Essential Safety Tips You Need to Know When Driving in the Cook Islands
Road tripping around the islands of Rarotonga, Aitutaki and beyond is an amazing way to see the country. However, driving in a new country is always a stressful thought. With low speed limits and limited traffic control, the Cook Islands is actually an easy-going country to drive in. You just need to keep in mind a few things and be aware of a few hazards, which we go through in these safety tips for driving in Rarotonga, Aitutaki and the Cook Islands.
While you’re here, be sure to also open How to Drive in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands + 10 Road Rules so you’re aware of some of the important rules of the road.
1. Drive on the Left Side of the Road
Traffic moves on the left side of the road in the Cook Islands. While it might seem like an obvious tip, it’s important to keep reminding yourself if you come from a country where you drive on the right. Remind yourself to drive on the left when pulling out of an intersection or when getting back in the car after having a break from driving. You’ll get used to it in no time!
Bonus tip: The road going through Avarua has four lanes, two on either side of a separation with parking areas, trees, coffee stands, etc. Traffic flows left on either side of the separation. Don’t make the mistake of driving up the wrong way!
2. Take it Easy and Stick to the Speed Limit
Don’t be “that guy” that drives around like they’re still in Auckland traffic. The speed limits are pretty low in the Cook Islands: 30kph in Muri and Avarua, 40kph in villages and most of Aitutaki, and 50kph everywhere else. Driving at a leisurely pace also allows you time to react to the many hazards that are on the Cook Islands’ roads – more on those throughout this list of safety tips!
3. There are No Traffic Lights, Just One Pedestrian Crosswalk and Very Few Sidewalks
That’s right, the Cook Islands is one of those places where the traffic is so relaxed that there is no need for traffic lights. There are very few pedestrian crossings or sidewalks, while there are only a handful of roundabouts in Avarua. With the lack of extra traffic control, you’ll need to be extra mindful of other vehicles and pedestrians. More on the latter in our next point…
4. Watch Out for Children on the Road
One of many hazards on the roads of the Cook Islands is children! the kids of the Cook Islands aren’t afraid to rule the roads once school is out, so look out for school signs and slow down when approaching a school. Especially on the outer islands, like Aitutaki, kids will run out on the road with little warning, so drive slowly.
5. Watch Out for Animals on the Road
Another regular hazard on the roads is animals of all kinds! On Rarotonga, be wary of dogs running (or plodding, as the case may be) across the road, while on just about every road in the Cook Islands, chickens, roosters, pigs and crabs are added into the mix. Slow down and let the animals pass by unscathed – remember, most of them are people’s pets!
6. Be Mindful of the Buses
On Rarotonga, the Clockwise and Anticlockwise buses make their rounds along the main road, as do school buses, church buses, etc. When you’re behind a bus, remember that they will make frequent stops. Be extra mindful of off-loading passengers and especially school children who may run across the road. You can overtake buses when it is safe to do so.
7. Wear a Helmet When Riding a Scooter
Riding a scooter comes with its own set of rules and safety tips that we cover extensively in the 10 Tips for Riding a Scooter in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands. One of the most important, however, when riding on Rarotonga is to wear a helmet. It is the law for both driver and passenger to wear helmets, so make sure you factor the cost in to hire a helmet.
8. Don’t Leave Valuables in Your Vehicle Unattended
Unfortunately, the most common crime affecting tourists in the Cook Islands is petty theft. With that in mind, make sure you don’t leave valuable items, like money, camera, passport, phone or wallet, on display in your car or scooter. Take them with you or hide your valuables and remember to lock your vehicle. For more advice on keeping safe, check out our Cook Islands Safety Tips.
9. Take Extra Care When Driving on Unsealed (Gravel) Roads
Most of the roads you’ll be using in Rarotonga and Aitutaki are sealed roads that are in relatively good condition. There are a few instances on these islands, and especially on the other outer islands, where roads are either gravel, dirt or flattened coral. Drive extra carefully on these roads and watch out for loose gravel and potholes.
10. Don’t Park Under a Coconut Tree
While the shade of a coconut tree can be a tempting place to park your car, it comes are the risk of a dented roof or cracked windscreen from falling coconuts. It’s more of a damage concern for your rental vehicle than safety. However, it’s claimed that coconuts take the lives of around 150 people each year by falling on their heads, so you want to reduce those odds!
To Wear or Not to Wear Your Seatbelt? That is the Question!
It’s true: it is not mandatory to wear a seatbelt in the Cook Islands. With that, hardly any locals do! If you get in a car with a local and start putting your seatbelt on, they often act offended and make comments that “they aren’t a bad driver”. However, judging by the number of road accidents in the Cook Islands, especially on Rarotonga, perhaps sticking to your usual habits of wearing a seatbelt isn’t such a bad idea…
More Tips for Driving in Rarotonga, Aitutaki and the Cook Islands
That’s it for our most important safety tips for driving in Rarotonga, Aitutaki and the Cook Islands. For more driving tips, take a look at the following guides:
- How to Drive in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands + 10 Road Rules
- Is it Safe to Travel to Rarotonga & the Cook Islands? – Cook Islands Safety Tips
- 10 Best Car Rentals in the Cook Islands: The Top Cook Islands Car Rental Companies
Finally, get more advice for exploring the Cook Islands from the 30 Tips for Travelling in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands.