Aitutaki experience: An Easter getaway to paradise

Saturday 17 April 2021 | Written by Caleb Fotheringham | Published in Features, Weekend


Aitutaki experience: An Easter getaway to paradise
The quieter side of One Foot Island. 21041647

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.

We landed early Easter Friday and stayed at the Aitutaki Lagoon Private Island Resort on an overwater bungalow.

It’s a 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.

The 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 day.

After 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 track.

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.

The Vaka 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. 

When we landed, familiar and friendly (tipsy) Raro faces covered the beach.

“Welcome to Rarotonga,” says the leader of the Vaka cruise, which was responded with hysterical laughter.

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

Seeing 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 economy.

We got a foot stamp in our passports, sat on the beach and swam in the clear water.

On the 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 stopped.

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.

Feeling like 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.