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Aitutaki, Cook Islands Port Review


Aitutaki, Cook Islands Port Review
By Nancy Norris

Aitutaki, Cook Islands Port Review
Aitutaki

Overview:

 

Aitutaki is one of the Southern Cook Islands, 220 km north of Rarotonga. The island, measuring a mere 7 sq miles is dotted with coconut, banana, pineapple and tapioca plantations. Aitutaki's vast lagoon (45 km around) is considered one of the most beautiful lagoons in the world. This scenic splendor is due to its unique formation, part volcanic and part coral atoll. The natural beauty of its tantalizing crystal clear aqua waters and sparkling white beaches make it the most popular of the Southern Group islands.

Aitutaki, Cook Islands Port Review
Aitutaki Beach

Self-governing in free association with New Zealand, residents hold New Zealand passports. English is the official language of Aitutaki, but most islanders also speak a local distinct dialect of the Maori language. The New Zealand Dollar is the official currency and the preferred currency in transactions. Credit cards are accepted at shops, restaurants and hotels. An ATM is available within walking distance of the tender pier. Warmth and sunshine can be enjoyed in Aitutaki year-round.  Aitutaki gets better weather than Rarotonga, more sun and less rain. May to October is the dry and cooler season with average temperatures of 68-78°F and November to April is wet and warmer with average temps of 72-82°F. Tipping isn't expected and contrary to Cook Islands custom. Tranquil and slow-paced, Aitutaki is the most natural and unspoiled habited islands in all of the South Pacific.

Cruise Port Location and Information:

Paul Gauguin from Arutanga tender pier Aitutaki, Cook Islands
Paul Gauguin from Arutanga tender pier

 

Cruise ships tender in waters outside the reef that surrounds Aitutaki. Tenders deliver guests to a pier at Arutanga Port, a container and cargo port and home to the Aitutaki Game & Fishing Club. A short walk up the unpaved road from the pier is the main 4 way junction in “town” (a word that is used loosely). Arutanga is the main settlement in Aitutaki. One of the 3 banks on the island is located there and it has an ATM. There is also a local super store, a car and bike rental, the post office, police station, a public restroom and information center.

Aitutaki, Cook Islands Arutanga Town Center
Arutanga Town Center

When you get off the tender you may notice a large flat rock in the grassy area off to your right. Known as the Visitor’s Rock, it is an old island tradition that when you step on it as you arrive, you are welcomed into the village, and when you step on it as you are leaving, you leave everything behind.

View from Arutanga Port Cook Islands
View from Arutanga Port

Exploring on Your Own:

 

While it is possible to rent a car or motor scooter to explore the villages and take in the view from the top of Mount Maungapu on the mainland, the real jewel that is Aitutaki is the island's vast lagoon and the small uninhabited motus nestled in the aqua waters. With only a day to explore this southern paradise, this is one port in which you will most likely want to take an organized lagoon tour. You can take one of the cruise tours, book one of the five island tours offered online by private tour companies in advance or hire a boat taxi at the tender pier. These small fast motor boats can be hired to take you to your own private island where you can spend the day snorkeling and sunbathing and then pick you up a few hours later. (Be aware that these taxis are very limited so there is no guarantee that one of these “boat taxis” will be available when you disembark the tender - you take your chances.)

If you do decide to rent a vehicle, drivers of all vehicles are required to have a current Cook Islands Drivers License, which can be obtained from the Police Station located behind the Aitutaki market on the waterfront pier, just right at the main 4 way junction. A charge or $2.50NZ applies and you only need to present your own license in order to receive the license. (BTW, vehicles are driven on the left side of the road.)

Aitutaki, Cook Islands interior
Aitutaki Island Interior

Shopping Tips:

Shopping is not the reason one visits Aitutaki. If shopping is on your “must do” list, you may want to look elsewhere. You may find a local souvenir at the Maina Traders Superstore at the pier or    at Moana Creations located in the long building known as the Orongo Centre at the wharf, otherwise shopping is not an option. If you do shop, best bets are locally handmade woven baskets, tie-dyed pareu and tropical shirts. Moana Creations is only open from 8:30am to 2pm (only until noon on Saturday) and it is closed on Sunday.

Aitutaki, Cook Islands Maina Traders Superstore
Maina Traders Superstore

Port Highlights:

Hot sun, white sandy beaches and the crystal clear water in the lagoon make Aitutaki ideal for swimming, sailing and snorkeling. Scuba diving is excellent and fishing aficionados can enjoy sport fishing beyond the reef or hire a licensed guide angling for the elusive bonefish within the lagoon.

Aitutaki, Cook Islands Lagoon Waters
Aitutaki Lagoon Waters

Snorkeling and Diving:

The entire lagoon is actually a sunken volcano and the water is so clear that snorkeling and diving are most definitely the most popular activity and a port highlight. Water temperatures are about 3 degrees warmer than those in Rarotonga and visibility is generally 25 meters or more. Snorkel amidst healthy coral gardens, a myriad of colorful tropical fish, giant clams and moray eels.  

Aitutaki, Cook Islands Giant Clams
Giant Clams

Aitutaki actually consists of the main island and the surrounding lagoon with 14 islets. Spending time on these stunningly beautiful islets is the stuff of which dreams are made. These are the most popular for day trip visitors:

Lagoon Atoll
Aitutaki Lagoon Motu

Tapuaetai (One Foot Island):

Tapuaetai is the most popular picnic and snorkeling motu for day trips. Make sure to bring your passport as you can get it stamped at the world's smallest post office. If you plan to visit One Foot Island, read the Legend of One Foot Island to discover how Motu Tapuaetai got its name as One Foot Island.

Aitutaki, Cook Islands One Foot Island Post Office
One Foot Island Post Office

Moturakau:

Perhaps the most recognizable of the motus, Moturakau was first used as the site for the U.K. television show “Shipwrecked” and then the location for the tribal camp of the popular U.S television program, “Survivor: Cook Islands”.

Aitutaki, Cook Islands Moturakua
Moturakua

Ropota:

Ropota is another motu that was used as the location of the UK reality show “Shipwrecked” and was also a former leper colony.

Aitutaki, Cook Islands Ropota
Ropota

Maina (Honeymoon Island):

Located on the western tip of the lagoon, this is another popular snorkeling spot and home to lots of nesting sea birds. (This was the island we had our private motu barbecue luncheon.)

Aitutaki, Cook Islands Maina
Maina

A beautiful, white sand bar fronts one side of Maina Island which became known as Honeymoon Island after a Canadian couple decided to get married there.


Honeymoon Island Sandbar

Off the Beaten Path:

On such a small island, there is not much that would be considered “off-the beaten path”, but since most cruise ship visitors will spend their day in the lagoon, a hike to the peak of Mount Maungapu is an alternative activity. To climb Aitutaki’s highest peak, follow these directions: Follow the main road heading toward the airport. At the sign for “Paradise Cove Resort” turn right. Go up the small paved road - it will turn to dirt. You’ll come to a T in the road – turn left and that road will take you right to the top.

Aitutaki, Cook Islands Mount Maungapu
Mount Maungapu

Dining and Drinking Suggestions:

Enjoying one of the traditional BBQ luncheons on a motu provided as part of one of the lagoon tours is your best bet. Most include a combination of grilled and marinated local fish, island salads and locally grown tropical fruits.

Aitutaki, Cook Islands Fruits
Motu Luncheon

Since I spent most of my day on the lagoon, I can't personally recommend any restaurants or bars on the island. The Blue Nun Café is a restaurant/bar located near the port entrance. While I did not dine there, I spoke with 4 cruise passengers that had a burger and beer at this wharf front watering hole before boarding the tender and thought they were very good and reasonably priced.

Aitutaki, Cook Islands Blue Nun Cafe
Blue Nun Cafe

Must Do List:

Without a doubt, whether it is a glass bottom boat or a lagoon/snorkeling cruise, checking out the sea life in the stunning lagoon and experiencing the absolute serenity and beauty of the pristine motus is a “must do” for all.

Aitutaki, Cook Islands Beautiful Motu
Beautiful Aitutaki Motu

 

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