escape, but even those on a tight budget can enjoy the high life. This five-star location houses several cheap accommodations, from guesthouses to beach huts, while sightseeing and snorkelling among tropical marine life are just some things to do for free. Take the time to relax without relaxing your wallet by following the advice in this complete travel guide to Aitutaki on a budget.
Before we begin the guide, be sure to also bookmark The Complete Travel Guide to Aitutaki for more styles of travel.
5 Tips for Visiting Aitutaki on a Budget
Before we jump into our complete budget travel guide for Aitutaki, here are just a few ways you can save money on your vacation:
- The cheapest way to get around Aitutaki is by cycle or scooter, but remember to get a scooter licence from the police station (which is much cheaper than getting one from Rarotonga). Find out more in our guide, Scooter Hire in Aitutaki: Where to Rent, Cost & More
- When choosing accommodation, consider its free inclusions that could help you save money!
- Convenience stores and cheap takeaways are abundant on the west side of the island, so consider staying nearby for easy access to affordable food
- Speaking of food, double-check that your accommodation does have self-catering facilities, as some only have amenities for making breakfast
- Use CookIslandsPocketGuide.com to compare your big-ticket activities and sprinkle some of the free and cheap activities into your itinerary.
How to Get to Aitutaki
Aitutaki lies in the Southern Group of the Cook Islands, approximately 220km (137 miles) from Rarotonga and the Cook Islands’ international airport. While there are cargo ships that transfer passengers across the islands for extremely cheap, no one in the Cook Islands would recommend them due to their unreliability and the near impossibility of making travel plans around their non-existent schedule… That leaves just one other option to get to Aitutaki: by plane.
Regular flights are available between Rarotonga and Aitutaki multiple times a day, six days a week and once on a Sunday. Flights take approximately 50 minutes. Codeshare flights are available from New Zealand and Tahiti. Learn more about flying to Aitutaki and its cost in our guide, Domestic Flights in the Cook Islands: Your Guide to Interisland Flights.
How to Get Around Aitutaki
The main island of Aitutaki has a road around the island that’s approximately 18km (11 miles) with plenty of inland roads to cut the journey shorter to where you’re heading. The main ways to get around include car rental, scooter rental and cycle rental with a couple of taxi services also available. Water taxi services and lagoon cruises are the main ways to get to the other islands in the lagoon. Find out more about the cheapest transport in our Aitutaki Transport Guide: 5 Ways to Get to (& Around) Aitutaki.
Free Activities on Aitutaki
Of course, you don’t have to pay for everything on Aitutaki, so we highly recommend including some of the fun free things to do on the island into your itinerary, such as the following:
- Hike to the top of Maunga Pu for incredible views
- SUP or kayak on the Aitutaki Lagoon
- Go for a snorkel at Ootu Beach or Base One
- Enjoy the singing at a church service
- Check out Piraki Lookout
- Drive through the Giant Banyan Tree
- Stop by the Arataki Lookout
- Welcome yourself at Visitor’s Rock
- Scout out the historical sites like Tautu‘s first church, the marae at the Pacific Resort and more
- Find the village of Hollywood!
All of these and more are outlined in detail in the 15 Free & Cheap Things to Do on Aitutaki. Or, you know, you could keep on reading for the highlights…
Maunga Pu Hike
Maunga Pu is the peak of Aitutaki at a height of 124m (407ft) and can be walked up in 20-30 minutes from the sign at the base. Alternatively, you can drive part-way up the narrow tar-sealed road and park at the grassy crossroads. Either way, head up to the left to reach Maunga Pu’s summit with a cellphone tower at the top and a whole lot of gorgeous island and lagoon vistas. There is no shelter on this walk, so it’s recommended to do it either in the morning or evening to avoid the beating sun.
Find this walk on the west coast of Aitutaki between Paradise Cove and Tai Marino. Park on the abandoned lot opposite the Maunga Pu sign.
Free Snorkelling Spots
Most beachfront accommodations offer complimentary snorkels, masks and fins for guests. Otherwise, it’s definitely a good idea to bring your own to hit snorkelling spots like Base One at the western end of the old airport runway, Ootu Beach at the southern end of the new runway, and the stretch of beach between the Pacific Resort Aitutaki and Tamanu Beach Resort.
Sunday Church Services
The powerful harmonies echoing throughout the churches on a Sunday is an experience not to be missed. Don your most church-appropriate attire (cover knees and shoulders) and head to one of the churches across the island, typically with a 10am service.
The CICC Church in Arutanga is highly recommended, which is one of the oldest churches in the Cook Islands. For more recommendations, check out the 10 Best Churches in the Cook Islands to Experience as a Visitor.
Somewhere fun to drive, scooter or cycle is the Piraki Lookout. This inland lookout requires no hiking and features views out to Aitutaki’s motu (islands) between the bushes. The area alongside some water tanks is well looked after and has a picnic table.
The lookout is well signposted from both the east and west side of Aitutaki. From the west side, turn inland between the Heineken Store and the Aquila Petrol Station then turn left at the crossroads.
And there’s a lot more where that came from listed in the 15 Free & Cheap Things to Do on Aitutaki.
Cheap Activities on Aitutaki
Don’t miss the worthwhile experiences on Aitutaki that are still pretty affordable. Nothing we list here is above NZ$70.
Marine Research Centre
On the road toward the golf course, the imposing sign for the Marine Research Centre is easily spotted. See a giant clam and native clam nursery and learn about the conservation work done here from the site manager, Richard (usually available during working hours). There is a fun clamshell donation box to pay your dues.
To get there, follow the road to the northern tip of Aitutaki, around the lefthand side of the old airstrip and toward the golf course. The Marine Research Centre is signposted on the lefthand side before reaching the golf course.
Cycle, Scooter or Drive Across the Island
Exploring the main island of Aitutaki is a good way to spend the day, especially as car and scooter hire will only cost you around NZ$20-$50 per day (and some accommodations hire out bikes for free). Whatever mode of transport you prefer, there’s much joy to be had exploring the scenic roads of Aitutaki from the palm-fringed east side roads to the bush tracks in the south. Grab a map from the Cook Islands Information Centre in Arutanga or your accommodation and get exploring!
Again, we list more ideas in our ever-so-handy 15 Free & Cheap Things to Do on Aitutaki.
Budget Dining on Aitutaki
Luckily for travellers on a budget, the locals also enjoy eating out for a reasonable price. With that, you’ll find no lack of affordable cafes and takeaways in the most populated areas of the island, more specifically, along the main road on the west coast between Amuri and Arutanga. This also goes for convenience stores, which there is also no shortage of on Aitutaki.
Cheap Restaurants and Takeaways
The colourfully pink Aquila Takeaway and grocery store can’t be missed on the main road in Amuri. They serve up pretty palatable burgers, pizzas, salads and more at their cheap takeaway with seating under a verandah.
In town, MVA’s Tunu2nu offers their cheap eats actually on plates if you want to dine “in” (under the verandah or on the shaded picnic tables). Fish and chips and burgers, of course, feature on the menu but if you’re looking for a more hearty breakfast or seafood basket, they’re also an option.
And for the weirdest breakfast you’ll ever likely have, head to the Mongolian Barbecue on a Sunday morning located next door to Naibaa’s Store north of Vaipae village (unless they have moved to the airport already). Your takeaway container will be packed to the brim with a choice of three meals (yes, all in the same container) accompanying rice – all for NZ$10.
For more ideas, check out The Top Cheap Eats in Aitutaki.
Self-Catering on Aitutaki
Cooking your own meals is by far the cheapest way to keep yourself fed on Aitutaki. Grocery stores are abundant along the main road on the west coast between Amuri and Arutanga but Naibaa’s Store and Baxters Waterworld will keep you stocked inland and on the east side.
Note that it’s better to have an open mind when shopping for groceries on Aitutaki, as grocery stores don’t necessarily stock everything. In other words, if you’re looking for something specific, then you might have to try a few stores before you find it.
Check out typical food prices and tips in The Cost of Food in the Cook Islands and A Guide to Supermarkets & Food Shopping the Cook Islands.
More About Aitutaki on a Budget
That’s it for our complete guide to Aitutaki on a budget but by no means the end of our advice. Check out more guides to help save the cents on your trip:
- 20 Best Things to Do on Aitutaki
- 15 Ways to Save Money on Food in the Cook Islands
- How Much Spending Money Do You Need for the Cook Islands?
Finally, don’t forget to open The Complete Backpacking Guide to the Cook Islands on a Budget and Cook Islands Travel Budget: How Much Does a Trip to the Cook Islands Cost? to plan more of your trip later.