A Cook Islands Driver's License is required to operate a motorized rental vehicle. This can be obtained in a few minutes at the new police headquarters (closed Sunday) in the center of Avarua, built by the Chinese government in 2006. Notice the line of tourists waiting to pay. You'll need to present your home driver's license (minimum age 16 years). If you only want a souvenir license bearing your photo, ask if the camera is working before handing over your money. This whole exercise is purely a moneymaking operation and the International Driver's License is not accepted.
If you wish to operate a scooter they'll require you to show something that states explicitly that you're licensed to drive a motorcycle, otherwise you'll have to pass a test (extra fee) that involves riding once up and down the street without falling off. Bring your own scooter, and don't worry, nobody fails the test. (The person giving the driving tests knocks off for lunch 1200-1300, so don't bother coming then if you need a test.) Without a license the insurance on the vehicle won't be valid and you'll be liable for a stiff fine if caught. No license is required to ride a bicycle.
You're only required to wear a helmet while operating a motorbike over 40 km per hour, and although it's unlikely you'll ever see anybody with one on, an antitourist cop could always bring it up. Take care when getting on or off the motorbike as many people receive burns on their lower right legs from the hot exhaust pipe.
Drive slowly, as local children tend to run onto the road unexpectedly, and beware of free-roaming dogs, which often cause accidents by suddenly giving chase at night. Take special care on Friday and Saturday nights, when there are often more drunks on the road than sober drivers. The radar-enforced speed limit is 30 or 40 km per hour in Avarua and around certain schools, 50 km per hour on the open road, and driving is on the left. The motor vehicle accident rate on Rarotonga is over three times higher than that of New Zealand and motorcycle accidents involving tourists are common.
The prices listed below are for the cheapest car. Rates include unlimited km, and the seventh consecutive day is usually free. Some places quote prices including the 12.5 percent government tax, others without the tax. Check all the agencies for special deals—most are also open on Sunday. Most cars and scooters rent for 24 hours, so you can use them for a sober evening on the town.
Budget in Avarua, at the Edgewater Resort, directly opposite the Rarotongan Beach Resort, and near the entrance to Sails Restaurant has the best quality cars and bicycles. You can also get a 15-passenger van, great if you want to organize your own group tour. Discounts are offered on rentals of three days or more. Insurance is included but you're still responsible for the "insurance excess" on the scooters and cars.
Avis, next to the Cook Islands Trading Company in Avarua, also has scooters. You're responsible for "excess" damages.
Rarotonga Rentals (closed Sunday), next to Odds 'n Ends opposite the Punanga Nui Cultural Market and opposite the airport terminal, rents bicycles, scooters, and cars with reductions for three days or more. Jeeps are also available. Fun Rentals, next door to Rarotonga Rentals opposite the airport terminal, is similar.
Tipani Rentals, beside the police station in Avarua and opposite the Edgewater Resort in Arorangi, rents scooters.
Island Car and Bike Hire, in front of Ingram House near Avatiu Harbor in town, 250 meters north of the Are Renga Motel in Arorangi, and almost opposite Vara's at Muri Beach, rents cars/scooters.
BT Bike Hire, right next to the Are Renga Motel, also has scooters and cars.
There aren't enough women's bicycles to go around, but men's cycles are easy to rent. The main advantage to renting a bicycle for the week is that you have it when you want it. Rarotonga is small enough to be easily seen by bicycle, which makes renting a car or scooter an unnecessary expense—you also avoid the compulsory local driver's license rip-off. Bicycles are quiet, easy on the environment, healthy, safe, and great fun. One of the nicest things to do on a sleepy Rarotonga Sunday is to slowly circle the island by bicycle.
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