Aitutaki Atoll, 259 km north of Rarotonga, is the second-most-visited Cook Island and the scenery of this "dream island" is actually quite lovely. The low rolling hills are flanked by banana plantations, taro fields, and coconut groves. Atiu-type coffee is grown here. A triangular barrier reef 45 km around catches Aitutaki's turquoise lagoon like a fishhook. The maximum depth of this lagoon is 10.5 meters but most of it is less than five meters deep. The 15 picture-postcard motu (islets) and numerous sandbars on the eastern barrier reef all feature the soft white sands and aquamarine waters of your usual South Seas paradise.
The main island is volcanic: its highest hill, Maungapu (124 meters), is said to be the top of Rarotonga's Raemaru, chopped off and brought back by victorious Aitutaki warriors. All of the motu are coralline except for Rapota and Moturakau, which contain some volcanic rock. Legend holds that just as the warriors were arriving back with their stolen mountain they clashed with pursuing Rarotongans and pieces of Maungapu fell off, creating Moturakau and Rapota. Moturakau served as a leper colony from the 1930s to 1967. Motikitiu at the south end of the lagoon is the nesting area of many of Aitutaki's native birds, as mynahs have taken over the main island. Be on the lookout for the blue lorikeet (kuramo'o) with its white bib and orange beak and legs.
Aitutaki is north of Rarotonga and therefore warmer. During the hot season December-March, sand flies and mosquitoes are at their worst. They're more of a nuisance on the north side of the main island, far less so on the motu. Around Arutanga beware of theft from the beach and back yards of the guesthouses by small children.
Continue to Aitutaki Intro: Local History »