Have you ever visited a place that left you without words? We’ve all likely heard the saying that something leaves us breathless, but for a writer sometimes we are left wordless too. In the words of one of my very favourite authors, sometimes “we do not take a trip, a trip takes us,” and Steinbeck’s words could not be truer for me and my trip to visit the Cook Islands. The Cook Islands is spectacular in a way that it changes you forever. Nowhere is that more true than on Aitutaki island. This guide shares the best things to do in Aitutaki during your stay in this virtually untouched paradise.
Unlike Rarotonga, Aitutaki is a smaller more remote island, but it has the same hospitable feeling which you feel from the moment you touch down on the intimate plane with a pilot who greeted us each way. Everyone feels like family here, and it is an easy place to drop into quickly. This island offers a silent beauty that touched me deeply, especially in the soft pastel sunrises and the violet water sunsets.
Getting to Aitutaki
While many visit Rarotonga for their first time in the Cook Islands, you will find daily, easy and fast flights to the other islands from the main airport. Getting to Aitutaki is simple, by taking a short flight on Air Rarotonga from Rarotonga. It is a quick, commute for some of the island people too and the ease of the short trip makes spending time on Aitutaki possible. I can tell you after spending most of the week on this second island that it should definitely be on your list. (Compare prices on flights with Skyscanner).
WiFi and cell service are limited on the island of Aitutaki, more reason to just relax. You will find a solid connection at these two properties and at a few restaurants in town.
Things to do in Aitutaki
I rented a car for my stay on Aitutaki and I suggest you do the same for Rarotonga. It’s nice to have the autonomy to explore on your own which is exactly what I did on Aitutaki. It is impossible to get lost on this (size) island. I made my way around the entire island stopping at beaches and lagoons when the spirit moved me, I drove to the highest point where the water tower can be found and it offered a beautiful vantage point for a picnic and a good look at the island and beyond. You won’t see a single dog on this island, they are forbidden, but you will encounter many cats and occasional goats and other farm animals.
The Vaka Cruise
One of the most spectacular activities I’ve ever experienced happened while I was staying on Aitutaki. I took the Vaka Cruise which takes guests across one of the world’s most beautiful lagoons, and into the most beautiful teal-coloured, crystal clear waters that I’ve ever seen and have trouble describing in exact detail. This cruise was the perfect way to explore some of the motus, or tiny islets, in the lagoon. We stopped for snorkelling, swimming, and exploring along the way, all guided by our local cruise crew who shared culture, folklore and even local songs with us as we cruised.
We visited the island Survivor is filmed on, and where the movie Shipwrecked was filmed, and even stopped on One Foot Island where you can actually get your passport stamped and mail a postcard back home from their tiny post office. The crew prepared a delicious lunch for us which included a freshly caught fish that was grilled on the boat and served with local, fresh and organic fruits and vegetables. It was a full day well-spent and an adventure I will never forget. Be sure to bring your camera, and your passport if you want to get the rare stamp.
See Aitutaki from Every Vantage Point
There are plenty of water sport activities to do while visiting Aitutaki, the reef and lagoons provide some of the best diving in the world. Epic fishing adventures can be had and you can even view the island from the air if you’d rather fly than swim. There is a bit of hiking available and renting a bike to explore is also ideal.
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I spent my days in gentle exploration, on the beach and enjoying yoga, paddle boarding and the quiet but profound beauty of this nearly untouched, off-the-beaten-path paradise. It is worth getting up early every single day of your visit to watch the sun rise over the water, each day was better than the last and the only thing that rivalled the beauty was the sunsets each day.
Where to Stay on Aitutaki
I checked in to the Tamanu Beach Resort Aitutaki and happily found my private villa within walking distance to the property’s pool and a two-minute walk to the beach. I arrived on a Sunday night and was welcomed with an invitation to the Sunday Night BBQ and Sunset Cocktail Hour hosted in the dining room each week. On Thursday, Tamanu hosts the Takurua or “Special Feast” of local dishes, a full buffet of true Aitutaki flavours, along with entertainment by a local performing cultural group TE AITO that included singing, dancing and fire dancing by locals of all ages – it was a beautiful and authentic experience that guest of the islands and locals alike enjoy every single week.
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My bungalow, one of 23, was a nice blend of indoor and outdoor space with a king-size bed, ample bathroom, seating area and front deck with a table and chairs perfect for writing, breakfast in the morning and relaxing after a swim. The Aitutaki resort is divided into two sections with the common areas including a pool and all of the front decks facing the courtyard, this creates an inviting atmosphere of community. The main dining room joins these two areas and the lobby, along with an extended lounge/work area, a library, small gift shop, and bike rental area can be found on one side of the property. This property also has a Spa with massage and other relaxing treatments available to you during your stay.
I made my way to Pacific Resort Aitutaki for a change of scenery where I enjoyed morning yoga by the pool each day overlooking Amuri Beach, happy hour bubbles on the beach and a beautiful dinner on their beachfront terrace restaurant called Black Rock Bar one night. This luxury property has 27 bungalows and villas, and offers one of the best dinners on the island. In addition to the terrace bar you can also enjoy Pacific Resort’s premiere restaurant Rapae Bay Restaurant. Sit outside high on the outdoor terrace, the view is incredible and it feels like you are dining in an island paradise tree house.
Where to Eat in Aitutaki
The dining options on Aitutaki are limited and you will easily find your favourites with a quick drive and daily exploring. I found these two spots worth a visit during my stay, along with the restaurants at both Aitutaki resorts mentioned above:
I spent the most time at Koru Café for brunch and lunch. The Bean and Tomato Salad is a must-have dish and the daily Rustic Sandwich is delicious. The cakes and desserts are made in-house and this spot has the very best WiFi connection on the island if you find that you need to have a working lunch, grab an outdoor table and feast away while you work.
If you are looking for a lively place to grab a drink and freshly caught fish dinner, head to The Boat Shed. Popular with the locals, you can be sure to find a happy crowd here on most days so it pays to go early, and it will be worth the wait.
I think some of my very favourite places in the world feel like a secret, they are lesser known and lesser traveled places, places that are still pristine and underdeveloped or undiscovered. Cook Islands is one of these places. My visit here inspired me, and it reminded me how beautiful Mother Earth is when we just let her be. The water was so clear I could see to the bottom and I saw every fish swim by. The blues of this paradise still have me speechless and without words to describe a colour I’ve never seen before and likely won’t see anywhere else; Cook Islands Blue. But it was the people of these islands that stole my heart, and how easy it was to be here, to really be here. I will definitely return for another visit.
The Fit Traveller was a guest of Cook Islands Tourism for this trip. As always, our opinions, words and images are authentically our own.
Pat Bailey is a certified Bhakti Yoga Teacher, published poet, writer and entrepreneur with a passion for exploring the globe. Pat is also the founder of The Hell Yes Life, where she has created her own branding academy helping to elevate brands and students through authentic and intuitive coaching.