While staying on Rarotonga, fellow backpackers mentioned travelling to Aitutaki, the Cook Islands’ second most popular location. So, I booked a flight and went to see what it was all about.
Aitutaki is 45 minutes by small plane north of Rarotonga and is the main island of an Atol of 15 islands is a loose equilateral triangle, surrounding a much more defined lagoon. Indeed, many people fly to the island for a day trip, with an hour long tour of the island, and a half day lagoon tour.
The atol is vastly quieter than Rarotonga, with fewer locals also. Some tourists have said the locals live more poorly here, I think they don’t need the lavish housing of Rarotonga or NZ. The community is more friendly, not that those on Rarotonga aren’t, the Aitutaki community is just more friendly. And, if you stay more than a couple of days, you quickly become a member of said community. Unlike Rarotonga, Aitutaki has no dogs, so the cats have taken over, making it their island.
On my first full day on the island, I was collected in the morning and taken out on the water with 16 others for a full day tour. We headed towards Honeymoon Island, stopping to snorkel on the way. Unfortunately my old waterproof camera decided not to work, but it was an enjoyable swim with some giant blue trevally and a rusted shipwreck.
Honeymoon island is the classic tropical island, and would be empty except for the Kite Surfing school in it’s only hut.
We crossed to Maina island, where we stopped for lunch, a fantastic feed of fresh tuna steaks, chicken and local salads, including the classic curried papaya.
It was then back onto the boat to our second snorkelling spot. We passed a 2000 year old Brain Coral as we swam along a series of bouys eventually meeting the boat in a metre of water. The bar opened and we drank beer as we floated in the warm water while a giant white trevally swam around us. Our third stop had to be cut short as the wind was picking up and the water was getting a little dangerous, but we got a quick dip to see some blue and purple coral.
We then stopped off at Tekopua island, also known as One Foot Island, for a walk around and another beer. There’s a post office on this little island, so I handed over my passport and got a stamp. It was then back to Aitutaki and the end of an excellent day on the bay. That night, the guys in the hostel, kite-surfers who had been there for two months, had cooked curried fish and curried papaya. As I said, community.
With a day and a half to spare on the island, I called the hostel owner looking for a scooter and he brought me his personal one on loan. Unlike Rarotonga, you don’t need a licence to ride on Aitutaki, this gave me free reign of the island and I took full advantage.
I found some prime snorkelling sites, and got in on a couple, although it was murky in both.
I found some good cafes, the Koru Cafe at the end of the Airport Runway, and the Avatea Cafe at the other end of the Island, serving amazing fish tacos. I found my way to a Marine Research facility where they were breeding clams, both the small local ones and the giant Australian ones for repopulating the lagoon.
With the aide of the scooter, I climbed the two higher ‘peaks’ on the island, barely over 100m, but still providing excellent views. This is from Piraki…
… and the tallest at 124m, Maungapu.
Then as darkness fell, one of hostel mates snuck us into a local resort where some of his friends were performing after the local feast. It was nice to see the traditional dancing and music for the first time.
While I was only on the island three nights, I felt that was about enough to see what the island had to offer. I liked the quietness away from the crowds in Rarotonga, but in turn, it was a little too quiet for a tourist. Still, it felt like the real Cook Islands and not the tourist centre that is the main island.
Until next time,
The World Wanderer.