Planning a Trip
Air New Zealand flies directly to Rarotonga from Los Angeles, Tahiti, Fiji, and Auckland. Its flights from and to Los Angeles stop for an hour or so in Tahiti, less than 2 hours away; accordingly, the Cook Islands can easily be combined with a visit to French Polynesia. Polynesian Blue has service from Sydney and Auckland.
The terminal at Rarotonga International Airport (RAR), the country's only gateway, is 2km (1 1/4 miles) west of Avarua. Westpac Pacific Banking's terminal office is open 1 hour before and after all international flights; it has windows inside and outside the departure lounge. It has an ATM outside the arrivals door. Small shops in the departure lounge sell handicrafts, liquor, cigarettes, and stamps. Arriving passengers can purchase duty-free items before clearing Immigration.
Representatives of all the accommodations will be waiting outside Customs to usher you to a bus operated by Raro Tours , which will take you to your hotel.
Raro Tours (tel. 25-325) begins picking up departing passengers about 2 hours before each international flight. Your hotel or guest house can reserve a seat for you and tell you when it will arrive at your accommodation. Before clearing Immigration you must pay a departure tax of NZ$30 (US$24/£12) for adults, half for children between the ages of 2 and 12, in New Zealand currency at Westpac Bank's airport booth, or in advance at the bank's Avarua office. No tax is imposed for domestic departures.
By Bus -- When people say "catch the bus" on Rarotonga, they mean the Cook's Island Bus (tel. 25-512), which is actually two big yellow "Cook's Passenger Transport" buses that leave the Cook's Corner shopping center in Avarua going clockwise and counterclockwise around the island, respectively. Clockwise buses depart on the hour from Avarua Monday to Saturday from 7am to 4pm, and Sunday from 8am to noon. Counterclockwise buses depart once an hour Monday to Friday beginning at 8:25am. Each takes 50 minutes to circle the island. There's less frequent, one-bus evening service Monday to Saturday from 6 to 10pm (to 1:30am on Fri night). The tourist publications available from the Cook Islands Tourism Corporation have the schedules, or ask your hotel receptionist when a bus will pass. Regardless of the length of the ride, daytime fares are NZ$3 (US$2.40/£1.20) one-way, NZ$5 (US$4/£2) round-trip. You can buy 1-day passes or a 10-ride book of tickets for NZ$20 (US$16/£8). The buses cost NZ$5 (US$4/£2) at night.
By Rental Car & Scooter -- Budget Rent-A-Car (tel. 800/527-0700 or 20-895; www.budget.co.ck) and Avis (tel. 800/331-1212 or 22-833; email@example.com), are the best companies here. Both have booths in Avarua west of the traffic circle and at several hotels, and both charge about NZ$62 (US$50/£25) per day with unlimited kilometers. Both rent convertibles, but book early for one.
Other local rental companies include Rarotonga Rentals (tel. 22-326; www.rarotongarentals.co.ck), Island Car & Bike Hire (tel. 27-632 or 55-278; www.islandcarhire.co.ck), BT Rentals (tel. 23-586), and Fun Rentals (tel. 22-426).
Cook Islanders are as likely to travel by motorbike or scooter as they are by car. Polynesian Bike Hire Ltd. (tel. 20-895) and the companies above all rent motorbikes and scooters on a daily or weekly basis. Rates start at about NZ$25 (US$20/£10) per day. Polynesian Bike Hire Ltd. and Budget Rent-A-Car share offices .
Driver's Licenses -- You must have a valid Cook Islands driver's license before operating any motorized vehicle. To get one, go to Police Headquarters (on the main road just west of the Avarua traffic circle), present your valid overseas license, and pay NZ$10 (US$8/£4). If you want to rent a motorbike or scooter, and you aren't licensed to drive them at home, you have to take a driving test and pay an additional NZ$6 (US$4.80/£2.40). All drivers must be at least 16 years old. The license desk is open Monday to Saturday 8am to 3pm. (The laminated license with your photo makes a nice souvenir.)
Driving Regulations -- Driving is on the left side of the road, as in the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand. The strictly-enforced speed limit is 40kmph (25 mph) in the countryside and 30kmph (19 mph) in Avarua and the villages (I rented a Toyota here once that wouldn't go that slow!). The local cops strictly enforce the drunk-driving laws, so take public transit or a designated driver when drinking. Gasoline (petrol) is available from service stations in Avarua, at the 24-hour Oasis Energy service station west of the airport terminal, and at some village shops. The road around the island is paved but somewhat rough; always be on the alert for dogs, chickens, potholes, pigs, and tourists on motor scooters.
By Bicycle -- There are no hills on the round-island road, so touring by bicycle (or push bikes, as they're called here) is a pleasure. Several hotels have bicycles available for their guests to use. Ace Rentals (tel. 22-833; firstname.lastname@example.org), Polynesian Bike Hire Ltd. (tel. 20-895), Tipani Rentals (tel. 22-327), and BT Rentals (tel. 20-331) rent them for NZ$8 (US$6.40/£3.20) per day. The latter is at Muri Beach.
By Taxi -- A number of cars and minibuses scurry around with TAXI signs on top. Service is available daily from 7am to midnight and whenever international flights arrive. As a rule of thumb, taxi fares should be about NZ$2 (US$1.60/80p) per kilometer (half-mile), but the drivers are free to set their rates at will. Negotiate a fare before you get in. Phone JP Taxis (tel. 26-572), A's Taxi (tel. 27-021), Ngatangiia Taxi (tel. 22-238), BK Taxi (tel. 20-019), or Muri Beach Taxi (tel. 21-625).
By Ship -- Adventures in Paradise, the 1950s television series, may have glorified the South Pacific copra schooners that plied the South Seas, trading corned beef and printed cotton for copra, but to put it bluntly, you can't count on getting anywhere in the Cook Islands by ship these days.