Ever seen those pictures of the Cook Islands, with the deserted beaches, crystal clear turquoise water, and palm trees lining the shore for as far as the eye can see? Chances are, you were looking at a picture of Aitutaki.
This picture perfect, truly beautiful little island is the second most visited island of the Cook Islands after Rarotonga. The islets that make up Aitutaki seemingly float in the most brilliant blue lagoon, remaining largely untouched by tourism and home to some of the most beautiful beaches you could ever imagine.
When we were planning our visit to the Cook Islands we couldn’t decide whether to stay on Aitutaki for a night or two, before we came across the perfect alternative. A day trip across to Aitutaki, where we get to explore all the beauty of this stunning little island, without having to drag along all our luggage.
Air Rarotonga offers an exclusive Aitutaki Day Tour and they take care of everything for your visit to to the island. The day tour includes return flights, a tour around the island, and the Vaka Cruise, which takes you to explore the lagoon and the infamous One Foot Island.
We were picked up from our hotel at around 7am, and collected a few other passengers before arriving at the airport in time for our 8am flight to Aitutaki. The check in for the day tour was extremely easy, we just gave our names to the attendant at the Air Rarotonga counter and he printed out our boarding passes.
While we waited for our flight to board we were greeted by Paul, who was going to be our guide for our entire day on Aitutaki. He gave us a quick rundown on what would be happening that day, what we could expect and shared a few facts with us about Aitutaki. And then within a few minutes we were heading across the tarmac to board our flight.
The flight from Rarotonga to Aitutaki only takes about 40 minutes, and we were on our way in no time. Even though we were on such a small plane, it was incredibly comfortable and roomy, with more leg room than you would expect! During our flight we were looked after by Josephine, who was without a doubt the most beautifully friendly air hostess we have ever had. There wasn’t a moment of that flight she wasn’t smiling and helping out passengers.
We landed in Aitutaki to less than optimal conditions. It was gray and wet, with storm clouds still circling above us. But nevertheless, spirits were high and we all loaded into the safari truck that was waiting for us out the front of the open airport.
Paul gave us the low down on Aitutaki – it’s history, people, culture and landscape. Our tour took us around the whole island, with Paul pointing out different points of interest and landmarks along the way. One side of the island is virtually uninhabited, with very little going on. In fact, it is the home to hundreds, if not thousands, of crabs – which we could see scurrying alongside our safari truck.
The main town of Aitutaki is extremely small, and is home to less than 2000 people. We were battling against the elements, and it was raining pretty hard by the time we got to the main town, so unfortunately photo taking took a backseat to trying to stay dry, but even in the wet conditions, the town was quite charming.
One of the interesting differences between Aitutaki and Rarotonga is that there are absolutely no dogs on Aitutaki. Apparently, many years ago the Chief’s daughter was attacked by a dog and from that day on the Chief banned any dogs from living on Aitutaki.
We stopped at a very colourful store called Aquila Rentals for a quick snack. A small canteen out the front of the grocery store serves a hot cooked breakfast, which was extremely appreciated in the gloomy conditions. After a quick breakfast stop it was onto the lagoon to meet our cruise.
The Vaka Cruise boat is modelled on the vessels of the ancient Polynesian voyagers, and is a 21 metre Titi ai Tonga, which means ‘wind from the south’ (also known as a catamaran). The boat is wide and comfortable, and beautifully carved with traditional art on the outside.
We’re greeted by an on-board band playing more happy music and a fresh coconut drink. The water of the lagoon is absolutely insane, even through the grey clouds the colour is so bright and really just too pretty to believe. We headed out to our first stop, with the on-board band keeping us entertained all the way there.
In all honesty, it torrentially rained all the way across the lagoon and I couldn’t have been more disappointed. Even through the rain though, it’s impossible to deny the beauty of this part of the South Pacific. As we approached our first motu (small islet or island), like some kind of miraculous moment, the sun began to come out and I could not have been more happy.
Our first stop was on the motu Akaiami, a small island offering us a quick glimpse into the beauty of the lagoon. As the sun came out the water began to sparkle and everything started to look even more amazing. There were a few holiday houses and small shacks on the island, owned by locals from Aitutaki.
Just beyond the palm trees that lined the beach, we found a few of the island’s pigs and chickens snacking on coconut goodness that had fallen from the tall trees. Be careful if you step beyond any of the palm trees though, I was immediately eaten alive by mosquitoes.
After a short stop, we were back on the cruise boat, heading towards our next destination. As we cruised, Paul shared stories of the Aitutaki people and the history of the Cook Islands. There was an abundance of fresh fruit and snacks on board, as well as a fully stocked bar to keep everyone going throughout the day.
The second stop on the Vaka Cruise is normally the motu Rakau, however while we were visiting there was actually a reality show being filmed on the island, so the cruise was altered a little bit for a few months while the show was filming. Apparently it was a UK reality show called Shipwrecked, we’ll have to keep an eye out for it.
Instead we stopped on another small islet, where Paul gave us a few short demonstrations on the different coconuts you can find around the Cook Islands, the hermit crabs and how a hermit crabs can turn into coconut crabs (truly terrifying how big those things can get) and the importance of coconuts to the locals.
By this time the sun had well and truly come out to play, and all of a sudden it was just so hot, we couldn’t wait to get in the water. The biggest highlight of any tour of Aitutaki is stopping at Tapuaetai, also known as One Foot Island, which is surrounded by pure white sand and perfectly clear water.
We arrived at One Foot Island and jumped straight into that clear water to go snorkelling with some really huge fish. Right off the shore of the island you can find heaps of giant trevally, giant clams and all kinds of beautiful coral and colourful fish.
While we snorkelled, the crew prepared our delicious BBQ lunch. Due to not being able to stop at Rakau, we were able to have an extra long stop at One Foot Island, which might just have been a blessing in disguise!
After a bit of snorkelling, we re-boarded the boat to enjoy a delicious buffet lunch. There was so much to try, tuna steaks, all kinds of rice and salads, and an abundance of fresh fruit. We both made the most of the buffet by going back for seconds, and then it was back off the boat to enjoy more of paradise.
Want to stay longer? Check out the best places to stay on Aitutaki
We were lucky enough that the sun stayed out for most of the time we were docked at One Foot Island. I had hoped to take a heap of photos with our drone, but unfortunately the winds were pretty strong all day, so as soon as we launched our drone it was beeping at us that it needed to come back down.
Instead, we explored more of the island, took a walk to the other side, and visited the only tiny little shop on the island and grabbed a beer – which admittedly, looks more like some kind of picnic hut than a shop. Right next to that little shop was what could only be described as a huge family of hermit crabs, in cute little shells of all shapes and sizes, all moving around and avoiding the hens pecking at them. My obsession with hermit crabs continued.
We had the best afternoon on One Foot Island, soaking up the sun and just soaking up everything this little paradise had to offer. You can even get your passport stamped with a One Foot Island passport stamp – to save time, and allow you the most time in paradise, the crew on the Vaka Cruise stamped our passport when we were all back on the boat and heading back towards the mainland of Aitutaki.
We were celebrating our 10 year anniversary in the Cook Islands, and spending the day in Aitutaki was the perfect experience to celebrate us and our last 10 years together. We both said that we would have to come back to celebrate our next milestone anniversary, maybe we will be back in five years for our 15 year anniversary!
We had an absolutely amazing day, even through some of the unfortunate weather, and couldn’t recommend the Aitutaki Day Tour with Air Rarotonga highly enough. Everyone involved in the tour have really thought about absolutely everything and give you the best experience and glimpse into life in Aitutaki.
Everything you need to know about a day tour to Aitutaki
Air Rarotonga offers day tours to Aitutaki from Monday to Saturday from Rarotonga International Airport (RAR).
Price: $493NZD per person.
Includes: Return flights from Rarotonga to Aitutaki, a tour of the entire main island, the Vaka Lagoon cruise, snorkelling equipment and towels, a delicious BBQ buffet lunch, return airport transfers from your hotel.
Getting there: The day tour includes return transfers from your hotel. Depending on where you’re staying, you should be picked up from your hotel around 7am.
If you have already booked your flights to Aitutaki and you’re planning to stay there for a night or two, you can also book a day out on the Vaka Cruise. The cruise alone costs $125NZD per person and can be booked via the Vaka Cruise website.
For more information visit the Air Rarotonga website.
A huge thank-you to Air Rarotonga for welcoming and hosting us on our Aitutaki Day Tour. We had an absolutely fabulous experience, and all opinions are, as always, our own.