North of Rarotonga, the beautiful island of Aitutaki is the second most populous of the Cook Islands, a group of 15 lovely islands in the South Pacific. This coral atoll boasts low rolling hills, banana plantations and coconut groves. This is an archetypal desert island and a wonderful place to unwind, with palm-fringed white sandy beaches, magnificent clear sea and a relaxed pace of life. Aitutaki has a main island and a string of small islets (including Mangere, Akaiami, and Tekopua), all surrounded by a barrier reef, thus creating the spectacular turquoise lagoon that makes it such a perfect place for swimming, snorkelling and scuba diving. Although it is the second most visited of the Cook Islands, Aitutaki is still unspoiled.
Polynesians probably first settled here around AD 900. The first European contact was with Captain Bligh and the crew of HMS Bounty who arrived on the island in 1789, just before the infamous mutiny. Hire a bicycle, scooter or car to explore this stunning island, taking a relaxed tour of the beaches and plantations. The highest peak, Maunga Pu, offers great views over the whole island.
A 20-minute boat ride will take you to Akaiami, one of the smaller islets at the far end of the lagoon. This remote and tranquil islet is surrounded by pristine turquoise lagoon and coral reef. The one inhabitant here owns the island and runs a small lodge.
One-Foot Island is probably the biggest tourist attraction and another must-see. Along with the blue lagoons and flawless white beach, there is a post office, one of the most remote in the world.
Several operators offer tours of the lagoon by boat, and if you haven’t seen enough marine life, visit the Ministry of Marine Resources to learn about the sea life in the lagoon, and see baby sea turtles and giant clams. The lagoon also offers great scuba diving and fishing, both game fishing and fly fishing.
Population: 2.194 (2006)
When to go: April to November
How to get there: Fly from Auckland via Rarotonga
Highlights: The church in Arutanga – the oldest church in the islands, this was built by two teachers from the London Missionary Society in the 1820s. Aitutaki was the first of the Cook islands to accept Christianity.
A lagoon cruise to the islets of Akaiami and Tapuatae (One-Foot Island) – explore the perfect white sand beaches and spot marine life on the way.
Flyfishing for the fighting bonefish.
Ika mata – a local dish of marinated raw tuna with coconut sauce.
Aitutaki’s dancers, who are famous throughout the Cook Islands – attend an ‘Island Night’ to see a dancing show and experience the local cuisine.
You should know: if you hire a car, you will need to buy a local driving licence from the police station at Arutanga