The founder of lonely planet calls Aitutaki “the worlds most beautiful island” . He isn’t wrong.
At first we were put off by the cost of an Aitutaki day trip, but after meeting two different sets of people who said it was a must do trip we bit the bullet and booked with Air Rarotonga.
Our day started at 7am, when we were picked up by a courtesy transfer bus and dropped to the airport for our flight to Aitutaki. After the simplest check-in procedure ever we were ready to board our very small plane to paradise.
Aitutaki is one of the outer islands of the southern group of Cook Islands. There are 15 Cook Islands in total, with one island a bird sanctuary and one remaining uninhabited.
After a 50 minute flight a quick peek out of the window showed a tropical paradise in the distance, with turquoise blue sea and a mass of coral reef creating a lagoon. We were greeted at the airport by our tour guide for the day, Ali, who showed us to our bus for a guided tour of Aitutaki. Ali was very knowledgeable and engaging, telling lots of stories about the island and its history. We were shown the devestating effects Cyclone Pat had, not only on the towns structures but the population of the island. In a bid to make money after the Cyclone the population decreased to just 1800, from over 2000 after islanders fled to neighbouring Rarotonga or overseas. We were shown the ship building ‘yard’ and the company hosting the excursion were in the process of having a new vessel built, Ali told us with great pride it would be built from start to finish on the island.
After our tour of the town we were dropped at our boat for the day. On board we were greeted by drinking coconuts and coconut flesh to munch on. The crew played on ukelele and drums, and sang songs as we sailed the lagoon. Our first stop of the day was Akaiami, a stunning island which was used as part of the Island Survivor & shipwrecked tv shows. Akaiami is one of 22 islands in the Aitutaki atoll of the Cook Islands. We spent 20 minutes here, having a walk up and down the beach and taking a dip in the beautiful warm blue sea. We had never seen anywhere so beautiful and it was hard to believe it was actually real.
The second stop of the day was a snorkel destination, we were 10km from land but the water was no more than 3 metres deep at our snorkel location, with another section waist deep if you weren’t confident with snorkelling. The warm water was teeming with marine life in a rainbow of colours. We saw some huge fish, which swam up close and ate food scraps chucked in by the crew. There were also some giant clams mixed among the coral, we were advised not to stick our fins in their mouths or they will close! We had around 40 minutes swimming with the fish before it was time to move on.
Our third destination of the day was another small deserted island. We embarked on a nature walk with Allie, where we were shown part of the camp which still remained from Shipwrecked. He pointed out some tern birds and showed us how they get the ‘material’ they use for their dance skirts. We were shown seeds of the mahogany tree and flowers of the hibiscus tree. He then took us to the back part of the island which he called “my back yard”. There were stunning views across the lagoon towards the other smaller islands.
It was then time for lunch, not before a lesson in coconut husking. The process looks pretty simple (when you’ve been shown) and we were also shown the correct way to crack open a coconut, and how they get coconut milk/cream. Lunch was a traditional Polynesian feast, all of which came from the island of Aitutuki. We had grapefruit salad (dressed as potato salad however grapefruits are used when they’re in season), Papiya salad, coleslaw, fresh fruits, fresh bread, grilled aubergines, freshly caught tuna steaks and many more mouth watering delights.
Our final destination of the day was one foot island. You can take your passport to one foot island and get it stamped (which we did) and you can post a note home to your loved ones from the smallest postoffice in the world. We headed back into the water to explore the clam farm, teeming with even more fish and coral. We also swam with some other large fish which were swimming around the lagoon. The weather was glorious and the whole lagoon was mind blowingly stunning. We had over and hour at this beautiful location before it was sadly time to start our journey home.
On the journey back, we were told the story of one foot island and given a demonstration of many ways to tie the traditional island dress, the sarong. We were shown examples for men and women, in case any guys fancied giving the sarong a go (david beckham tried in once!). We were treated to another music session by the crew as we sailed back to Aitutaki.
As we were disembarking the boat, Ali was telling all the guests about how lucky and thankful he was to live where he did, and would never take it for granted, especially after his first ever trip out of The Cook Islands a few months previous. He ventured to New Zealand, and saw escalators and high rise buildings for the first time. He signed off by saying “You call it paradise, I call it home”. And what a spectacular home to have.