As most of you may know, The Cook Islands consists of about 15 major islands (Southern / Northern Groups) with Rarotonga being the largest and most popular with tourist. Avarua, the country’s capital is also located here and it’s safe to say that it’s also its economic and political heart. Access to the other islands is offered by the only airline in the Cook Islands, Air Rarotonga, with Aitutaki being by far the most popular of the islands visited, outside Rarotonga. Other means of transportation is available, but there is no regular passenger boat service or anything along those lines, so most people especially visitors opt to fly on this small yet extremely cool little airline. For those of you that are not familiar with Air Rarotonga, it has a rather small operational fleet (1 Saab 340, 2 Embraer 110 Bandeirante and a Cessna 172 used for sight-seeing trips around the island). From what I understand, they will acquire more airplanes in the near future. For more information on Air Rarotonga, visit their website or check out Wikipedia. http://www.airraro.com/ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Air_Rarotonga
Aitutaki, which is voted as one of the top “most beautiful” lagoons in the world is about 260 km North of Rarotonga. One of the “Survivor” seasons was filmed there, but of course that’s not the reason we went, especially since I only heard about it while being there. Originally we wanted to book a flight and spend 5 nights there, but we weren’t sure how much money we’d have after the wedding, so we chose to hold back on it and see if any specials would come about. Lucky for us, the 2nd day we were in Rarotonga, we stopped by the Air Rarotonga office and found out that there was indeed a special of $109NZD per person, each way. That came to exactly $436 NZD (That’s about $350-$375 Canadian Dollars for both of us); a steal if you ask me. We booked it as soon as we made arrangements with our accommodations in Rarotonga. I must say that Rarotonga Backpackers was awesome. The owner (Paul) was kind enough to refund us the 3 nights we would be gone to Aitutaki and even offered to hold some of our luggage while we were away. I highly recommend Rarotonga Backpackers if you ever decide to stay in Rarotonga.
After booking the tickets and arranging accommodations in Aitutaki, we were advised to “bring lots of mosquito repellent”, advice that can’t be underestimated in importance. I must say we were “as happy as a clam on Sunday”. I don’t know if clams are indeed happier on Sundays, but we sure were pretty damn excited to visit this literal “Paradise on Earth”. I can’t say that we couldn’t wait to get there, because Rarotonga is extremely awesome and we didn’t want to rush anything, so until our time came to show up to the airport on Thursday June 17, we kept ourselves very busy enjoying “Raro” (as locals call it) to the most of our (financial) abilities. The day of the flight, we met our friends from Warsaw and had lunch with them at the local market, then around 2:15 made our way to the airport. Check-in would start at 2:30pm. We were there a little early so we had to hang around to wait for the Air Rarotonga Counter to open. It was a smoldering day and the humidity didn’t help. People started showing up for the weekly Tahiti flight followed by passengers on a flight to New Zealand.
Domestic / International Departure Area of Rarotonga Airport Aitutaki-002 by VioLudusan, on Flickr
Not long after, we started boarding and made our way to the aircraft. Everyone at Air Rarotonga was extremely polite, including the captain who was always smiling and even offered me the chance to visit the flight deck later on in the flight, something that I was really looking forward to. We boarded the aircraft and in no time, the pilots started the engines and there was a short taxi to runway 26. We taxied on it and started rolling toward the West, rotating about midway of the runway and climbing away from this “small piece of rock” in the middle of the South Pacific.
The island of Aitutaki (3D View). Note the airport on the North Side of the island Aitutaki-0013D by VioLudusan, on Flickr
As we were nearing Aitutaki, the F/A told me I was okay to go into the cock-pit. I was as excited as a kid getting ready to open his Christmas presents. The captain and first officer welcomed me and showed me the seat and seatbelt. I didn’t expect to be there for the landing, but this turned out even better than I have hoped for. We had a brief introduction / chat and before we knew it, he pointed out the beautiful island of Aitutaki in the distance. I couldn’t believe my eyes how gorgeous it was. Flying the B200 in the Canadian Arctic has its moments of beauty, but this was something out of a “Windows Desktop Background”. The entire approach was visual, though they said, should the weather not be VFR, they do have an NDB approach at Aitutaki. I left the camera in the back with my wife, so she snapped some photos of the landing, as I managed to take a few pictures with my iPhone. I can tell you that these photos don’t do the scenery any justice. It was absolutely stunning.
The airport runway 32-14 is on the Northeast side of the tip of the island, built originally by the Americans & Kiwi in WW2. It’s 1804m long (5920ft). We turned right over the lagoon and lined up with the runway, giving us an amazing view of the lagoon. Even the back had some stunning views. IMG_3281 by VioLudusan, on Flickr
Wow… what an experience that was. I felt very fortunate to have been given this opportunity and I couldn’t contain my excitement, which of course, my wife laughed at. She was very happy for me too. I thanked the crew for this fantastic flight and disembarked in Aitutaki along with all the other tourists on board. The small terminal is extremely nice, giving that special “island feeling”. We were greated by the owner of our lodge with traditional flower necklace and a very warm smile. After collecting our bags we got a ride to our resort, which was very close to the threshold of runway 32. I was happy to be so close to the airport, since I would be able to see the Saab / Embraers in action in the upcoming days.
The turn-around was extremely quick and before we even reached the end of the runway (by car, on the road parallel to the runway / fence) the Saab was already taxiing to the runway on its return flight to Rarotonga: DSC_2733 by VioLudusan, on Flickr
From Thursday afternoon until Sunday evening of that week we had a great time in Aitutaki, being completely blown away by the lagoon, the kindness of people and how uneventful and relaxing life was in Aitutaki (at least for vacationers). Here are some pictures from our stay in this piece of Earthly paradise:
We also took a day long lagoon trip with Bishop Lagoon Cruises and we had one of the best times of our life. The crew was great, the food was delicious and the views / marine life was something out of a Discovery Channel or BBC show… amazing… amazing… amazing… I felt like I was in some Desktop Wallpaper. Some pics from the lagoon trip: DSC_2897 by VioLudusan, on Flickr
Locals that came here from NZ (about 30 years ago) and never left. These two gentlemen were extremely kind and friendly. I just love this pic. It’s something out of a “frozen in time” moment: IMG_3324 by VioLudusan, on Flickr
Flight 03: Date: Thursday June 21 2012 Airline: Air Rarotonga Flight No: : N/A Aircraft: : Cessna 172L Registration: : E5-NTP Departure: : Avarua – Rarotonga International Airport (RAR/NCRG) (9:00) Arrival: : Avarua – Rarotonga International Airport (RAR/NCRG) (9:45) Flight Time : 0h 45m
The 3 nights and 3 days we spent in Aitutaki seemed like two weeks. Time had a mind of its own there. I for once loved it, except it was a bit too quiet for me. I’m not the type of guy to just sit and relax on the beach. I must meet people, see things, do things so 3 days was plenty for me. Gabriela somewhat agrees with me. We both loved Aitutaki though. On Sunday it was time to leave back to the airport and head on the last flight to Rarotonga. We got there about 2 hours early, since we had nothing to do, so we just read, talked to people and waited for our aircraft to arrive. It seems that flights in are quite the event here and lots of family members come to the airport to see their loved ones off. The load was fairly full today, compromising half of tourists and half of locals or ex locals returning to see their families. It was getting dark by the time we boarded the aircraft and the ceilings were lowering and the wind was now out of the South and blowing a bit.
The local airport fire truck: DSC_3701 by VioLudusan, on Flickr
Since it was dark, it was very hard to take photos so this is the only “meaningful” one I managed to take of the lighted runway in Rarotonga. We came from the North and landed on Runway 08. IMG_3456 by VioLudusan, on Flickr
Our rented scooter that stayed parked there for 3 days (it was cheaper than to actually bring it back and rent another one) DSC_3794 by VioLudusan, on Flickr
All in all, I must say this was the most unique and beautiful (scenery wise) trip I have ever taken in my entire life. Air Rarotonga is small, but a great airline with a team that I could only describe as “AWESOME”. This is made even more apparent in the next portion of this Trip report (PART 3). Everyone from the reservation agent, to the check in agents to the pilots, F/A, ground crew and Management was top notch. Great for you Air Rarotonga. Keep up the good work!!! I will def. fly with them again. Aitutaki was fantastic. I highly recommend the lagoon cruise. The snorkeling and marine life is second to none (that I have ever seen).
I hope you enjoyed this part and come back for Part 3, the final of these 3 trip reports.
yapple From Singapore, joined Apr 2011, 63 posts, RR: 1 Reply 2, posted (10 months 4 weeks 5 hours ago) and read 5478 times:
Absolutely superb report with very nice pictures. (Your previous one was very good too) One of my childhood dream is to 'conquer' the Indian Ocean and the South Pacific. Your report and photos just made me all the more jealous...
Nice to hear that you've had some fantastic experience in the Cook Islands (thus far), from the owner of the accommodation to the pilot etc.
Mortyman From Norway, joined Aug 2006, 3231 posts, RR: 2 Reply 8, posted (10 months 3 weeks 6 days ago) and read 4549 times:
Thanx once again for a great trip report. Aitutaki is one of the few places I have been where the pictures you take and develop is just as good as the place looks in the adds ... Never dissapoints. Hanging out at the Boat shed restaurant, having a cold one while the sun goes down is just an amazing experience.
vio From Canada, joined Feb 2004, 1286 posts, RR: 9 Reply 10, posted (10 months 3 weeks 2 days 9 hours ago) and read 3495 times:
Thank you for the replies. Much appreciated it.
Quoting yapple (Reply 2): One of my childhood dream is to 'conquer' the Indian Ocean and the South Pacific. Your report and photos just made me all the more jealous...
I think I share your dream right now. Everyone asks me, would you go there again? YES, however, there are so many other amazing places to see and since I'm not exactly rich, I don't know if RAR will be on my list in the near future.
Quoting Mack8994 (Reply 3): The pics were spectacular and RAR looks amazing. Congrats on your wedding
Quoting viasa (Reply 5): I remembering me travel to RAR and AIT back in 2008...
Awesome. Lots of Europeans go there. I met lots of Swiss people in RAR and AIT.
Quoting Ideekay (Reply 6): I was never there so it is a pleasure to read it
Thank you. If you have the chance, please do go.
Quoting AirPacific747 (Reply 7): Haha, I have this stamp as well.. although not as fancy looking as the new one it seems:
Oh, awesome. I still like the new one better, but just having that stamp on the passport is awesome!
Quoting Mortyman (Reply 8): Aitutaki is one of the few places I have been where the pictures you take and develop is just as good as the place looks in the adds ... Never dissapoints. Hanging out at the Boat shed restaurant, having a cold one while the sun goes down is just an amazing experience.
How true. I said it a few times to my wife. "Doesn't it feel like we're inside a Windows wallpaper?"
Quoting 777ER (Reply 9): Not surprised they stayed as the Island looks beautiful.
Yes they are, but AIT is a bit too slow for me. Maybe if I had an interesting job there I could stay, but otherwise, not much happening.
Quoting 777ER (Reply 9): Two ex New Zealand fire appliances are heading to Rarotonga shortly
Well that's good to know. I hope one makes it to AIT though.
Superior decisions reduce the need for superior skills.
MSS658 From Belgium, joined Oct 2010, 2212 posts, RR: 14 Reply 12, posted (10 months 3 weeks 1 hour ago) and read 3033 times:
Great report, thanks for sharing.
Nice too see something from the cook islands. We don't see that too much.
Great scenery pics, nice to see you where able to get one of the best seats in the saab as well.
Widebodyroga From United States of America, joined Sep 2008, 473 posts, RR: 4 Reply 14, posted (10 months 2 weeks 2 days 8 hours ago) and read 2588 times:
What an awesome pair of TRs! Your photos remind me of my own honeymoon in the Bahamas. I hope you guys had a good time and by the look of it you definitely did! How lucky that you got to be in the cockpit of the Saab. The views from there were great! Thank you for the destination photos. I may love airplanes and flying but photos of the destination are definitely my favorite part of any TR.
I'm eagerly looking forward to part 3!
Visit my aviation page: http://widebodyroga.weebly.com/
NZ107 From New Zealand, joined Jul 2005, 5672 posts, RR: 40 Reply 15, posted (10 months 1 week 5 days 9 hours ago) and read 2241 times:
Another great report with great pictures. What an experience that must have been! It's good to see that the ex-Air NZ birds are still flying strong.. Gotta go there to log the types (EMB and Saab) which I never got to try while they still operated domestically!
Your photos continually attract me to visiting the Cook Islands. I suppose I'll get there someday as it's virtually on my doorstep compared to the rest of the world.
The cockpit landing must have been wonderful. I've jumpseated a Convair 580 before but landing on a tropical paradise must be much more special!
Quoting vio (Thread starter): Our rented scooter that stayed parked there for 3 days (it was cheaper than to actually bring it back and rent another one)
That makes no sense!
Thanks again, looking forward to reading the 3rd part.