Since moving to Rarotonga from New Zealand earlier in the year, journalist Caleb Fotheringham and his schoolteacher wife Jess have been hearing a lot about Aitutaki. During the Easter break they travelled to the Southern Group island to find out what the hype was all about.
We looked like quintessential tourists as we
boarded our flight to Aitutaki. I was wearing my straw hat holding a fishing
rod wrapped in bubble wrap, and my wife Jess gripped a set of snorkelling fins.
We were a couple of papa’a, three months deep into our new Cook Islands life,
ready for paradise. The sight would have likely given the impression that the
borders were open.
landed early Easter Friday and stayed at the Aitutaki Lagoon Private Island
Resort on an overwater bungalow.
place that would normally be unattainable on our budget. Even with the hugely
discounted prices, it was the upper end of what we would normally spend. But
after a small amount of deliberation, we pulled the trigger, knowing it’s
likely we wouldn’t get an opportunity like this again.
influx of Rarotongans spending the weekend on Aitutaki was made apparent early,
when we found out all vehicles on the island were booked out. Fortunately, an
incredibly generous staff member heard our dilemma and offered his bike for the
gratefully accepting, and a failed attempt to give him money, we sought out Aitutaki’s highest peak, Maunga
Pu. After getting lost, finding goats and feeling guilty for accidentally
taking the borrowed bike through some unkind roads, we eventually found the
The view on top of Maunga Pu shows the extent of the Aitutaki lagoon - 21041641
The peak revealed the size of the lagoon,
which we were excited to explore the following day.
cruise crew kept us entertained, never repeating a song on the recently
renovated boat. The cruise stopped at four locations and an obvious highlight
for both of us was One Foot Island.
landed, familiar and friendly (tipsy) Raro faces covered the beach.
to Rarotonga,” says the leader of the Vaka cruise, which was responded with
Having Rarotongans fill Aitutaki over the weekend
was an ongoing joke. People would say: “I came here to get away from everyone!”,
or “Clearly the Cook Islands is too small”. In reality, seeing the familiar
faces was a treat.
Jess Fotheringham (left) and Caleb Fotheringham (right) prepared for Aitutaki in the Easter Break - 21041646
someone from Rarotonga was a similar feeling to bumping into a friend while
overseas and it was heartening to know money was being spent in the local
a foot stamp in our passports, sat on the beach and swam in the clear water.
cruise we had some history lessons. Tasman Empire Airways Limited (TEAL), the forerunner to
Air New Zealand, lugged around the rich and famous from 1951 until 1960. They
explored tropical paradises aboard TEAL’s Short Solent flying boats and called
the trip the Coral Route. One of those stops was motu Akaiami, where our cruise
In more recent history, the
13th season of Survivor was filmed in 2006 on one of the lagoon’s motu, and on
the main island. Our cruise leader worked on the show when he was 17 and told
us boats were not allowed near the island for 39 days during the filming.
we weren’t done exploring the lagoon, on Sunday we took one of the resort’s
double kayaks to find a private beach. We made a packed lunch from two-minute
noodles we purchased at the resort and set off.
One of my goals prior to
leaving Rarotonga was to catch a fish, not to eat, but for sport. Fishing in
the Cook Islands has been on my mind for a while, even before leaving New
Zealand. Just before leaving it led me to buy a $40 lure in Auckland.
Even at the time I was
uneasy about the decision, considering how much of an amateur fisherman I am,
but the salesmen assured me that if I wanted to catch a fish this is what I
needed (“A salesman’s dream” my friends call me).
The view from one of the overwater bungalows at the Aitutaki Lagoon Private Island Resort - 21041644
After a surprisingly
manageable paddle to multiple motu, we found the spot where I was going to
cast. My fears of losing my lure came true very quickly. There was a brief
moment of excitement followed by a lureless line dangling from my rod in the
space of five seconds.
But it didn’t dampen the
spirits. Our private beach was incredible. The sandy beach gave way to a
snorkelling spot packed with a variety of fish species a few metres from shore.
We flew out the following
day. Before leaving we went to Avatea cafe, where I got an Island Mac burger
which didn’t disappoint. We soaked up the last bits of paradise and returned
similar to how we left. Just a bit more relaxed and with sunburnt noses.