- Aitutaki is a coral atoll in the Southern group of Cook Islands that is located 264km /161 miles (142 nautical miles) north of Rarotonga. It is the second most populated island and touristic destination in the Cook Islands.
- The main land area of the island is 16.8 km2 (6.5 sq mi) and the beautiful large triangular lagoon, that has made the island such a popular tourist destination, is a massive 74 km2 (29 sq mi).
- First settled by Polynesians arriving by canoe, the Islands name means ‘to keep the fire going.
- Captain William Bligh, arrived as the first European to discover this land on the 11th April 1789 on the Bounty. Seventeen days before the famous mutiny of the Bounty.
- The Americans built two large runways on the remote Island during the Second World War.
- Population: Just under 2000 inhabitants (2017)
There’s only a small port in Atutaki, large enough for about five boats, and the pass is quite shallow. Larger boats with bigger keels have to stay outside, imagine that sailing here and then not begin able to get to the sheltered and calm waters of the lagoon, but sit bobbing about at anchor meters away. We draft 50cm so its not a problem getting in.
However when we do arrive there was no space in the port, so we looked to put down anchor. There was a local dive boat passing and we called out to check with him if it was okay to moor. It was funny to hear English voices again with a New Zealand twang. We have left French Polynesia behind us now and arrived in the Cook Islands.
The first thing we have to do when arriving in a new country is to head to the immigration office to check in and do the paper work. They want to see our papers from when we cleared out of Polynesia, Passports and boat papers and there is usually a fee to pay for checking the boat in and getting our visas. A customs official usually comes aboard the boat and has a quick look around and asks a few questions on what we have on board in the way of foodstuff, animals, plants and seeds and if anyone has been sick, but no one came to see us here.
We would have loved to navigate around the stunning lagoon but we were told that the boat has to stay by the port. We understand that they want to keep the lagoon pristine and preserve the coral. But we love the freedom of being alone at anchor, and although the lagoon is a beautiful sparkling blue, it was muddy and murky moored where were are next to the port, so there would be no morning swims off the back of the boat here!
The town of Arutanga is a single street with a relaxed Island vibe. There’s one little supermarket, a petrol startion, three churches and some local services such as the bank and post office, and fresh fruit is sold from the tiny market. It was nice to find the quiet and calm after our ocean passage. But before we could start exploring we first needed to clean up the boat and get some proper sleep.
We arrived on a Saturday and on Sunday we got ourselves smartened up and headed out to go to Church. This is apparently the oldest church in the Cook Islands, dating from 1828. It’s often a good way to meet the locals and find out what’s going on. It was an early start, the bells began ringing at 5.30am and by the time we arrived at 7am it was already a full house. Some of the Cook Island guys were just enormous, in Polynesia the guys tend to be big, but these guys were gigantic. Huge shoulders and huge thighs made for playing rugby. People were dressed in bright floral shirts, long white missionary dresses and the church was filled with the sent of their floral headdresses. The singing was loud, rhythmic and in an unfamiliar language. The mass was mainly in Maori and occasionally English and the priest appeared to flick theatrically back and forth between being relaxed and jokey to stern and fearsome.
We treated ourselves to a meal out and had fish and Chips ‘Cook Island style’ from a little wooden hut restaurant. It was a bit odd as they made it with Tuna fish but Juju tucked into the chips which isn’t something we eat usually on the boat. Afterwards we walked up to the local gymnasium to sit and watch the kids as they practiced their dancing and singing for an upcoming festival, it was all smiles and laughter. Later that evening we made chocolate cake back at the boat, candles and all! We had made it, we arrived in Aitutaki for Guillaume’s birthday, and this week there was good wind announced to kite.
Most days we aimed to and get up and out fairly quickly to get over to the kitesurf spot, which was a 20 minute dingy ride away. So the mornings were always a bit of a rush, the days were generally spent chilling and kitesurfing on the motu and then the evenings would fly past with shower, diner, and getting juju off to bed.
Since we arrived in Aitutaki she started going down to sleep at about 8pm and sleeping really well through the night. Although she has been waking up a bit early because the church bells start ringing at 5.30 when its still dark, or the fishermen are making noise and taking loudly, so that wakes her up. It’s then been hard to explain that it’s still night when she can hear that people are awake.
Before we had been telling her that she’s not to get up before the sun comes up and she seemed to understand that really well. If she woke up we would take her outside and show her the stars, and explain that it’s still nighttime and then she would go back to sleep quite quickly. Juju has never found going to sleep easy, it’s in her nature not to want to turn off and miss out on anything.
The dingy ride to the kitesurf spot was an adventure in itself. The problem with kitesurfing is that you need wind. The problem with the dingy is that when it’s windy we were bouncing about in the waves and getting soaked by the spray. Luckily the water was lovely and warm! I was holding onto a rope with one hand and onto Juju with the other, who would scream with laughter with all the bouncing, it was all just one big game to the little Miss. We salaamed through the coral heads, the water was clear and the coral easy to see, we could even see shoals of fish and turtles on the calmer days.
The boats from the kitesurf schools would speed past us, chuckling to themselves I am sure, perhaps wondering who is this crazy family bouncing about on a tiny dingy overflowing with sails, boards, bags and a baby!
Once we would arrive in the shallow water leading up to the motu all would become calm. The water, the sand, even the air felt warm as the long stretch of shallow water sparkled in the bright sunlight.
The kitesurf schools have claimed the Island, like pirates claiming their treasure. There is a a dense thick hub of trees, making for glorious shady spots to relax after a session. Hammocks have been hung between the coconut trees and there are long wooden tables to sit down to a barbecued lunch with friends. There’s even a bar for those wanting a cool beer.
Little sea birds have nested among the surf camps and chicks hatch apparently unperturbed by our presence. We rinsed the salt water off Juju as she sat in an enormous clam shell, natures perfect baby bath.
This is definitely a kite surf paradise. What makes it so special beside the epic scenery and the constant wind, is the people. The locals who run the spot and have the two schools here are super nice and friendly.
We were worried that as we were turning up by dingy with our own kite gear, we might be unwelcome, but we were made to feel right at home. Guillaume had done the same training as Mike, who runs one of the schools, and before long they were chatting away like old friends. Mike was happy to let us set up kids camp in his spot. There were other families too with young babies and everyone looked out for everyone else. We spent the days chilling out under the shade, taking it in turns to kite, or start learning to kite again (I am officially Guillaume’s worst student and now having a baby just gives me another distraction).
With Juju on Guillaume’s shoulders whilst he was giving me a lesson, I found it hard to concentrate! On reflection, and if we had had the budget, I should have paid to have some lessons with someone more neutral. It’s probably better when it’s someone other than your husband shouting instructions at you! Even if it is well intentioned. My heart wasn’t in it this time and I didn’t have the oomph. I was happy playing crocodiles in the shallows with my little girl watching Guillaume jumping and practicing his latest tricks, putting on a show for us and making it all look so easy! Such a beautiful place and the spot to learn…maybe next time I’ll get there!
When we haven’t been to the kite spot we have been cleaning the boat and getting on with all the little jobs, there is always something that needs fixing on the boat. Washing the clothes and dishes by hand takes ages and the daily routine of making food and tidying up after ourselves seems to take up most the day too!
We were lucky to have a day when there was virtually no wind at all to head out and explore the lagoon on the dingy. We made an early start and went to the other side of the lagoon to see ‘One Foot Island’ and the other motus. The lagoon is enormous, it took us two hours to get to the other side. It’s probably one of the most beautiful lagoon we have ever seen, and we’ve seen a lot of beautiful lagoons.
There are so many colours of turquoise and blue, the water is so sparkling and clear. There are 21 deserted little motu islands scattered around the edges of the lagoon and little white waves breaking on the coral reef separates the lagoon from the deep ultramarine of the outside ocean. It was the first time we saw the lagoon without wind and the colours were even brighter with the clear blue sky and still water.
We stopped off at a beautiful little sandbar of an Island, Juliette was so excited running around the little motu searching for shells, following her footprints and paddling in the water. She was so happy, free and present in that moment.
Guillaume launched the drone for the first time from the dingy. It was fairly stressful to watch him catch it again one handed whilst he was flying it above the water. It’s amazing to be able to get such arial shots, the view from the sky is out of this world.
In the little passage between One Foot Island and the neighbouring motu we were surprised to see huge Karong fish over a metre long, that are fed by the locals. They came swimming around the dingy like in a manga cartoon of an enchanted lake. We’ve seen turtles and sting ray really well too, we didn’t even need to be in the water snorkeling. It was so nice that Juju could see them too. The water was so crystal clear.
We had a picnic on ‘Honeymoon Island’, which is where we kite, and it was great as without the wind, there were no kitesurfers. Nobody there apart from us and the birds. We made a huge sand castle, picnicked, siestaed and played about in the shallow water. We then stopped off to snorkle on the way back to the boat.
The snorkeling was fantastic as the coral is so alive and colourful. There are plenty of fish and they have huge clam shells, Pāua. They are the biggest clams we have ever seen, and there are so many of them. They are the same as the ones we would eat in French Polynesia, but these are huge and protected.
Juju would wear her lifevest swimsuit and ride on Guillaume’s s back as we snorkle. She would love it even though she couldn’t see underwater. She would plays with his tuber and mask and chat away.
On another windless day we thought that we would hire some bikes and have a look around the mainland. We went from rental shop to rental shop to try and get a bike with a baby-seat. By the time we had walked to the hotel that they thought might have one, we had walked nearly half way across the Island…it was getting hot and Juliette was getting heavy!
With no luck on the baby-seat front, we decided to try our luck at hitching a ride. The bus from the hotel we had just left was passing and they kindly stopped and went out of their way to drop us at the beach. As the afternoon came round we decided to hitch our way back home again. A nice local man, retired to the Island from New Zealand, picked us up and chatted away about his love of the Island and the tranquility of Island life. We couldn’t have gone above 30mph the whole way back, one long straight road, no worries about getting lost!
In Aitutaki we are only a 3 hour flight away from New Zealand, it’s not a direct flight as the international airport is on Rarotonga, so there’s an internal connecting flight to get here, so it really doesn’t really feel very remote. French Polynesia was much less touristic than here. There’s quite a few Australians, New Zealanders and Americans on holiday here but it remains quiet and tourism hasn’t become ugly mass tourism.
Aitutaki is such a beautiful location to kitesurf. Although the two schools are ferrying kiters over from the mainland to honeymoon Island which is where the action is happening, it’s not too busy. Being such a remote setting hopefully means that it wont get flooded with tourists. There’s space for people to have lessons, shallow slices of sand for the pros to do their stunts and jumps and a huge lagoon to play in further afield. Everyone is lay back and friendly, all wanting the same thing….wind…surf…and relax.
Next stop ‘Palmerston Island’.
- Kitesurfing or snorkelling from Honeymoon Island. You can get a lift out to the Island with the Kitesurf school’s motor boats that taxi people over a few times a day, usually in the early morning and at lunchtime. They also offer a delicious and reasonably priced seafood lunch. It’s a great place to spend the day even, if you don’t kitesurf.
- If you don’t have your own transport then it’s possible to do a lagoon cruise to visit the different motu Islands around the lagoon.
- One foot Island is just beautiful and you can get your passport stamped from the old ‘Post Office’ on the Island.
- You can get a mobile telephone SIM card to get reconnected to the Internet from the post office in Arutanga and get credit top ups from the petrol station.
- O’otu Beach on the northeast tip of the island is a beautiful little spot looking out to the motu of Akitua.
- It’s a great place to cycle too if you rent a bike cycle from Arutanga and from there you can snorkel or hire kayaks.
- You can go for a 30 minute hike up to the top of hill Maungapu, which at 124 metres (404 ft) offers stunning views of the Island and lagoon.