Each island in the Cook Islands is very compact, so it’s easy to get around regardless of what mode of transport you choose. Whether you opt for a leisurely bicycle ride, scooters, a hire car or a simple walk, you’re never too far from your destination.
Rarotonga is the only island with buses. It provides an efficient bus service that runs around the island in both a clockwise and anit-clockwise direction. Depending on what route you wish to take, you’ll need to time your departure for on the hour or every half-hour. The buses tend to stop outside hotels and other main areas, but you need to remember to flag the driver down (wave your hand). Buses are more frequent during the day and you can't catch the anti-clockwise route after 4:30pm or on Sundays. A single journey costs about $NZD5 and 10-ride tickets can also be purchased.
Scooters can be hired on Rarotonga and Aitutaki and are an excellent means of transportation because of their popularity on the Cook Islands and their excellent fuel efficiency. If you’ve already ridden a scooter, you’ll have no trouble navigating your way around, but if it’s your first time, you should get acquainted with the vehicle before venturing too far. There are no traffic lights in Rarotonga and the country’s laid-back style is reflected in the road rules. Scooters can be hired from Polynesian Bike Hire, Adventure Cook Islands and Island Car & Bike Hire on Rarotonga, and from Popoara Rentals on Aitutaki. The cost of a scooter ranges from $NZD15 to $NZD30 per day.
Another great way to explore Rarotonga and Aitutaki is by renting a car and heading out onto the open road. You can find a range of quality vehicles such as jeeps, convertibles, 4WDs and stock-standard cars from reliable hire companies. Hire a vehicle from Go Cook Islands Car Rentals, Avis Cook Islands, Island Car & Bike Hire and Polynesian Rental Cars if you’re on Rarotonga, or from Popoara Rentals if you’re on Aitutaki. Vehicles usually cost at least $NZD60 per day.
Despite some of the roads being quite narrow, cycling is an enjoyable way of exploring the islands, because most of the traffic moves slowly. Rarotonga is probably the best island for cycling as the flat roads along the coast can be easily handled at a leisurely pace. Get your bicycle from Adventure Cook Islands for about 10 NZD per day.
Go back to the good old days and trek around the islands by putting one foot in front of the other. Most of the smaller islands don’t have any hire facilities, so this is often your only option. The Cook Islands is also one of the safest places to hitchhike in regards to meeting friendly people, but be prepared for unsafe driving and the typical absence of seatbelts in local’s cars.
Jumping aboard an inter-island cargo ship is one of only two options of reaching the other islands. If you’re catching a ship, be prepared for irregular schedules and long delays between each one. It takes about one day to reach any of the islands from Rarotonga and there are limited cabins on the ships. A single trip will cost about $NZD65 or you can purchase a round-trip ticket that includes visits to Rarotonga, Mangaia, Ma-uke, Mitiaro and Atiu for $NZD260.
Most people choose to travel between islands via Air Rarotonga, a speedy and convenient airline that runs regular flights to Rarotonga, Aitutaki, Atiu, Ma-uke, Mangaia and Mitiaro. The airline services other islands as well, but these flights are less frequent and subject to weather. Usually, the earlier you book your flight the cheaper the ticket will be. Package deals can be purchased, which allow you to visit multiple islands with one ticket.