Located in the heart of the Pacific, halfway between Hawaii and New Zealand, you will find the stunning island paradise of Aitutaki. Ringed by turquoise lagoons and swaying palm trees, it is the perfect quiet place to let everything happen a little slowler and escape the busy everyday life. And – believe it or not – the lagoon and its beaches are even prettier than the ones you find in famous Rarotonga. So make sure to not miss the best part of the Cook Islands: Aitutaki!
How to get there?
There is only one way to get to Aitutaki and that is to fly with Air Rarotonga from Rarotonga. There are no ferries. The flight takes 45 minutes.
Our absolute highlight in Aitutaki was its lagoon. You will not believe the color of the water and the sand, until you see it for yourself. So booking one of the many lagoon tours definitely is a MUST. Otherwise you will miss the best part of Aitutaki. We decided to take a lagoon tour with our hotel Matriki Beach Huts. The tour was a bit pricy (125 NZD per person), but worth every cent. Lisa and Paul will take you out on their own small boat, so you will explore the lagoon in a rather private and small group. The lunch was amazing and cooked by Paul himself. They offer different types of tours, but we recommend to go for the island and snorkeling one. It was perfect. If you cannot go with Lisa and Paul try Teking – the tour should be the same price and it would have been our second choice.
How long to stay?
Here we are again: How much time should one spend in paradise? Hard to say. But as paradise mostly does not come cheap, we decided to pay at least some attention to our budget and booked 6 nights (which actually totally blew our budget, but we probably will never get a second chance to be in Aitutaki – so why not treat ourselves to some island time). As Aitutaki is pretty small, you actually only need about one day to see the whole island and definitely a second one to go on a tour across the lagoon. So if you need to keep it short and simple, book at least 2-3 nights. Every additional day will give you more time to enjoy yourself, the beach, the sun, the lagoon, some pretty good snorkeling and all other things Aitutaki has to offer.
Where to stay?
There are no hostels in Aitutaki, but if you look early enough you probably will find a few affordable guesthouses or hotels. Also: If you are traveling with a group, make sure to look for a bigger bungalow. Your accommodation costs might turn into a bargain then. We ended up booking with Matriki Beach Huts at 109 NZD per night in the wonderful Upper Treehouse (we were blowing our budget anyway, so why not go with a beachfront hut?). The location is perfect – directly at the beach with some pretty awesome snorkeling right in front of the property. Some small shops can be reached by foot (20 min walk) and you can reach some viewpoints as well. The hotel also rents out motorbikes and bicycles.
Hiking Make sure to get a view from above to admire the beauty of Aitutaki and its lagoon. Hike up to the Piraki Lookout, or the Maunga Pu (which by the way is Aitutaki’s highest peak at 124 m above sea level). Supermarkets and Food Aitutaki is small. Super small. And a cargo vessel, bringing food and other supplies, only arrives twice a month. So be prepared to not find much to choose from in one of the small local stores (there actually is no proper supermarket). We happened to arrive just a couple of days before the vessel arrived and there was no meat, fish or anything else available in store. It was even hard to find fresh vegetables and fruit. But there was lots of canned food, chips and candy. If you desperately need fresh ingredients, make sure to visit the market at the harbour – try to be as early as possible. Or become friends with the locals, they might happily share their fresh stuff with you.
Note: We were told that most fresh produces directly go to the big resorts and restaurants, especially fish, so if you eat out, you might not have too many problems to find good food. But it sure has its price. Going for the vegetarian option can save you some money.
Flight booking Make sure to book your flights as early as possible. A day-trip to Aitutaki from Rarotonga will cost you about 500 NZD, so why not spend some more time on this absolutely beautiful island and pay even less for the flight? If you look at the Air Rarotonga website, you might notice that the further out you book, the better the prices are. It still is not a bargain, but we promise you – it is so worth it! A second alternative would be to just turn up at the airport in Rarotonga and head to the Air Rarotonga office. If you book through them, you might get a good last-minute price. At least that is what people told us. But then you of course risk not going at all in case there are no available flights anymore. And of course the flights also can be super expensive. You never know. Airport Transfer You need to arrange airport transfer with your accommodation. It probably will cost you between 10 and 20 NZD one way. The only other option is to walk or try to hitchhike. Getting around the island Aitutaki is super small and you can easily explore the entire island in half a day. You can traverse the whole island within a couple of hours by bicycle. There are no bus connections and taxis and it does not make sense to rent a car at all (we are not even sure if it is possible to do so). So you have three options: 1) walk, 2) rent a bicycle (rentals are either free from your accommodation or around 10-12 NZD a day) and 3) rent a scooter/motorbike (you will get one for about 25 NZD a day, which is pretty expensive and note that fuel can be hard to find on the island). We decided to rent a motorbike for one day, to check out the whole island and then do everything else by foot the other days. In fact we did not walk much at all. The beach was just too tempting.
Aitutaki Drivers License Getting a valid Cook Islands drivers license to be allowed to drive a scooter on Rarotonga is quite tricky and expensive. This is not the case on Aitutaki. Here it should cost you around 2.50 NZD only. And the only test you have to pass is to ride your bike to the police station without hurting yourself or anyone else. They might also ask you some additional questions, but usually this is not the case.