In this Article by South Pacific travel expert Ian Osborn
Aitutaki Holidays Overview — The Lagoon & Motu Islands — Day Cruises — Aitutaki Island
Aitutaki is a lagoon island measuring 60 sq km in size, a third of which is land, about a 40-minute flight north of Rarotonga in the southern Cook Islands. This is the second most popular island to visit in the Cook Islands with beautiful beaches and a very laid back island style ambience. There are two distinct areas to stay: "Aitutaki Island" has the airport, villages and the majority of the accommodation; "Aitutaki Lagoon" includes the uninhabited coral islands fringing the lagoon and the very southern tip of Aitutaki Island which faces the lagoon and is departure point for the lagoon cruises.
Aitutaki Map & Pictures
Reasons To Visit Aitutaki
Aitutaki Holidays Overview
Aitutaki offers stunning beaches and a dreamy South Pacific atmosphere making it a popular choice with romantic couples as well as budget travellers looking for a less commercial destination than Rarotonga. There is one main island plus another 26 islets surrounding the lagoon edge which are all uninhabited atolls, except for two which have some sort of accommodation. These islands are the primary destination of sightseeing on Aitutaki including the two most popular islands to visit being Maina (Honeymoon Island) and One Foot Island.
Aitutaki Cook Islands is a beautiful lagoon atoll roughly a 45-minute flight to the north of Rarotonga Aitutaki is a large and spectacular sunken lagoon almost the size of Rarotonga (measuring 12 km across its base and 15 km from top to bottom) with one main island (Aitutaki) and about 20 small uninhabited islands known as motu fringing the edge of the lagoon, most on the eastern side, and these are the destination of day cruises for its glorious picture postcard beaches and fine snorkelling in the turquoise lagoon within the reef. The main island is mostly flat with a few hills along the north-west where most of the Aitutaki accommodation is located alongside a long and pleasant sandy beach.
There are no direct international flights to Aitutaki but the island is connected by five daily flights from Rarotonga (flight time approx. 40mins ; limited flights on Sunday) and by a monthly ferry service which takes 18 hours. The population of Aitutaki is just over 2,000, spread out along coastal and inland villages.
Aitutaki Lagoon & Motu Islands
The highlight of Aitutaki is undoubtedly exploring the uninhabited motu fringing the lagoon. There are about 20 islands in all, and until recently no one lived there and there was no accommodation. These were true paradise islands. However, Akaiami Island now an upmarket lodge. Day cruises to the motu depart every morning except Sunday, which is a strict day of rest when everything closes down.
The Motu Islands
Most tourists visit the exquisite One Foot Island in the south where it's possible to walk out into the lagoon and along sand banks. One Foot has gorgeous beaches and great views of the other islands, but, with lots of day-trippers all trying to see and do as much as they can in a few hours, the place is rather busy. Snorkelling throughout the lagoon is excellent with loads of friendly fish and giant clams and there is good scuba diving to view the drop-offs outside the main reef.
Aitutaki Lagoon Cruises
There are several ways to explore the lagoon. The most common is to join one of the larger day cruises that depart from Ootu Point on the southern tip of Aitutaki. Two companies offer daily departures with similar itineraries including a stop in the lagoon for snorkelling followed by a drop on a sand bar (tide permitting) just off from One Foot Island where you can wade to the motu and enjoy a few hours lounging on the beautiful white sands. These day cruises take a maximum of around 40 people and include a BBQ lunch. A smaller cruise with around ten people departs from Arutanga Harbour on the west coast of Aitutaki and visits Maina Island (honeymoon island) another uninhabited coral island with a large sea bird breeding colony. You also get to snorkel amongst giant clams.
For those looking for more intimacy you can charter a water taxi and explore any of the motu islands at will which is good if you want to stay away from the crowds. The other way to explore Aitutaki Lagoon is by kayak but this will limit you to the nearer islands in the souther lagoon (which incidentally are the least visited by tourists). Overnight camping is not permitted on any of the islands.
The southern tip the main island of Aitutaki is known as Ootu Point faces the inner lagoon and several day cruises exploring the lagoon depart from here. There is a gorgeous swimming beach with a deep channel for swimming and great views of the island as well as the nearby offshore motu islands. There are several self contained bungalow properties on the point and a couple of independent restaurants. Ootu is a popular picnic spot for locals, especially at Christmas and on public holidays and is also good spot for bone fishing as the lagoon here shallow and protected.
The main island of Aitutaki is much flatter than Rarotonga and much smaller being only about four miles long and just one mile across. Aitutaki has a true south seas atmosphere. The villages are small and sleepy and not a great deal happens here. There's not even a lot of attractions to see. It's simply a place to hire a bike and absorb the tranquillity of the South Seas lifestyle. Stay here for more than a few days and you'll learn how to truly kick back. Aitutaki is ideal for those who want to experience the slow and easy Polynesian lifestyle away from the more commercial tourist centre of Rarotonga, and to enjoy some of the finest palm fringed beaches in the Cook Islands
Arutanga Village on the west coast is the main settlement with a lovely white church, wharf, post office, bank, supermarket, restaurant and petrol station. There is no beach at Arutanga, which has a deep water harbour, but the beach begins less than a mile to the north at the village of Ureia with its colourful houses along the main road and large playing field. Outrigger canoes can usually be seen fishing in the lagoon and swimming is OK here although snorkelling not so good.
The north west coast of Aitutaki boasts a few small boutique shops and restaurants, several budget accommodations and two luxury hotels both on an attractive sandy swimming beach. The white sandy beach with palm groves extends right up the north west coast. A walking trail leads to Mt. Maungapu, the highest point at 124 metres. The track to the summit is quite easy and offers spectacular panoramic views of the island and lagoon.
The south-east coast is popular with local fishermen and you will see them most days fishing in their outrigger canoes from the jetty at Vaipae, the islands second largest village. There is no beach along the east coast, instead rocky outcrops and tidal mud, not practical for swimming. It's possible to ride a bike along the south coast on a rather bumpy bush track. Although the beach along the entire south coast is tidal and not particularly attractive, it's a great place to explore. The southern end of the island has no villages and is mostly low lying bush. If you follow the signs and look hard enough, you'll find some of the best ancient marae on the island in a small clearing in the bush.