A day out cruising on the beautiful azure blue, Aitutaki Lagoon is among the best loved experiences of any visit to the Cook Islands.
Aitutaki Lagoon is one of the largest in the South Pacific, and has many beautiful motu (or islands) to explore within the triangular atoll’s coral reef. The clear water, white sand beaches, and coconut palm fringed motu, make for a setting of almost surreal beauty.
Lagoon cruises may include snorkelling stops for viewing reef fish, the giant-clam colony, and the stunning purple coral formations, as well as opportunities to explore a deserted island. A barbeque lunch of freshly caught fish is usually served on one of the motu with One Foot Island and Honeymoon Island, among the most popular. The lunch stop includes free time for snorkelling, swimming, walking or just lying on one of the idyllic beaches.
Aitutaki is a 45-minute flight from Rarotonga, and can be visited on a day trip package – or for longer stays, there are plenty of accommodation options, from budget to luxury.
Easy going island time
One of the charms of Aitutaki, is its’ quiet, relaxed, easy-going atmosphere, and the soothing pace of “island time”. If you want a place to get away from the hurley burley of civilisation, this is the ideal destination. The main island of Aitutaki has a population of about 2000 and a small main village, Arutanga, where basic goods are available. Locals are very friendly and always keen to stop for a chat or to help out a visitor.
The hotel resorts, motels and backpackers’ lodges are all discretely spread around the coast with access to the lagoon’s white-sand beaches for relaxing, swimming, sailing, kayaking and snorkelling. Aitutaki is an island of lush areas of tropical rainforest, with many small farms and plantations. In the villages, many local people have productive gardens, and keep chickens and pigs, but dogs are forbidden on the island.
Lots of things to do on the lagoon
The day trip to Aitutaki starts with a domestic flight that leaves Rarotonga at 8am and connects with the lagoon day-cruises, returning to Rarotonga at 4.30pm. It is quite a long day, but for those not staying on Aitutaki, it is an opportunity not to be missed.
There are many options for lagoon cruises with operators offering day trips and charter services, from small motorised outboards to the largest vessel, an impressive motorised replica of a traditional Cook Island twin-hulled waka houroa. Paradise Island Lagoon Tours operate this catamaran, the Titi-ai-Tonga, which seats about 40 people, and is a very relaxing way to enjoy the lagoon. They include snorkelling, two motu visits, fish feeding and a visit to the giant clams in their tour. The hospitality of local people ensures a memorable experience often accompanied by singing, ukulele and guitar playing from the crew.
Other cruise options
Bishops Lagoon Cruises are one of the operators who specialise in diving and snorkelling on the lagoon. A typical day out might include stopping at motu to explore and swim, stops for snorkelling and diving, watching turtles, and feeding the reef fish. All done with the infectious enthusiasm of the local crew. They offer day trips and also Sunset Cruises to explore the lagoon at sunset in an even more romantic setting, as well as tours on the main island of Aitutaki.
Another local cruise operator with a great reputation is Teking Lagoon Cruises, operated by Teariki George who entertains his clients with his good natured humour and the personal touch, often ensuring that the rest of their stay is as successful as his cruises – he offers three different options. His lagoon cruise usually makes many stops for snorkelling, looking at fish, giant clams and coral, and also for exploring the many motu with a cultural introduction, a delicious lunch, and a leisurely walk on the island, all part of the experience.
Other lagoon cruise operators include Kia Orana Cruz and Aitutaki Adventures
Sailing or game fishing too
For those who prefer sailing on the lagoon, it is possible to take a sailing tour around the lagoon to Maina Motu with Mattias at Matariki Beach Huts on the north-west coast next door to Are Tamanu Hotel.
Game fishing enthusiasts are catered for by Aitutaki Sea Fishing Charters on board the Foxy Lady with a day of exciting game fishing in the open sea around Aitutaki for tuna, barracuda and the elusive marlin. Don Watt and his son Jason are experienced fishermen who know all the best and welcome people aboard their 25 metre cabin boat, which has on-board wash rooms and is equipped with all the necessary safety gear. Fishing trips can take up to 6 hours depending on the weather and how the fishing is on the day.