Words by Robyn Mitchell
The island of Aitutaki in the Cook Islands is in fact made up of 15 small motus (Maori for ‘cut off’). They surround one of the world’s most beautiful lagoons. Covering 74 square kilometres (compared to Sydney Harbour’s 55 square kilometres), Aitutaki’s lagoon attracts visitors from around the globe who come to kitesurf, catch the elusive bonefish, take part in the annual Motu2Motu paddle race or simply to tick it off their tropical paradise bucket list.
Getting to Aitutaki involves at least three flights for most visitors. Air New Zealand flies to Rarotonga, the ‘mainland’ in the Cook Islands (although it’s also small by international standards at just 67 square kilometres), from Auckland, Sydney and Los Angeles. From Rarotonga, it’s a 50-minute flight on one of Air Rarotonga’s 34-seat Saabs or 15-seat ‘Bandis’ (Embraer Bandeirante) to Aitutaki.
Staying on Aitutaki and spending several leisurely days or weeks doing as much or as little as you like is undeniably the way to go. But if you’re holidaying on Rarotonga you can still experience Aitutaki with Air Rarotonga’s day trip which features a short tour of the biggest island followed by a cruise on the lagoon.
Onboard ‘The Vaka Cruise’, your home for the day is Titi-ai-Tonga (a 21 metre long catamaran) which is equipped with a large shaded area providing sun protection, café-style blinds in the event of rain, comfortable seating, toilets, towels, swimming aids and snorkelling equipment. They’ll serve you a delicious lunch of freshly barbequed fish, salads, fruit and local dishes, and there’s also complimentary water, tea and coffee plus a bar to purchase soft drinks, wine and beer.
Over the six or so hours that you’re out on the lagoon, you’ll visit three motus including Akaiami (where the TEAL seaplanes used to land in the 1940s) and One Foot Island (don’t forget your passport to secure a souvenir stamp at the post office). You’ll learn some local history, see native fauna and flora on a short nature walk, hear legends from times past and find your foot tapping along to the music and singing of your talented crew. You’ll also come away knowing the trick to cracking open a coconut and some impressive new ways to tie your pareu (Maori for ‘sarong’). And of course, you’ll be able to swim and snorkel in the warm, turquoise waters of this stunning corner of the Pacific.
At the end of the day, you’ll be dropped back to the airport for your flight back to Rarotonga, or, if you planned your holiday well, back to your hotel on Aitutaki – maybe to do it all again the next day.