There are no words adequate enough to describe the beauty of Aitutaki! The Cook Islands are made up of 15 islands in the south Pacific; eight of them are in the southern group, and Rarotonga is the population center and location of the international airport. Aitutaki is the second most populous and the second most visited island. It’s a small island surrounded by 15 motu and the most beautiful bright blue lagoon (seriously). It’s located about 160 miles north of Rarotonga and a short 45 minute flight away. We only spent six full days in the Cook Islands, so we opted to keep Rarotonga our “home base” and booked a day tour to Aitutaki with Air Rarotonga, the Cook Islands’ domestic airline. If there’s one thing you need to do when you visit the Cook Islands, it’s visiting Aitutaki.
The day tour includes round-trip transfers to the Rarotonga airport, round-trip flights to Aitutaki on Air Rarotonga (the only airline that services the islands; there is no boat service between the islands), pickup/dropoff at the Aitutaki airport, a quick tour of the main island and a couple of the villages, and a six-hour lagoon cruise aboard the Titi-Ai-Tonga catamaran (known as the Vaka Cruise). The lagoon cruise includes stops at three motu (Akaiami, Moturakau, and Tapuaetai), snorkeling at a marine reserve, and a delicious buffet lunch.
For the trip, we packed a couple of dry sacks with our water shoes, snorkel socks (to prevent the fins from rubbing our feet), a bag of toiletries (all the sunscreen), waterproof phone pouches, the DSLR camera, and GoPro (borrowed from my mom; thanks, mom!). I also had my wallet and a sweatshirt but never wore the sweatshirt even though it was chilly with the wind. I wore what you see here (J.Crew tunic and Madewell bikini) plus denim shorts for the travel. I also brought along my straw hat but it was way too windy to wear it!
The day of our day trip got off to a rocky start. While we were outside our accommodation waiting for a vehicle to pick us up to take us the airport, we watched it drive right by us! We didn’t know exactly what type of vehicle we were looking for and saw the tiny sign on a bus as it drove by. We started running after it because we had no way of contacting them at 7 in the morning and watched it turn into another accommodation. We got partway down the road and saw it coming back for us, only we were pretty far from our stop by that point so it drove by us again and we watched it turn around as we ran back. LOL. Luckily we waved it down and the driver was confused as to why we weren’t at our accommodation and we told him we were there the first time he drove by. I’m just glad we didn’t miss our ride to the airport!
Luckily, the rest of the day went smoothly. The service on our Air Rarotonga flight was wonderful, and we had a great view of Aitutaki flying in. We met Ali, the main tour guide, at the airport, and he was so warm and welcoming! Everyone piled into an open air bus for the island tour, but Korri and I boarded last and got to sit in the front with the driver. I can’t recall his name, but he was also so nice and shared so much about his home with us. Only a couple thousand people live on Aitutaki, so everyone knows everyone and no one can get away with anything. ;)
The way of life is definitely much simpler and slower on Aitutaki compared to Rarotonga. Rarotonga felt like a big city comparatively. We stopped at a marketplace in town (Arutanga) for a quick break before heading to the boat, and I picked up a few souvenirs. We drove back by the airport—the airstrip is huge because it was used by the U.S. in WWII—and down the east side of the island to board the Vaka Cruise! There were a few people that were already onboard because they were staying on Aitutaki but the majority of the cruise was made up of fellow day-trippers from Rarotonga.
To the sound of our hosts playing instruments and singing, we cruised through the stunning lagoon (beautiful even on a cloudy day) and stopped first on Akaiami. It’s the only motu with accommodations and fresh water. The lagoon waters were calmest here out of everywhere we went, but boy were they a lot cooler than I thought they would be! Our next stop was to Moturakau, one of the islands where Survivor was filmed (tribal council was held there). Ali led us on a nature walk through the jungle, and we saw lots of crabs and a few white tern birds (they travel in pairs and mate for life). On the other side of the island, the sun peeked out for a minute and the water turned an even more brilliant blue. We are dying to return on a sunny day to see the lagoon in all its glory!
We stopped in between Moturakau on our way to Tapuaetai (One Foot Island) to snorkel with the giant trevally fish on a sandbar. I took a couple of screenshots from the GoPro video we shot. I’m very awkward when I’m snorkeling, apparently. It really was so cool to swim with these huge fish—literally also, because it took me a while to get into the chilly water! It was a super windy day which didn’t help that much, but once we were in, it wasn’t too bad. I only swallowed a little bit of saltwater. LOL. Back on the boat, we enjoyed our BBQ lunch. The food was beautifully presented and so yummy! They offered cooked fish, so I tried some and it was actually not bad at all. (The only fish I typically eat is salmon.)
Our last stop was at One Foot Island. We stayed there for an hour and got to do whatever we wanted. Korri and I got our passports stamped at the little “post office” on the island (you don’t need a passport to visit the island but it’s a fun tourist tradition; they cost NZ $2 each) and then wandered down the sandbar. Walking in ankle-to-knee-deep water is quite the leg workout! The wind was really howling and I had my phone with me without its waterproof case and I had a death grip on it walking across, haha! It was incredible to marvel at the lagoon and the fact that we were on a sandbar in the middle of the south Pacific. It was absolutely the most beautiful water I’d ever seen.
It took about an hour to cruise back to the main island. Once there, we were ferried back to the airport and sent off on the plane back to Rarotonga! The day went way too quickly and I know that next time we visit, I want to spend more time on Aitutaki. It’s absolutely unreal and still feels like a dream!