One of the great things about living in Australia is that we are so close to all kind of amazing tropical islands and reefs in the South Pacific. Whether it’s Fiji, Tahiti or the Cook Islands, it’s all just a few hours flight away for when you need a break from living in paradise.
Which makes it the more perplexing to me that most Aussies prefer to spend their precious vacation in cheap overcrowded places like Bali instead of exploring unspoilt beaches on more remote tropical islands.
In July my partner and I went to the Cook Islands for a vacation. I love simply flying to new places without a lot of research or planning and just make all my own experiences. Having never been there before, we were first planning to stay on the main island of Rarotonga. In the end we made a snap decision to make our vacation a little more special and travel further to Aitutaki, a small island nearby. One of the best decisions ever.
From Melbourne we flew to Auckland in New Zealand, then to Rarotonga. From there it was a small turboprop plane to Aitutaki.
Because the flights ended up quite expensive and we wanted a more authentic experience than just staying in a hotel resort, shielded from the locals, we decided to stay in the cheapest possible Airbnb accomodation. It turned out to be a very memorable experience, our local host was fantastic.
The standard of living on Aitutaki is definitely below Australian standard, but that’s just the way it is. Those who don’t like it need to travel elsewhere or stay in one of the big resorts. For us the most basic accomodation was good enough, during the day were out and about anyway.
Our host provided us with fresh passionfruit, coconut and veggies from his garden every day, picked us up and brought us back to the airport, taught us how to harvest coconut and we were able to rent his scooter which we used to get around the island every day. Everything was just wonderful.
The scooter was definitely helpful in getting around. We spent most days snorkelling at the same beach and with the scooter it was easy to get there.
One thing we discovered was that it’s hard to find something to eat on Aitutaki. There are some small grocery stores, but only two or three restaurants or bars. We ended up going to the same one every day.
The wonderful thing about Aitutaki is that it’s actually a group of islands, and together they are surrounded by reef, with a large sheltered lagoon in the middle. The reef ensures no big fish can get into the lagoon, so it’s free of sharks and other dangers, apart from some friendly Giant Trevally that were added for the tourists to swim with (so we were told).
Our favourite things to do on Aitutaki were going on a boat cruise around the lagoon, to the best spots for snorkelling on the coral reef. We also did a fishing charter, but outside the reef the sea can get very rough. Other than that there are plenty of empty beaches where the water is very shallow and it’s just perfect for spending most of the day snorkelling around rocks of coral and watching the colourful fish. Most of the days we just slept in, then went snorkelling and finished the day with a great meal at our favourite beach restaurant before watching the sunset – couldn’t have been more relaxing.
Fun fact #1: among the things that make Aitutaki so amazing is that the entire island is dog free, since dogs are banned by law (for historical reasons). In most places in South East Asia or in developing countries, having dirty dogs roam around is an absolute nuisance. Aitutaki is a surprisingly clean island where we could travel anywhere without being harassed by dogs or stepping into dog shit at the beach.
They do however, have cats on Aitutaki (bless them). And chickens. And plenty of roosters, which can be very noisy from early morning on. But it’s a funny experience.
On the way home we had an entire day stopover in Rarotonga, so we hired a scooter and cruised around the island. We quickly realised it was the right decision to spend much of our vacation on Aitutaki. Rarotonga seemed very crowded, touristy, full of expats in big cars and not nearly as charming as Aitutaki.
Fun fact #2: the Cook Islands have quite possibly the most awesome currency on the planet. Not only is there a three dollar bank note (yes, not 5 or 10, it’s 3) which features a naked island beauty riding a shark while holding what looks like a coconut. There is also a two dollar coin in triangular shape, and automatic vending machines usually carry a warning sign asking people to please not use those coins – I’m assuming they will clog the machine. Stuff like that is what attracts me to travel to remote and – from a Western point of view – under-developed places; in our own boring and sanitised culture it would be unthinkable to have bank notes like that.
More photos in the album Aitutaki.