How to Save Money on Your Trip to Rarotonga and the Cook Islands
Holidaying in the gorgeous tropical atolls of the Cook Islands isn’t something reserved for the wealthy. Rarotonga and the Cook Islands can offer a very affordable getaway as long as you do a little bit of research so you’re savvier about where to stay, how to get around and what to do in the most cost-effective ways. Luckily, we’ve put together just the list of ways to save money in Rarotonga, Aitutaki and the Cook Islands.
Have a scroll! Your bank account will certainly thank you for it.
1. Visit in the Low Season to Save Money on Accommodation
The low season is the time when Rarotonga and the Cook Islands experience the least tourists in the year. With that, accommodations on Rarotonga are eager to entice with “low season” rates or deals. Although we consider the real low season is between January and May, most accommodations’ low season rates run from November to March where some stays have a difference of up to NZ$500 between low and high season rates! Other accommodations have “Stay five, pay for four” deals in the low season instead, so be flexible with your holiday dates and visit in the low season to save money in Rarotonga!
For more low season benefits, check out the 10 Reasons to Travel in the Low Season in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands.
2. Book Accommodation with Plenty of Amenities
Speaking of accommodations, booking a place with lots of amenities is going to save you heaps compared to “just a room”. Does your chosen accommodation have self-catering facilities that you’ll use? Does it have kayaks, SUP boards or bicycles that you’d otherwise pay to hire? Is it on the beach or at a good snorkelling spot so you don’t have to pay for transport to snorkelling spots? Does it include snorkelling gear? Does it have a swimming pool, of you’d rather hang out by the pool all day? All things to consider!
For more tips on choosing accommodation, check out The Guide to Choosing the Best Resort in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands.
3. Consider Self-Catering
Food is typically the third-highest expense for holidays in Rarotonga and the Cook Islands but it’s also where you have the highest disparity in costs. Eat out at upscale restaurants every day for every meal, including drinks, and you could be spending NZ$150 per person per day! If you buy groceries from the supermarkets and roadside stalls, for instance, and cook all your own meals, you can reduce the cost to as little as NZ$20 a day.
Because there is a mix of upscale restaurants, cheap eateries and self-catering options, we recommend doing a bit of everything, as sampling the food in the Cook Islands is all part of the holiday experience!
For more tips on saving the dough on food, check out the 15 Ways to Save Money on Food in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands.
4. Stock Up on the Free Activities
You certainly don’t need to pay for a scuba dive, lagoon cruise or fishing charter every day to actually experience the Cook Islands! There are plenty of free activities and attractions to make the most of your time in paradise. From snorkelling spots just off the beaches to breathtaking scenery on island hikes, there are all sorts of things to do without spending a dime. Check out our favourites in the 20 Free Things to Do in the Cook Islands.
5. Pick Up Flyer Coupons
Want to save NZ$5 or 10% on a tour? Ok, we know it’s not much but every little helps, right?! Look out for the flyers/leaflets/pamphlets, particularly from Jasons, Cook Islands Tourism or Cook Islands Sun that sometimes have coupons for popular tours on Rarotonga.
6. Choose the Cheapest Airport Transfers
Although the outer islands usually have airport transfers included in your accommodation, you rarely get a free airport transfer on Rarotonga. So instead of just going for your resort’s paid option, which we’ve seen is up to NZ$36 per person or jumping in a taxi, which, well, just see How Much Does a Rarotonga Airport Taxi Cost? to see those prices, consider some of the cheaper airport shuttle companies or you can even take the bus for NZ$5 + $2 for your bag!
Check out The Cheapest Airport Transfers in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands for a full cost breakdown.
7. Travel By Bus and/or Bicycle
Speaking of taking the bus, the around-the-island bus on Rarotonga is one of the cheapest ways to get around. Considering there are two buses running in opposite directions that pick you up from anywhere along the main road – where most of the action is on Rarotonga – the bus is a very plausible way to get around for a fraction of the cost of vehicle rental. See The Bus in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands: Bus Fares, Timetable & More for more information.
Another cheap way to get around is by bicycle, which is ideal for short journeys from your accommodation. See Cycle Rarotonga & the Cook Islands: Where to Rent Bikes & E-Bikes to learn more.
8. Rent a Vehicle for Part of Your Trip…
Some of us like the freedom that a vehicle rental gives, so we have a few tips on how to save money on this aspect of your trip to Rarotonga and the Cook Islands. First, only consider renting a vehicle for part of your trip. Airport pick-ups are very costly on Rarotonga – apart from if you rent with Rarotonga Rentals (see 7 Best Car Rentals in Rarotonga) and considering most car rental companies deliver vehicles to your accommodation for free, you might as well just rent when you’re ready.
Note that vehicle rentals on Rarotonga have reduced rates the longer you rent, starting from three days, so it’s sometimes more cost-effective to have the vehicle for a few days. If you only need a vehicle for one day, however, opt for a car; we’ll tell you why in the next point…
9. … Or Rent a Scooter if You Want Your Own Vehicle for Multiple Days…
With cheaper daily rates and using much less fuel than cars, the local way to get around the Cook Islands by scooter is worth considering if you want to rent your own vehicle. Note, however, that for renting a scooter on Rarotonga, you need to obtain a scooter license which comes at NZ$40 plus the cost of renting a scooter for your practical test. With this in mind, renting a scooter just for a day or two is not really that cost-effective.
For more tips on hiring a scooter, check out the 10 Tips for Riding a Scooter in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands.
10. … Or Rent an Electric Car or Scooter
Eliminate the cost of fuel altogether by hiring an electric vehicle! Becoming more and more popular across Rarotonga and Aitutaki, electric cars and scooters are available to hire/are included in eco-friendly accommodations. Check out 6 Eco-Friendly Alternatives to Renting a Car in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands for more advice.
11. Get Your Scooter License in Aitutaki Instead
Our final money-saving tip concerning transport in Rarotonga and the Cook Islands is if you want to ride a scooter and you happen to be visiting Aitutaki, get your scooter license from Aitutaki instead! You don’t have to go through a theory and practical test. Just bring your overseas driver’s license to the Arutanga Police Station and pay the NZ$2.50! This license is also valid for riding scooters on Rarotonga.
For more money-saving tips for vehicle rentals, head over to the 10 Ways to Save Money on Car Rental in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands.
12. Pay Cash to Avoid Credit Card Fees
When it comes to paying your way through your holiday in the Cook Islands, we recommend paying with cash to avoid credit card fees. Merchants charge an extra 2.5-3% on all purchases made by foreign bank cards, which certainly adds up after a few purchases! Bring some New Zealand Dollars to the Cook Islands with you to start your first few days then withdraw enough cash at Rarotonga and Aitutaki’s ATMs to see you through a few days after. Make sure you secure your cash, however, as petty theft does happen on Rarotonga.
Learn more about paying your way through the Cook Islands using What is the Best Way to Pay in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands? and keep your cash safe following our Cook Islands Safety Tips.
13. Don’t Exchange Currency at the Airport
When bringing some New Zealand Dollars to the Cook Islands, avoid exchanging your currency at any airport. Airport currency exchange bureaus are notorious for having unfavourable exchange rates, especially at Auckland Airport where most Cook Islands flights connect to. Even on arrival in Rarotonga, the BCI bank stand at the airport isn’t necessarily the best option. Either exchange some currency back home where you’re likely to have a few competitive options, or exchange currency in Avarua once you arrive – see The Best Places to Exchange Currency in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands.
14. Travel with Friends or Family for Group Discounts or to Split Costs
The more people you travel with, the more savings you’re likely to make! Whether it’s splitting the cost of a holiday home rental, car rental or reaping the benefits of group or family discounts for tours, there are certainly more savings to be made as a tribe.
15. Drink at Happy Hour
Having a cocktail or two is all part of the holiday fun, but it is certainly not a good way to save money. If you have to have a tipple though, either aim for happy hour using our Happy Hour List or buy some drinks from the liquor stores and make your own martini! The liquor stores in Avarua are cheaper than the duty-free on arrival into Rarotonga – just a heads up.
16. Use the Filtered Water Stations or Get a Lifestraw Bottle
Whatever you do, don’t waste money (and kill the environment) by buying bottles of water throughout your trip. There really is no need in Rarotonga and Aitutaki! Not only do most accommodations have filtered and treated tap water that’s safe to drink and refill your water bottle, but there are filtered public water stations dotted around these islands. To remove any doubts about the water you’re drinking, we recommend getting a reusable water bottle with its own water purification filter, such as Lifestraw.
For more tips on having access to water, check out Is the Water Safe to Drink in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands?
17. Eat Local Food
Although resort restaurants are very convenient, they have some of the highest restaurant prices in the Cook Islands. There are plenty of local eateries and food trucks where you’ll pick up a meal for about half the price! There are too many to list here, so check out The Top Cheap Eats on Rarotonga and The Top Cheap Eats on Aitutaki for recommendations.
For more tips on saving the dough on food, check out the 15 Ways to Save Money on Food in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands.
18. Stay on One Island
Although we’d argue that everything on the outer islands is cheaper than on Rarotonga, it doesn’t make up for the fact that interisland flights are costly! Flying to an outer island and back will add at least NZ$500 per person to your travel budget. If you ain’t got the dough, then we recommend enjoying your time on Rarotonga instead.
See more transport expenses in How Much Does a Trip to Rarotonga & the Cook Islands Cost?
19. Predeparture Tip: Compare Flights and Airport Parking
Before we conclude this list of money-saving tips, we can’t forget to mention how you can save money on your trip to the Cook Islands by saving on your flight to the Cook Islands! There are multiple airlines and routes for getting to Rarotonga, even budget airlines, so be sure to compare all of your options following the advice in How to Book a Cheap Flight to Rarotonga & the Cook Islands. You may even find a good deal if you use a different airline for your return flight.
As an extra tip for those that are parking at the airport before departing to the Cook Islands, be sure to compare third-party park-and-ride companies rather than just paying at the official airport car park. They are usually significantly cheaper!
20. Do Your Research
If you’ve made it all the way to point #20 on this list of tips to save money in Rarotonga and the Cook Islands, then you probably don’t need this tip but we’ll tell you anyway… Doing your research about the Cook Islands before you travel ensures that you’re staying in the best-value accommodation, getting the best deals on activities and making your dollars stretch further thanks to the money-saving tips we offer here at Cook Islands Pocket Guide!
Head to The Complete Backpacking Guide to the Cook Islands on a Budget for more ways to shave the costs.
More Ways to Save Money in Rarotonga and the Cook Islands
That’s it for our top tips to save money in Rarotonga, Aitutaki and the Cook Islands, but that’s by no means the end of our money-saving advice! Check out the following guides for more ways to shave off the cents:
- How Much Spending Money Do You Need for Rarotonga & the Cook Islands?
- Rarotonga & the Cook Islands Tipping & Tax Guide for Travellers
- Can You Use Your Credit Card in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands?
Finally, be sure to check out The Complete Backpacking Guide to the Cook Islands on a Budget for a complete guide on travelling the Cook Islands frugally!