ESCAPE TO PARADISE
Aitutaki is one of the 15 islands in the Cook Islands group. Well, it really is a shining pearl of Cook Islands. It is much more than just a tropical island with its fragrant and colorful flowers, sandy beaches, swaying palms and crystal clear and warm waters. Aitutaki, meaning ‘to keep the fire going’, gives her name to a lagoon of all shades of turquoise and azure waters and islets and reefs surrounding the lagoon. Everything happens at a slow pace of ‘ Island Time’ so the most relaxing atmosphere prevails at all times.
Aitutaki has a rich history starting with the first Polynesian settlers arriving in canoes, then Captain Bligh sighting the atoll in 1789 on board of ‘Bounty’ to be followed in 1821 by the first missionaries bringing Christianity to the local population. Charles Darwin visited in 1835 on board of ‘Beagle’ and 1850s brought whaling ships. Aitutaki was first to receive an airstrip built by Americans in 1942. It was the longest runway in the Cook Islands till 1974 when the airport in Rarotonga was completed.
TEAL - Tasman Empire Airways Limited – has used, picture pretty from the air Aitutaki, as a fueling stop on its ‘Coral Route’ for refueling their flying boats in the 1950s. Some passengers had to spend a night on Akaiami motu, where the flying boats landed, when the weather prevented the flying boats from further travel to Tahiti. The stranded passengers were well looked after. Canoes brought supplies to Akaiami motu from Aitutaki so that the passengers could experience a culinary feast and entertainment from local dancers and musicians. The stranded passengers were delighted to have the unexpected extended stay in the most magical transit point on route.
TEAL carried Queen Elizabeth in 1954, Graham Greene, Cary Grant, Gary Cooper, and John Wayne to name a few famous names. When a flying boat once had to return to Tahiti for engine repairs and left some 40 passengers for a number of days on Akaiami motu they simply did not want to carry on their journey when the flying boat returned with the engine fixed. Today, TEAL services have been replaced by regular flights on Air Rarotonga and Aitutaki is the next after Rarotonga, most visited island in the group. Air Rarotonga airfares from Rarotonga are not cheap but some special fares of $109.00 each way can be found in the off peak time. Outside of the off peak specials it is a double of that price each way. In spite of the expense a trip to Aitutaki is a rewarding experience.
It is possible to walk around the island and hike up to a 120 meters tall Maungapu for a 360 view. Maungapu, according to the legend, has been cut from the top of Raemaru Mountain on Rarotonga and brought to Aitutaki in canoes. It is the only hill here so it is effortless to bike around the island. A stop in Arutanga is a must; it is the town and harbour of Aitutaki. However, the lagoon boat tours depart from O’out Beach. And the lagoon and its motu are the main attraction of Aitutaki.
Tapuaetai Motu, also known as One Foot Island, is a home of a small Post Office. The only Post Office based on an uninhabited island. Most visitors have their passports stamped with a very special stamp to commemorate their visit. A walk around the motu opens new and astonishing scenery with every turn. The warm water invites for a swim. Lazing on the beach in the shade of palm trees seems to be the most popular activity on lagoon motu. For those more active snorkeling is an option or even fishing. Kayaking is a popular spare time activity especially with a packed picnic, which can be enjoyed on a secluded beach. The fact is, that whatever the choice of activity or lack of it, the surrounds are the most spectacular and enchanting, the experience unforgettable.
A Lagoon tour is an absolute must. The color of the water changes with depth and sunlight angle from turquoise to deep blue and the underwater life is spectacular. There are reefs, colorful fish and giant clams. The underwater visibility is crystal clear. In fact, one of the diving sites of the outer reef is called ‘Paradise’. But it is not only marine environment that can be described as paradise. Aitutaki has the most relaxing atmosphere. A lagoon tour is about discovering the amazing beauty of nature spiced up by lunch of fish, salads and fruit and a tune of ukulele and guitars.
There is a great range of accommodation on Aitutaki. Nature disregards the expense involved and gives the same amazing performance of heavenly beauty to those that pay $1000.00 per night or $100.00 per night. It is also possible to visit Aitutaki on a Day Tour including Air Rarotonga airfare, island sightseeing bus tour and a boat tour of the lagoon on board of the Polynesian Titi-ai-Tonga catamaran. Those that choose the day tour promise to return to paradise. Those that spend some time on Aitutaki whish they could stay longer. Aitutaki has been charming its visitors for centuries and has been described as ‘Paradise on Earth’ in its legends, in the reports of the greatest air journeys of ‘Coral Route’ and by contemporary visitors.