Holiday Guide to Aitutaki, Cook Islands
Aitutaki Travel Guide — Lagoon Cruises — Activities — Travel Info
Aitutaki is a 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. These uninhabited motu islands are the destination of day cruises for its glorious picture postcard beaches, sand bars and fine snorkelling in the turquoise lagoon within the reef. The main island of Aitutaki is the second most popular tourist destination in the Cook Islands with beautiful beaches, quaint seaside villages, a very laid back island style ambience and has a good selection of accommodation, restaurants and shops.
Aitutaki Travel Guide
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.
The main island of Aitutaki is much flatter than Rarotonga and much smaller being only about six kilometres long and less than two kilometres 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.
The north west coast has the nicest stretch of beach making it the most popular spot for a holiday on Aitutaki Island. The "sunset strip" includes a few small boutique shops, cafés and restaurants, several self-catering villa style accommodations including the wonderful locally owned Aitutaki Beach Villas with four villas right on the beachfront, and three luxury hotels all alongside an attractive sandy swimming beach. The white sandy beach with palm groves extends right up the north west coast and at the northern end is the islands best coral reefs for snorkelling (near the government marine fisheries) and the only strip on the main island where there's all tide swimming in the sea.
At the northern end of Amuri Village a track leads inland to Mt. Maungapu, the highest point on Aitutaki at 124 metres. The best view is from the Piraki Lookout with spectacular panoramic vistas over the island and towards the main lagoon. It's an easy walk taking less than 30 minutes and it's possible to take a moped up even if you might not make it to the very summit. The track loops back down to the west coast at Paradise Cove (about 30 minutes walk back to Amuri) or branches off down to the east coast.
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.
Southern and Eastern Aitutaki
The east coast of Aitutaki is beach-less, rocky in places but mostly with long stretches of tidal muds and not practical for swimming. It's a popular spot with local fishermen and you'll see them most days fishing from their outrigger canoes off the jetty at Vaipae, the islands second largest village. The southern end of the island has no villages and is mostly low lying bush. It's possible to ride a bike or moped around 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. 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.
The southern tip the main island of Aitutaki is known as Ootu Point faces the inner lagoon and several day cruises depart from here to explore the lagoon. Much of the coastline here is inaccessible with volcanic rocks and mangroves but there is a tidal beach at Ootu with a sandy bottom making it a good spot for walking out into the lagoon ankle deep and hoping along sand bars at low tide as well as kayaking at high tide. A deep water channel has been cut out in-front of Aitutaki Village making it a decent but limited spot for all tide swimming, but otherwise the lagoon here is very tidal and not great for swimming. In places it can also smell a bit from seaweed. However, the shallow lagoon makes it popular for both fishing and kite-surfing is popular here. 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 is shallow and protected.
Aitutaki Lagoon & Motu Islands
The highlight of Aitutaki is undoubtedly exploring the motu fringing the lagoon. There are about 20 flat islands in all, and until recently all were uninhabited, although they were used by locals for camping, fishing and collecting coconuts. They are archetypal paradise islands with white sandy beaches backed by tall coconut palms. 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. There is accommodation on three of the islands: Akaiami has an small lodge, there's a basic hut on One Foot Island and an upmarket resort on Akitua although this sits across a narrow channel from the mainland.
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. A handful of companies offer daily departures to One Foot Island 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.
Activities on Aitutaki Island
A few stand-out attractions bring tourists specifically to Aitutaki. Bone-fishing is world class, and there are a couple of bone fishing experts who arrange boat charters. Game fishing for tuna, marlin and wahoo amongst others is very good too and there are game fishing charters at Arutanga harbour. Kite-surfing in the lagoon is fantastic with the best spot around Maina Island and best during the months of the Tradewinds (May-Oct). Whilst dive sites are limited to the drop-offs along the lagoons outer reef there's enough of a variety here for casual scuba divers with a dive operator based at Arutanga.
Aitutaki Island Travel Info
There aren't a great many organised land tours on Aitutaki. The main island is mostly flat with a few hills in the north. The highest point is where most of Aitutaki accommodation is located alongside a long and pleasant sandy beach. Most visitors hire a car, moped or bicycle and explore by themselves. There is a daily bus and a taxi service for those not wanting to rent a vehicle.
The coastal road of Aitutaki is mostly bitumen but in places along the south and east coast the road is still sandy. There is little traffic on Aitutaki and few cars or trucks - most people get about by moped. Roads meander throughout central Aitutaki where there are several small villages, the high school, hospital and family plantations.
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.
Despite the airport being designated an international airport there are no direct international flights to Aitutaki. The island is connected to Rarotonga with eight daily flights (limited flights on Sunday), a twice weekly flight direct to Atiu (making a round island trip feasable), 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.