Aitutaki Cook Islands

Perfectly formed for laid back luxe R&R

Aitutaki is the acme of the Cook Islands experience. A 50-minute flight north of Rarotonga, the little fishhook-shaped “almost atoll” has the Cook Islands – arguably the South Pacific’s – most dazzling lagoon, featuring sparkling turquoise waters and the whitest of sandy beaches. If you’re snorkelling, Aitutaki’s sea is second to none, and good luck finding a more laid-back spot in which to decompress. Even the traditional dancing and drumming are reputedly the best of the best. There’s no list of “must dos” – that would go against the easy-going grain – but here are some gentle suggestions.


With warm, flat, waist-deep water and a reliable 15-30 knots when the trade winds blow, Honeymoon Island would qualify as a top kiteboarding spot, even if wasn’t much to look at. But the little uninhabited motu in the Aitutaki Lagoon is also a white-sand stunner, with a grove of palm trees for shade when the temperature rises.

If you’re new to kiteboarding, or looking to step up your skills, South Pacific Kiteboarding’s school offers courses from absolute beginner to IKO level 3, as well as wing and kite-foiling lessons and gear hire. Or check out Wet & Wild for private lessons and gear rentals. Whether you end up nailing the sport or floundering, it’s a beautiful day out.


It must have been quite something to have flown Tasman Empire Airways Limited’s (TEAL) legendary Coral Route in the 1950s, the glamorous silver Solent flying boat island-hopping through the South Pacific from Auckland to Papeete. Even in such picturesque company as Fiji and Tahiti, however, Aitutaki Lagoon would have been hard to top. It’s glorious.

Throw on a mask and snorkel, and it’s equally extraordinary below the surface. Giant clams and trevally, large wrasse, 2000-year-old brain coral, purple coral, the occasional sea turtle, tropical fish of every shape and colour, all in water so clear you can see 70m or more on the best days.

If you’re just looking to snorkel off the shore, the best spot is the beach known asBase One, named for the neighbouring World War II airstrip at the island’s top corner. It’s reasonably sheltered and has good water clarity, coral formations and fish life.


As always in the Pacific Islands, it pays to keep an eye out for stonefish – a rare but highly painful, venomous lagoon hazard. Reef shoes are a smart just-in-case precaution, and where possible you should try to walk in sandy areas. Another handy snorkelling spot is off the beach at the Pacific Resort Aitutaki, where the hotel and the Pacific Islands Conservation Initiative have collaborated on an aquatic eco trail that includes five distinct marine habitats to explore.

However, to experience underwater Aitutaki in its full glory, you need to get out on the lagoon. Several operators run snorkelling/lagoon sightseeing tours. Teking Lagoon Cruises’ Snorkelling Safari Cruise is worth a look for its small-group approach and the fact that it visits three of the lagoon’s best snorkelling spots as well as stops at a handful of beautiful otu, including Honeymoon Island and Maina Island for a barbecue lunch. For Scuba types keen to dive deeper, Bubbles Below offers dive trips, gear hire and PADI and SSI dive courses.


You’ve been kitesurfing, snorkelling and diving, so now it’s time to put your feet up. The Vaka Cruise is a leisurely six-hour odyssey on a 21m Polynesian-inspired double-hulled canoe, with breaks at various lovely islets for swimming and more snorkelling if you’re still keen, culminating with some serious lounging on the powdery sands of Tapuaetai/One Foot Island, a contender for Aitutaki’s most alluring motu.

Vaka lagoon cruise Aitutaki

Alternatively, you can charter a boat and skipper. Wet & Wild has three options, depending on the size of your group: nippy 7m Ranginui (six passengers max) up to the 11.5m cruiser Allana, which can accommodate 25. Among the half-day and full-day activity options are spearfishing or deep-sea fishing (for yellowfin tuna, mahi-mahi, et al),wakeboarding, tube riding and island-hopping. The beauty of chartering is that you get to set the programme and the pace.

If you’re visiting between July and October, when the humpback whales are in town, Wet & Wild and Bubbles Below offer whale watching and swimming with the whales.


Aitutaki is dominated by its lagoon – the land amounts to a mere 18sqm. Still, there’s plenty to see on land. When you’re ready for a break from your beach towel, take a drive or scooter around the island. You don’t need a map or a plan, just follow your nose up one of the quiet back roads that cross the island, or perform a leisurely circumnavigation.

Arutanga, the main town on Aitutaki, is home to wharves, a handful of shops, a takeaway joint or two and the headquarters of most tour operators. To get a bird’s-eye view of the island and lagoon, head inland to the Piraki Lookout, which is accessible by car, or take the hike up Maungapu, the island’s highest point. The elevation is just 124m, but you’ll be treated to 360-degree views and impressively lush tropical jungle.


If you’re going to experience an island night during your visit to the Cooks, Tamanu Beach Resort is the one to sign up for. Held every Thursday evening in the resort’s beachside restaurant, the entertainment opens with a talented ukelele band before the drummers and dancers cut loose. An excellent buffet dinner is included.


Tiare Spa’s invitation to “pamper yourself” is on the money. The Pacific Resort Aitutaki’s in-house spa has an exhaustive menu of massage options – hot stone, Balinese, deep tissue, aromatherapy, etc

– along with facials, manicures, pedicures and a raft of beauty treatments. The setting is blissful, and the organic products used by the therapists are made from Cook Island ingredients.

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