Out of the many tropical places we have seen, the lagoon of Aitutaki is something truly special. It doesn’t get any better then this. It’s the perfect tropical island getaway in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. We bet you have never heard from this tiny island but it’s beauty can compete with destinations like Bora Bora, Seychelles and Maldives. Aitutaki is not overrun by tourists and still has that “islandvibe” where everyone greets you with a smile.
Aitutaki means “a little paradise” and there is no doubt that is is a paradise. With only 1800 people living on the island, 18 square meters in total and the most beautiful lagoon, it’s ike something you have never seen. Flying into Aitutaki is an highlight on it’s own. With a clear views you will see the turquoise lagoon already on arrival from the sky. It gives a good perspective of how big it is. In the lagoon there are little islands called “motus”, most of them deserted.
Aitutaki Airport is the cutest airport we have ever seen. It feels more like landing in someones backyard. The small plane that departs from Rarotonga to Aitutaki has around 12 seats, make sure you get a window seat! Within 10 minutes your outside the “airport” and ready for your time in paradise.
Love a little paradise
What not to love about Aitutaki… the friendly Cook Islander Maori’s will happily give you a hand with anything you need. They gave us free taxi rides, fruit and vegies, friendly waves and lots of conversations. They all speak English but it’s fun to learn a few Maori words. You will hear “Kia Orana” everywhere.
Aitutaki ticks all the boxes that we love in a tropical destiation. It has white beaches, palmtrees as far as the eye can see, crystal clear turquoise water, friendly locals, delicious fruit and lots of sunshine. Some palmtrees are not that high so you can get fresh coconuts from them. Easiest way to open a fresh coconut is to ask a local with a machete. They do it with an ease that scares us (we don’t want to accidentilly chop our hand off).
Funny fact: if you are a light sleeper, take earplugs with you as there are a lot of roosters on the island. Because of their many numbers they crow all day (and night). Aitutaki has also many adorable cats but not one dog, while Rarotonga has them all!
How to spend your time in paradise
The lagoon is the main attraction but there are many other things to do on this tiny island. We advise to rent a scooter as it’s usually too hot to walk around. It may be small, but from one end to other is still 30 minutes with the scooter. All the locals use scooters as well and it’s the easiest way of transportation. If you don’t have a scooter license (car license doesn’t count) you have to buy one for 2-5 New Zealand dollar at the police station. Sometimes a practical test is required but no worries, you will always pass. More likely you will be outside in 5 minutes with the license. So now that’s covered, you are ready to explore Aitutaki.
Go to the highest viewpoint
Writing this made us laugh, as the highest point of Aitutaki is only 123 meters and is called Maunga Pu Hill. It’s still a great viewpoint to go to as you will have great views over the lagoon. The roads on Aitutaki are ok, especially the main road. Sometimes after rain the backroads can be muddy but other then that they are pretty fun to explore. The road to Maunga Pu Hill is fairly easy but steep. We saw lots of big crabs along the way. Ohhh and mosquitos! Take plenty of sunscreen and repellent.
Experience a cultural dance show
Want to learn the typical island dance? Or watch how the warrior men dance with fire? You can! Every Thursday there is a performance at the resort of Tamanu Beach. If you want the entertainment the whole evening, it starts from 06.30 pm with live music. From 7.00 pm there is the option to have an island-inspired buffet dinner. At 08.30 pm the show begins and lasts for about an hour. There is authentic dance, beautiful costumes, hand clapping and singing. You can even give it a go yourself! (we did and it was good fun). At the same resort they have a Sunday BBQ with good food for a reasonable price which you can join, also for people that don’t stay there.
Tip: You can enjoy the show for free if you arrive just before 8.30 pm and order a drink at the bar.
Attend to church on a Sunday
Even if you’re not religious it’s a good idea to visit one of the churches during a service. On Sunday every Cook Islander get dressed up and drives on their scooter to church. We went to Arutanga CICC Church, the oldest church in The Cook Islands and weren’t dissapointed. Services start at 11AM and last for about an hour. The best about going to a service is the beautiful singing, who would have thought that Cook Islanders have such incredible voices! Often you will be invited to join in tea after the service in the hall.
Go fishing, kayaking or other water activities
As you are being surrounded by water, you simple have to get in! Go for a snorkel right from the beach, grab a kayak or go fishing. Our favorite beach on the main island is Ootu Beach. Most visitors are doing a day trip from Rarotonga and will be off on a lagooncruise therefor the beaches are all yours. Go get a lunch or a drink at Koru Cafe, they have great food and atmosphere. If you need wifi to make friends and family jealous, they have that too.
The snorkeling is better on the north-west side as there are more corals. You can see lots of fish, turtles and banded kraits. Go for a snorkel with high tide or you will have a hard time going back to the beach. If you are rather on then in the water, a kayak is the way to go. Almost every accommodation has kayaks for you to take. The water in the lagoon is usually very calm and ideal for kayaking.
If you into fishing, this is a great place too. You can go with a guide to teach you the fly fishing technique and catch (and release) a bonefish. There are also options to go outside the lagoon to look for bigger fish. Common catches include Marlin, tuna and mahi mahi. If you are in the right season, there is even a change to encounter whales.The Aitutaki Game Fishing Club is a must-visit for a cold drink after a good day on the boat.
Get on a lagooncruise
Last but not least, you need to go on a lagooncruise. They say you haven’t seen Aitutaki untill you have done a lagooncruise and we understand why. We booked ours with Aitutaki Adventures which is perfect for a day on the lagoon. The captain is funny, the good is yummy, the groups are small and you visit two gorgeous islands: Honeymoon Island and One Foot Island. In between there is time for swimming, snorkeling or relaxing.
The first stop on Honeymoon Island feels already like you don’t want to leave. They drop you off on the south end of the sandbar and pick you up on the other end so you can choose how to spend your time. There is nothing else on this island except for true beauty. Next up a stop at a place in the lagoon to snorkel. To be honest: snorkeling and diving in The Cook Islands isn’t as impressive after we have seen the underwaterworld in South East Asia and Egypt. It’s still fun to do, especially because there are some huge trevally’s swimming around.
When you sail for One Foot Island for lunch they hand over some donuts, fruit and drinks. Wherever you go in the lagoon, it’s all very pretty. The captain often spots marine life on the way. At One Foot Island you can get your passport stamped in the shape of a foot! It’s pretty cool to have and only costs a few dollars. It seems all lagooncruise boats are having lunch on One Foot Island but it’s still not very busy. Aitutaki Adventures has their own place for lunch with a couple of picnictables right on the beach. And guess what? It was one of the best buffet lunches we ever had! There is so much variety and plenty of food for everyone. Can’t beat a view like that too.
After lunch they drop you off on a white sandbar closeby to make some pictures and enjoy the view. Then one more snorkel and unfortunaltely that’s already the end of the lagooncruise. Out of all our adventures on The Cook Islands(we stayed for 5 weeks!) this is a highlight we will never forget.
Ok, so you want to visit Aitutaki? Be prepared that it’s not going to be cheap and it will take some time to get there too. If you live in Australia or New Zealand it’s fairly easy as there are directs flights with Air New Zealand and Virgin Australia (Sydney) to Rarotonga. There is also a direct flight from Los Angeles with Air New Zealand. From every other country you have to go to one of those places/countries first.
From Rarotonga it’s only 50 minutes by small airplane to Aitutaki. Air Rarotonga is the only airline and unfortunately they don’t make it cheap. Expect to pay around 450 NZD for a return flight. This price seems ridiculous for a flight under an hour but we found it was worth it.
If you don’t have a lot of time, Air Rarotonga offers the Aitutaki Day Tour, where you fly in the morning to the island and get to see all the best places in Aitutaki. They offer this all-inclusive daytrip for nearly 500 NZD and that’s including transfers, flights, short tour, lagoon cruise, lunch and more. If you would like to stay on Rarotonga but want to see Aitutaki this is the best option.
Where to stay:
The main island of Aitutaki offers places to stay for all budgets. You can choose from a bed in a backpackers to the luxury overwater bungalows. For families the Aitutaki Village is the best option. Almost every accommodation has a white beach and palmtrees so don’t worry about that.
We stayed at Vaikoa Units that is run by the friendly local Junior and his family. The units are situated in a tropical garden close to an awesome beach. The units have everything you need, including a small kitchen. There are two kayaks you can use for free. We spent almost 2,5 weeks on Aitutaki and 2 weeks on Rarotonga but you can see it all in less time. For Aitutaki you should be able to see most of it in 3 days, for Rarotonga a week or longer.
Best time to visit:
It’s getting harder these days to advise what the best period is to visit Aitutaki, as the climate is changing. In November, when we were there, the weather was unpredictable. One day it rained the whole day and the other was sunny with no wind. The overall temperature is in November is above 30 degrees with a high humidity.
According to the locals the best months to visit Airutaki are either May or late September/October. Wintertime from June till October is the busiest season and therefore more expensive. The wetseason runs from December till March and you should be able to get a good deal when you travel in this period. Often the wet season has great weather too.
If you want to see humpback whales, go between July and October. No garanties, but they are around at that time. These singing giants can reach 19 metres in length and weigh up to 40 tons! Keep an eye out for a splash or their distinct blow.