The world’s most beautiful lagoon can be found on Aitutaki, a tiny unspoiled dot in the South Pacific. Having visited recently, I can vouch for its massive WOW factor. Aitutaki is in the north of the Cook Island archipelago, which is scattered across 2.2 million square kilometers, halfway between New Zealand and Hawaii.
It is likely to get a lot better known thanks to the recently launched world’s most beautiful safety video, Air New Zealand’s Safety in Paradise. In the video, Aitutaki starred alongside the 2014 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit models who were celebrating 50 years of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue. And just in case you have any doubt how the regular punters feel about Aitutaki, it was also voted one of the world’s Top 10 Islands in the Trip Advisor 2014 Travellers’ Choice Awards.
Nicknamed the Honeymoon Island, for obvious reasons, Aitutaki is the archetypal tropical paradise surrounded by white sandy beaches. Actually there are about 15 islands, some tiny palm-fringed atolls that rim the enormous aquamarine lagoon. They are all that remain of a giant volcanic caldera. It is just a 45-minute flight from the Cook Island’s main hub of Rarotonga and when you arrive at the island-style airport, locals greet you with flower leis and it feels like you’ve returned to a simple way of life almost forgotten by the modern world.
What to do in Paradise
Here are some insider tips on what to do once you’ve arrived in paradise.
1. Relax and do nothing but swim and beachcomb. Pacific Hotel Aitutaki and Aitutaki Lagoon Resort and Spa (both featured in the Safety in Paradise video) are the two classy low-key resorts that are perfect for honeymooners and island lovers alike.
2. Take a day cruise with Wet n Wild to explore the vast lagoon. The turquoise water, pristine sandy islands and prolific marine life will astound you. Snorkel among giant clams and turtles, rainbow coloured parrotfish, vivid blue starfish, bright yellow angelfish, darting trevally, lion fish, white-spotted eagle rays and more.
3. Island hop to romantic uninhabited motus. Most cruises stop at Tapuaetai or One Foot Island, seen in the Safety in Paradise video. Many people think it offers the best views of Aitutaki Lagoon. You can also get your passport stamped at the world’s smallest official post office (from its days as an international stopover on the Flying Boats route across the Pacific). Pack a picnic and make for the islands where Survivor Cook Islands and Shipwrecked were filmed or a dazzling swathe of sand aptly named Honeymoon Island.
4. On land, an absolute must do is the Punarei Cultural Tour, which offers a fascinating authentic introduction to the Cook Islands’ Polynesian culture and history. At the traditional village reconstructed to mirror a village pre-missionary arrival, owner Ngaa Kitai Taria explains how the women were in charge of creating the village and sourcing the foods from the land while the men were the fisherman and warriors as he shows traditional huts made from ironwood and palms. Visit an excavated marae (sacred meeting place) and learn how to prepare a traditional umukai (underground oven) meal where pork, chicken, pumpkin, beans, plantains and bananas are placed inside banana leaves in an ‘oven’ of basalt rocks. Best of all, enjoy this earth oven feast in addition to fresh mangoes, guava, passionfruit, papaya, taro greens and breadfruit salad on plates you have made yourself from woven palm leaves.
5. Aitutakians are renowned for their exceptional drumming and dancing talents. Catch a mesmerizing performance at Pacific Resort and Aitutaki Lagoon Resort & Spa.
6. Go fly fishing for the elusive bonefish with E2’s Bonefish charters. Aitutaki lagoon is home to some of the world’s largest bonefish and Aitutaki local, Itu Davey and his brothers Rua and Tia, are the men who know how to find them. They have legendary fish spotting ability and their specialist flat boats are the best on Aitutaki. They are your best chance of tracking down the ‘ghosts of the flats.’
7. Visit the beautiful limestone rock CICC church, which is the oldest church on the Cook Islands, built in 1823. Aitutake was the first island to accept Christianity under the influence of Rev John Williams of the London Missionary Society. Today you can join the congregation on Sundays and marvel at the stunning acoustics as you listen to some terrific voices singing hymms.
8. Go shopping for fresh produce, colourful sarongs, and bags, hats and mats made from pandanus at the Saturday market on Aratunga Wharf.
Air New Zealand flies direct to Rarotonga, from Los Angeles, Auckland and Sydney. There are several onwards connections daily to Aitutaki with Air Rarotonga.
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