The Complete Guide to Driving in Rarotonga, Aitutaki and the Cook Islands
Whether you’re beach-hopping on the roads of Rarotonga or riding a scooter on quiet roads lined with swaying coconut palms in Aitutaki, there’s nothing like a road trip in paradise! All you need to do is sort out the logistics of hiring a car (or the classic Raro ride, a scooter) and know some essential road rules to keep yourself and others safe. Luckily, this complete guide to driving in Rarotonga, Aitutaki and the Cook Islands can help with all of the above and more, covering driver’s licenses, vehicle rentals and the road rules you need to know.
How Long Does it Take to Drive Around the Cook Islands?
- Rarotonga – 32km/20 miles – 45-50 minutes
- Aitutaki – 25km/15.5 miles – 40-45 minutes
- Atiu – 20km/12 miles – 35-40 minutes
- Mangaia – 24km/15 miles – 30-35 minutes
- Mauke – 16km/10 miles – 30-35 minutes
- Mitiaro – 17km/10.5 miles – 30 minutes
Go in-depth on the driving times around Rarotonga, Aitutaki and beyond in The Driving Times in the Cook Islands You Need to Know.
What License Do You Need to Drive in the Cook Islands?
First things first, when you’re wanting to drive in Rarotonga, Aitutaki and the Cook Islands, you need to make sure you have a valid driver’s license.
Driver’s Licenses for Driving a Car
For renting and driving a car, it is acceptable to drive in the Cook Islands on an overseas license from Australia, Canada, EU Members, Japan, New Zealand, Norway or the US. This is under the conditions that the driver is over 16 years old and whose license has not been revoked, suspended or disqualified. You can only drive in the Cook Islands on an overseas license for up to six months.
If your overseas license does not meet the above criteria, for instance, you have a restricted license or have a license from a country other than the accepted ones, then you need to get a Cook Islands visitor driver’s license.
How to get a visitor driver’s license, as well as extra clarification on which driver’s licenses are accepted in the Cook Islands, can be found in our complete guide, Can You Drive in the Cook Islands With an Overseas License?
Driver’s Licenses for Riding a Scooter
You can legally ride a scooter in the Cook Islands if your overseas license is valid for riding a motorcycle and meets the same criteria as overseas licenses that are accepted for driving a car (see above). If, however, you are not licensed to ride a motorcycle in your home country, then you need to get a Cook Islands scooter license for visitors.
On Rarotonga, you will need to take your passport and driver’s license to the Police Station in Avarua and complete an application form, sit a theory test and do a practical test. All the details of this process can be found in How to Get a Rarotonga & Cook Islands Scooter License.
On Aitutaki, you just need to take your driver’s license to the Police Station in Arutanga and they will issue you a visitor scooter license in paper form; no test and the fee is much cheaper. This scooter license is also valid on Rarotonga.
Renting a Car or Scooter
Car and scooter rental is available in abundance on Rarotonga, while Aitutaki has a smaller selection of rental companies. The other outer islands’ vehicle rentals are usually less formal, offered by accommodations.
Car Hire Companies in the Cook Islands
Compare vehicle rental companies in the following:
- 10 Best Car Rentals in the Cook Islands
- 9 Best Car Rentals in Rarotonga
- The Best Car Rentals in Aitutaki
- The Best Car Rentals in Atiu
- The Cheapest Car Rentals in the Cook Islands
Scooter Hire Companies in the Cook Islands
And compare scooter hire in the following:
- Scooter Hire in Rarotonga: Where to Rent, Cost & More
- Scooter Hire in Aitutaki: Where to Rent, Cost & More
- Scooter Hire in Atiu: Where to Rent, Cost & More
Vehicle rental can usually be delivered to your accommodation free of charge or will be available to collect from the airport on both Rarotonga and Aitutaki. Vehicle rental companies on Rarotonga will go through the usual process of a car inspection, taking your driver’s license details and upselling you insurance, additional drivers, etc. Get a full cost breakdown in The Cost of Renting a Car in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands.
Note that on Rarotonga, it is essential to hire a helmet along with your scooter rental. Helmet hire is typically an extra daily fee.
Although the legal driving age in the Cook Islands is 16, note that most vehicle rental companies have age restrictions for drivers of either 18 or 21 years old.
Remember that on returning your vehicle, you need to fill up the fuel tank or else you will be charged a premium for fuel – more on gas stations in the section below.
For more advice on hiring a vehicle in the Cook Islands, head to our full guide, What You Need to Hire a Car in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands.
Gas Stations in the Cook Islands
When you’re hiring a vehicle, you’re going to need to know where to fuel up (aside from a few small exceptions where electric vehicles are available).
Gas stations can be found along the main road, Ara Tapu, on Rarotonga. There are also four gas stations on Aitutaki, while the other outer islands usually have just one gas station on the island. Details of which can be found in our guide, Information, Shops & Services in the Cook Islands.
Note that many gas stations in the Cook Islands are full-service gas stations, i.e. a gas station attendant fills up your vehicle with fuel for you. Tell the attendant how much money you would like to fuel up, then pay inside at the counter. If no attendant is available to fill up your gas tank, then it’s usually safe to assume that you do it yourself.
For the most recent fuel prices, check out The Cost of Renting a Car in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands.
10 Road Rules in the Cook Islands You Need to Know
While most road rules in Rarotonga and the Cook Islands are similar to other countries, there are a few differences that many visitors are surprised by or find different from home. We’ll go through some of the most important road rules for visitors here:
- Drive on the left side of the road
- The maximum speed limit in Avarua and Muri is 30kph
- The maximum speed limit in villages and most of Aitutaki is 40kph
- The maximum speed limit outside of populated areas is 50kph
- At roundabouts, give way to vehicles approaching from the right
- Give way (yield) to oncoming traffic
- Motorcyclists must wear a helmet on Rarotonga
- Only two people are permitted on a motorcycle/scooter, seated astride; not sideways. Pillion passengers must be sat behind the driver
- Pedestrians and cyclists must use the side of the road; not the middle
- Passengers riding on the back of pick-up trucks need to sit in the bed of the truck; not on the side rails.
As there are also quite a few road hazards that are essential to be aware of, make sure to also check out the 10 Safety Tips for Driving in the Cook Islands. We also have a few extra tips for scooter riders in the 10 Tips for Riding a Scooter in the Cook Islands.
More About How to Drive in Rarotonga and the Cook Islands
That’s it for our complete guide on how to drive in the Cook Islands, including 10 essential road rules in the Cook Islands that you need to know. For more road trip advice, check out more of our guides:
- The Driving Times in the Cook Islands You Need to Know
- 10 Ways to Save Money on Car Rental in the Cook Islands
- Cook Islands Transport Guide: 15 Best Ways to Get Around the Cook Islands