Aitutaki: The Island Paradise Begging To Be On Your Bucket List
Don’t forget your camera. You’re going to need it.
Aitutaki is a sparsely populated island directly north of capital Rarotonga in the Cook Islands and west of Tahiti. Like most of the islands in the archipelago, it’s surrounded by vibrant, tropical barrier reef, but the drawcard here is the impossibly blue lagoon that surrounds it.
And when I say that, I mean it. Even on the island’s cloudiest days, the lagoon shines the kind of blue that makes you rub your eyes to make sure they’re not playing tricks. It’s so clear that you can see right through to the sand at the bottom and spotting sea turtles and giant trevally isn’t difficult.
The island boasts a significantly more laidback vibe than Rarotonga, which is becoming increasingly popular with tourists.
How To Check Out Aitutaki
The best way to traverse the lagoon if you’re only making a day trip from Rarotonga is The Vaka Cruise, a six-hour vaka (catamaran) tour around some of Aitutaki’s pristine motus (islets). The tour starts from NZ$125 (AU$115) per person and includes a fresh lunch buffet, but no wi-fi (an intentional omission). The multi-talented staff navigate the islands, prepare the food, and provide musical entertainment for the entire day.
The Vaka Cruise departs from O’otu at 10am, Monday to Saturday.
First stop on the tour is Akaiami, a short distance from O’otu, but far enough that you’ll have time to finish the drinking coconut handed ’round at departure. It’s impossibly quiet, but if you stand still for a minute or two, you’ll notice the beach appears to be moving – that’s the hundreds of teeny-tiny hermit crabs going about their business on the sand.
Just off the shore, in the shallows, you’ll spot hundreds – actually, thousands – of tiny tropical fish swimming in mesmerising formation, and perhaps even a smiling moray eel, if you’re lucky.
Next up is Tavaerua Iti and Tavaerua Nui, practically untouched twin islets most famous for providing the filming location for Survivor’s 13th season. The terrain here is noticeably rockier than on the main island, but take the short, 20-minute walk around either one of the islands and you’ll spot all manner of sea life – like vibrant red crabs – scurrying amongst the rocks.
(Fun fact: This particular season of Survivor exposed Aitutaki to more people than the Cook Islands has had visitors in its entire history.)
A short ways off Tavaerua Iti and Tavaerua Nui, the boat is anchored close to one of the lagoon’s many vibrant reefs. After guests have enjoyed a BBQ lunch on-board, snorkel masks and flippers are handed out – it’s time to get to know the locals.
While it’s likely you’ll spot everything from multi-coloured parrotfish and huge giant clams to shy blowfish, giant trevally are the real stars in Aitutaki – and they’re not afraid to come right up and say “hello”. No sooner will you have stepped off the boat and into the waist-high water than you’ll see one whoosh past, leaping through the hands of crew members like excited puppies in search of treats.
The last stop of the day is infamous One Foot Island, so named not for its size, but rather for an enchanting local legend. It’s here that you can make the 100-metre-ish walk out into the ocean on the appropriately named Heaven Sandbar – just mind the sea cucumbers and don’t forget your camera. You’re going to need it.
It’s out at the tip, before the sandbar drops away into the blue ocean below, that it feels like you’re the only person on the planet. It’s so serene and so quiet that it’s impossible to believe you’re mere hours from some of the world’s busiest cities.
How To Get There
Kristen Amiet was a guest of Cook Islands Tourism and Jetstar.
(Lead image: David Kirkland / Cook Islands Tourism)