It seems that, yet again, we stumbled on another little pocket of paradise on the island of Aitutaki. The Cook Islands are comprised of 15 islands, however for most visitors, if they leave Rarotonga, the only other island they make it to is Aituaki Atoll. If, like me, you recognize that an atoll is some description of an island, but are not sure what exactly it is describing, dictionary.com helped out with: an atoll is a ringlike coral island and reef that nearly or entirely encloses a lagoon, which perfectly describes Aitutaki. The pictures say it all, check 'em out.
In addition to being stunningly beautiful, Aitutaki is refreshingly undeveloped. There's just enough development to have a few accommodation options ranging from small, basic bungalows to a couple resorts. There are a handful of restaurants, a couple small grocery stores and a population of 1800 people. We thought life was slow and mellow on Rarotonga, Aitutaki took it to a whole new level, and we loved every slow minute of it.
The 30 passenger prop plane delivered us to Aitutaki International Airport just in time watch the sun disappear into the Pacific Ocean. On our decent into the island we ohh'd and ahh'd over the aerial view of the turquoise lagoon surrounded by a string of uninhabited lush green islands with white sand beaches. Within 45 mins of leaving Rarotonga we were settling in our simple, self-contained (meaning it has a kitchen) bungalow looking forward to 5 relaxing days to explore the island.
The highlight of any visit to Aitutaki is, of course, the opportunity to explore the picture perfect lagoon. We decided that Thanksgiving Day would be the perfect day to take a Lagoon Cruise. We were picked up at 9 am at our bungalow and joined a minivan full of honeymooning couples to head out to our catamaran cruiser. Our first stop was Akaiami, a beautiful uninhabited island except for a small lodge and two brand new self-contained bungalows right on the beach. Sydney, one of the owners, explained that his family owned the island and recently built the bungalows for guests to visit the island. There is no restaurant or any other facilities on the island so after they pick up their guests at the Aitutaki Airport they stop at the grocery store to stock up then jump in a boat for the ultimate tropical paradise vacation. Check out their website (www.rarotonga-accommodation.com/akaiami) A couple days later we ran into Sydney and the couple staying on his island.
After leaving Akaiami we headed out to the open water of the lagoon, close to the breaking waves along the edge of the reef and took in the underwater landscape. Admittedly, it pales in comparison to the Great Barrier Reef, but the fish were colorful and the water warm. A yummy tropical lunch of grilled mahimahi steaks awaited us on One Foot Island, our next stop after snorkeling. We had a couple hours after lunch to explore One Foot Island and swim out to the sand islets off the island.
And no Thanksgiving is complete without a home-cooked meal of tacos with stale shells and dodgy mincemeat---oh wait, wrong holiday. Oh well, you add a couple cold beers and some chips to the mix and throw a few "please pass the cranberry sauce--I mean the taco sauce" into the conversation and it almost feels like a traditional Thanksgiving. But much like both of our birthdays and our first anniversary, it just becomes another day on an amazing adventure. Come to think of it, my birthday dinner and our first anniversary dinner were pretty low points in our culinary experience.
Aitutaki was the perfect place to relax with a good book, or even a marginally good book. We both read 2 or 3 books in the 5 days we were there. We also rented a little go-kart/dune buggy thing, which was a kick! We had a great day zipping around the island and exploring all the back roads and seeing where all the Aitutakians (ok, I made up that word, but it might be there right word) really live. The Cook Islanders drive on the left which, at that point in our trip, we were very used to. But, we've learned that as soon as you get comfortable with something, either you leave the country all together and start someplace new, or another challenge is thrown into the mix, just to keep us on our toes. The steering wheel was also on the left, which added a little extra challenge, but traffic on Aitutaki was so mellow it hardly mattered. So, to add to that, after dark the coconut crabs come out and scuttle across the road. They make a horribly gross crunching noise when you run over them so it was quite an obstacle course to try to avoid crunching any, though it seemed that Snowden was the only one who made any effort to miss them.
While wandering around the island one of the roads took us up to a lookout area where we ran into Sydney with his guests William and Kirsten, a jetsetting couple working their way back to Toronto from Asia. Kirsten's 30th birthday was a couple days later and William had arranged for a little celebration in her honor on the island. Of course, it was a surprise for Kirsten so we couldn't let on that we knew her birthday was coming up. Hope you had a happy birthday, Kirsten! We discovered that Kirsten, William, Sydney, and Sydney's niece were very practiced jumpers and I had to pull out all the stops to keep up with them.
One of the tricks we learned in Indonesia is you can stay in the cheap accommodations and pay a day rate to enjoy the nice luxury resorts. One day was spent at the Aitutaki Lagoon and Resort Spa, which meant free use of their kayaks and a day lounging in their beachside hammocks. Life doesn't get much better than that. While we were lounging on the beach at the resort we ran into Susan and her parents Judy and Tony whom we met on our Lagoon Cruise a couple days before. They invited us to their bungalow for a glass of wine, the perfect way to end a perfect day on the beach. Though Judy and Tony are originally from England, all three now live in Brisbane, Australia. Susan went to boarding school in Brisbane when her parents were living in Papau New Guinea. It was funny to hear both a British accent and a strong Aussie accent in the same family. We wish we had met them prior to our pass through Brisbane a couple of months ago, but look forward to visiting them someday.
Since we enjoyed cooking for ourselves in New Zealand we were looking forward to our self-contained bungalow on Aitutaki. The only problem was that the grocery store on Aitutaki had a far more limited selection than the stores in NZ—go figure. And what they did have seemed to have been sitting on the shelves since Captain Cook first discovered the islands, thus the stale tacos for Thanksgiving. Truthfully, the meals we cooked on Aitutaki were, hands down, some of the worst on our trip. However, the veggies were really good. Our trusty guidebook told us about a guy who has an organic garden and sells herbs and veggies. We stopped to check it out. We left with a bag full of sweet and juicy cherry tomatoes, fresh basil cut specifically for us, a couple fresh peppers, a variety of lettuces straight from the garden and about 30 new mosquito bites on each leg. The gardener was a delightful older man who had spent much of his life traveling around the world on ships and came back to Aitutaki to settle down. He was pleased to slowly walk us through his garden to pick what we wanted and appeared to be completely unaffected by the swarm of mosquitoes hungrily devouring our legs. When we told him we were from Seattle he stopped, flashed a big smile and with a faraway look in his eye confessed he dreams of going to Seattle. "One day I'll get there," he said. "So will we," we replied, "so will we".