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Aitutaki, Cook Islands Travel Guide Hot Pick
 
Last Updated: Apr-12-2015, Hits: 16,513, Rating: 5, Reviews: 1, Votes: 1 Bookmark and Share
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Rarotonga, Cook Islands Travel Guide
 
Location: Australia & Pacific
Geography: Island, Beach
Vacation Type: Romantic, Relaxation
Popularity: Off-the-Beaten Path
Costs: Moderate, Expensive
Attractions: Scenery, Boating, Cultural Attractions, Fishing, Scuba & Snorkeling, Windsurfing

Facts and Stats:
Population: 2,000
Area: 11.4 square miles
Elevation: Sea level to 400 feet
Country dialing code: +682
Languages: English, Maori
Electricity: 240v
Currency: New Zealand Dollar (NZD)
Time Zone: GMT -10 (No daylight savings)
Current Time:

Introduction:
Aitutaki is heaven on earth and possibly one of the most beautiful places you will ever see. It is also off the beaten path and not for those who are looking for crowded resort hotels, dance clubs, fancy restaurants, amazing food, and an endless list of activities. It is for those who truly want get away from it all and relax in unspoiled beauty.

Geography:
Aitutaki is the 2nd most populated and visited Island in the Cook Islands and is located 136 miles north of Rarotonga. Aitutaki's beautiful lagoon is enclosed by a triangle shaped atoll that rises up over 13,000 feet from the ocean floor. The atoll consists of 3 volcanic and 12 coral motus (islets). Each of the atoll's 3 sides is approximately 7 miles in length and there are a couple of small breaks in the atoll where boats can get in. The depth of the lagoon varies from a few inches up to 35 feet, although 75% of the lagoon is approximately 15 feet deep. The main village and capital of the island is Arutanga which is located on the west side of the island. Also on the west side of the island is Maunga Pu which is the Aitutaki's tallest point at approximately 400 feet in height.

Brief History:
Although there are no written records, it is believed that Aitutaki was first founded around 900 AD by French Polynesians who set out to find new land due to the overcrowding of their own islands. Oral tradition tells the story of Ru, a paramount chief, navigator and successor to the powerful Ru-Chieftain title of Avaiki-Atia (Avaiki-Asia or Avaiki-of-the-West) who embarked on a quest to discover and settle a new avaiki. While other Chiefs and Navigators with similar ambitions embarked on their quest accompanied by warriors, Ru left his homeland accompanied by his four wives (Paitu-Vaine), four brothers and twenty beautiful maidens of royal descent (Pa-Tepairu-Vaine) on his voyaging double-hulled canoe called Nga-Pu-Ariki. Later the maidens would be married off to placate warriors arriving at the new land.

A violent storm struck during the voyage. While his crew feared for their lives, Ru prayed to the God of the Sea, Tangaroa, to subside the storm. Shortly after, an island appeared ahead. Ru named the island Uta-taki-enua-o-Ru-ki-te-moana ("the-land-of-Ru-glimmering-at-sea"), believing that Tangaroa had guided him to the island. The island today is called Aitutaki.

In the modern history of Aitutaki, the island was "discovered" by Captain William Bligh of the HMS Bounty on April 11, 1789 just prior to the famous mutiny. Bligh introduced the paw paw tree to the locals. A few decades later, John Williams of the London Missionary Society landed on Aitutaki in 1821. Williams used Tahitian converts to carry his message to the Cook Islanders, and supposedly stop the practice of cannabalism. Ironically, Williams was later killed and eaten on Erromango in the New Hebrides, now known as Vanuatu. Shortly after, the Cook Islands Christian Church, the country's oldest church, was built in 1839 of coral and limestone and still stands today in Arutanga.

On September 27, 1900, the New Zealand Parliament approved the annexation of the islands to New Zealand and the following month the British Governor in New Zealand landed at Rarotonga. Without any discussion on its implications, the ariki and other traditional leaders signed a deed of cession and from June 11, 1901 the boundaries of New Zealand were extended to include the Cook Islands.

Aitutaki remained off the radar until WWII when U.S. forces and local residents built the massive coral airstrip that is now the Aitutaki airport. The landing strip was to serve as an attack point against the Japanese, but didn't get much use. Meanwhile, many of the 1,000 American troops stationed there are said to have married local women and had children with them. Shortly after this time, the motu of Akaiami gained notoriety as a location where TEAL flying boats landed while plying the Coral Route through the South Pacific. TEAL (Tasman Empire Airways Limited) became Air New Zealand, and the Coral Route remains, but no longer utilizes the flying boats.

On 17 November 1964, the New Zealand Parliament passed the Cook Islands Constitution Act. This was to come into force on a date requested by the Cook Islands legislature following general elections to be held in the Territory. The elections were held on April 20, 1965, with resounding support for the proposed Constitution and self-government. On July 26, New Zealand passed the Cook Islands Constitution Amendment Act and the Cook Islands became a State in free association with New Zealand. In essence, this arrangement provided that the Cook Islands can govern themselves with their own laws and leaders, retain New Zealand citizenship, and can have defense provided by New Zealand at their request.

Over the next few decades, Aitutaki, and the Cook Islands as a whole, were relatively unknown. Although frequented as a vacation spot for New Zealanders and Australians, most of the world was unaware of its existence. That is until the year 2000, when a British T.V. show, "Shipwrecked", used the motus of Rapota and Moturakau during their first series. In 2006, Aitutaki gained even more attention when the popular American T.V. series "Survivor" was filmed on Aitutaki and the surrounding motus. Just weeks later the British show "Shipwrecked: Battle of the Islands" was filmed on Rapota and Moturakau again.

Attractions:
As previously mentioned, there really isn't that much to do in Aitutaki which makes it a perfect place to relax. Most of the activities that do exist revolve around the amazing lagoon. There are lagoon tours that will take you to the various motus including One Foot Island, and there are also snorkeling and deep sea fishing tours, scuba diving, windsurfing, and kite-boarding activities available. Swimming and snorkeling in the lagoon is very safe. There are no ocean currents except in a couple of places, and there are no killer sharks. You may see an occasional reef shark, but they are fairly small and mostly harmless if you don't mess with them, although a reef shark did attack a person in October 2007. Keep in mind that this person was free diving and spear fishing which can greatly increase the chances of an attack.

You can also fill some of your time exploring the island. This is particularly fun on a scooter. If you wish to see the view from the island's tallest point, hike or ride up to Maunga Pu. Otherwise, soak up the sun on your own stretch of deserted beach.

People/Culture:
The indigenous population of the Cook Islands are the Cook Islands Maori; Polynesians closely related ethnically to the indigenous populations of Tahiti and nearby islands and to the New Zealand Maori. The people of Aitutaki are very warm and friendly. What separates the people of Aitutaki, some say, from other islanders is their dry sense of humor. This sense of humor may often be at your expense without your knowing it. In other words, they get a kick out of pulling your leg and hoping that you aren't wise to the joke. Don't feel abused, they do this to each other as well. Humor is reportedly an important part of socializing for the locals of Aitutaki.

Some say that with the exception of Aitutaki, Cook Islanders are shy and quiet. Some also say that the reason for this is that the people of Aitutaki have a sort of sibling rivalry with their big brother Rarotonga and have something to prove. Residents of Aitutaki note that because of their outgoing nature, most of the Cook Islands' leadership has traditionally come from their island. They may also further point out that the local dancing that they display at "island nights" is far superior to that of Rarotonga, or even Hawaii and Tahiti. The song and dance of the Cook Islands is an important way in which the islanders pass down their Maori culture from generation to generation.

As one might expect, there are differing opinions on the direction that the islands should take. On the one hand, much of their economy depends on tourism which inevitably changes their culture over time due to outside influences. On the other hand, many wish to embrace ancient traditions and cultures. As a tourist, you will likely not notice this conflict from a people that choose to be gracious hosts above all else.

One of the major problems plaguing Aitutaki (and the Cook Islands as a whole) is the migration of people to New Zealand and Australia. Many young people leave to go to college and others just want to experience life in a 1st world nation or find a better job. This exodous seems to make the support of growing tourism difficult (fortunately, in our opinion). Currently, there are over 65,000 Cook Islanders living abroad while only 18,000 remaining on the islands.

Visitors to Aitutaki (or anywhere in the Cook Islands) need to be prepared to get on "island time". Their version of island time is a slower pace than what most Americans who have been to Hawaii understand as island time. Visitors need to be able to "go with the flow". The restaurant you are at might have run out of the chicken you were craving, only to find out that they also ran out of lamb which was your second choice. In fact, they may only have parrot fish left, and it may take an hour to get it. That's just how it goes on a small island.

The Cook Islands are very safe and it is reported that there has not been a murder on Aitutaki since the 1960's. With the exception of domestic violence incedents, violent crime simply does not exist here. Although not rampant, theft is the most common problem and it is a good idea to keep a close eye on your belongings.

Food & Nightlife:
The food in Aitutaki is almost entirely Polynesian. While there is pizza and some American style dishes here and there, virtually everything you eat while you are here will be Polynesian or Pacific Rim cuisine. Polynesian staples are fruit, fish, lamb, chicken and pork. Aitutaki is somewhat amazing in the fact that much of what you will eat on this island is grown, caught, or raised there. Common fish varieties are extremely fresh and include tuna (ahi), parrot fish, trevally, and wahoo. While on the island, you may be exposed to fruits you have never heard of before. Examples may include star fruit, bread fruit, and a bowl of snot-like fruit called soursop fruit. Vegetables are not as common a part of the diet as most of them do not grow well here.

There are very few places to eat out in Aitutaki. Only a handful of restaurants exist. The couple of resorts located in Aitutaki offer the higher end food and the widest variety. Some smaller motels and lodging options offer breakfast and other meals.

There isn't much of a nightlife to speak of in Aitutaki. There are just a few bars and certainly no late-nite dance clubs. Several establishments offer regular "Island Nights" where the locals perform traditional dance shows and mix with the tourists.

Money/Costs:
The Cook Islands have a "free association" arrangement with New Zealand. Under this arrangement, Cook Islanders are New Zealand citizens and use NZ dollars. In the past, Americans and Europeans were largely unaware of the existence of the Cook Islands. For those "in the know" the exchange rate between the US dollar and the NZ dollar made travel in the Cook Islands very affordable. Unfortunately, due to the growing publicity the islands are receiving, prices are going up for things like lodging, food, and drink. Getting here has always been expensive for those outside of Australia and New Zealand because there are very few carriers and flights that go here. This currently remains true despite all of the attention Aitutaki has received recently.

On Aitutaki there are 3 banks and several ATMs. You will need cash as some places do not take credit cards. See the services section of this guide for bank listings with maps.

Tipping is not a customary practice in the Cook Islands and taxes are included in all bills.

Internet access is very slow and very expensive on the island, although the infrastructure has been improving. Many more lodging establishments are offering wi-fi now as compared to just a few years ago. Unless you are coming from Australia, New Zealand, or Samoa, you will likely need to purchase a sim card ($25 NZD) in order to get your cell phone to work. These can be purchased at the Telecom office in Arutanga.

Getting There and Around:
Getting to the Cook Islands from most places is very expensive. There are no international flights to Aitutaki, so you will first have to fly into Rarotonga (RAR). Currently, the only airline that flies to Rarotonga from the U.S. is Air New Zealand. Air Tahiti flies to Rarotonaga from Papeete and Pacific Blue has flights from Auckland. Once in Rarotonga, you will need to catch a 45 minute Air Rarotonga flight to Aitutaki. The airport at Aitutaki is located at the north end of the island. To get around the island, you will most likely want to rent a scooter which runs about $25 per day if you rent weekly.

Cars, Jeeps, and buggies are available for rent as well. In either case, you will need a driver's licence which can be purchased for $2.50 NZD at the police station in Arutanga. You will only need your foreign license and be over the age of 21 to obtain this. In most cases, there is no written or driving test necessary. Keep in mind that they drive on the left side of the road, and the speed limit is 40kph in the town and villages and 50kph outside of populated areas.

There are 2 taxi companies on the island - Pacifica Taxi (31-220) & Tropicool Tours. They are reliable, but expensive.

Entry Requirements:
You must have a Passport and it must be valid 3 months beyond intended stay. No visa is required for stays up to 31 days. Extension permits are usually granted for visitors wanting to stay over 31 days. You must have tickets or documents for return or onward travel. You must have suitable accomodations and financial ability to support your stay.

Weather:
The weather on Aitutaki is typically tropical and fairly consistent. Summer, between November and April, is hotter and more humid with a higher rainfall and the risk of tropical storms. Winter is between May and November and is cooler and drier. Aitutaki and the other northern islands are noticeably warmer than the main island of Rarotonga. High temperatures are usually around 85 degrees and the lows can get down to the mid 60's during the winter.

The current conditions for Aitutaki are shown below:


  Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Average High 86 86 86 84 82 82 81 81 82 82 84 84
Average Low 75 75 75 73 72 72 70 70 70 72 73 73
Water Temperature 82 82 82 82 81 81 79 79 79 79 81 81
Precipitation 9.9" 9.4" 8.4" 8.5" 6.9" 3.9" 3.2" 3.9" 3.5" 4.9" 6.5" 9.1"
Humidity 85 86 88 84 84 84 84 80 77 80 82 86

Important Contacts:
Police: 999
Fire: 996
Hospital and Ambulance: 998

Additional Tips and Information
  • Do not drink the tap water - it is not treated.
  • When walking around in the lagoon waters, wear a pair of thick soled water socks. There may be poisonous stonefish which bury themselves in the sand with poisonous barbs sticking up. If you don't have proper protection and step on one, your vacation will be ruined and you will experience many days of excruciating pain with no morphine to help.
  • When snorkeling, do not ever put any of your limbs inside the mouth of a giant clam. If they close on you, you will likely drown.
  • The Cook Islands periodically have outbreaks of Dengue Fever. In fact, at the time of this writing 460 people have been recently infected with it. Dengue Fever will not likely kill you, but you will want to die. In addition to falling very ill, you may actually bleed out of orifices such as your eyes, nose, and ears. Dengue Fever is carried by mosquitos, so make sure you have plenty of mosquito repellent with Deets and use it when outdoors, particularly during the daytime.
  • When on Aitutaki, you will be eating a lot of Polynesian food. Traveller's diarrhea can be extreme for some people who are not used to the foods being served (particularly large amounts of fruit). It is a very good idea to bring kaopectate or related products.
  • Be wary of the exhaust pipes on your scooter. It is very easy to touch your legs to them which can result in a wicked burn. Ask the scooter rental place to show you where not to touch.
  • Don't stand under coconut trees as getting hit in the head with one might ruin your day.
  • Aitutaki has a 20 bed hospital and dental clinic (31-041). There is a doctor or 2, but serious illnesses and injuries have to be treated in Rarotonga. The Aitutaki hospital is also the only place to get prescription medication.
  • Most of the locals are Christian and Sundays are considered a day of rest. Most stores, restaurants, and other establishments are closed.
  • The pictures below and in the rest of this guide do absolutely no justice to the beauty of Aitutaki. The weather wasn't particularly cooperative when these were taken.



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User Reviews (1)




Reviewed by: sloshed
Review date: Jan-30-2010

We went to Aitutaki about 7 or 8 years ago and it is still the coolest place I have ever been. You cannot describe the beauty here and pictures do no justice. This is a very remote "off the beaten path" destination, or at least it was when we went. I would like to go back and see how Survivor being filmed there changed things, if at all. The lagoon is a giant swimming pool with good snorkelling and swimming. If you are willing to rough it a little, I would highly recommend renting One Foot Island for a night. No electricity or phone, and there is basically a shack to sleep in. But, there is nothing like feeling truly away from it all. There is excellent swimming and snorkeling on One Foot, and the water in places is so shallow that you can walk nearly a quarter mile into the lagoon. There aren't a lot of places to eat or drink on the island, and things like ice and cold beer (warm beer is easy to find) can be hard to come by. Definitely stop by Tuano and Sonja's place. She is an excellent cook and they are wonderful people. One of my favorite memories ever was taking our scooters out in the mud (offroad style) after a big rain. Can't wait to go back, but this is an expensive trip if you live in the US. 

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