I have been wanting to travel to Aitutaki for a long time, so when my husband and I decided to travel to New Zealand, I knew we had to tag The Cook Islands onto our trip, as it’s pretty straight forward to reach The Cooks from Auckland, and to take an internal flight to Aitutaki from Rarotonga.
Aitutaki is probably one of the most instagrammed islands in The Cooks, just looking at the photos of Aitutaki makes you feel complete wanderlust!
Aitutaki is the second most visited island after Rarotonga. Many visitors to Aitutaki tend to just travel there for the day with Air Rarotonga, which is great if your really strapped for time, however I think if your paying that much to travel there for a day, why not spend a few more days in paradise?!
The island of Aitutaki has a different vibe to that of Rarotonga. I found the locals on Rarotonga to be a lot more friendly and up beat. However Aitutaki is stunning like no other place in the world I have been to before. The lagoon is just picture perfect and the coral and marine life is fantastic.
I think Aitutaki is not to be missed when visiting The Cooks, as much as Aitutaki is very quiet, and may not have a lot going on, there is more to do than you might think, with scooters readily available to wizz around the island, a peak with gorgeous views and unlimited amount of snorkelling to be done in the lagoon, you definitely won’t be bored on this gorgeous island.
I fell in love with Aitutaki and it’s beautiful lagoon and marine life. In this blog I will be writing about my recommendations, tips and about places that I have visited.
Sights & Activities
The biggest draw in Aitutaki, has to be its lagoon. With crystal clear aqua water and white sand beaches, and lots of small isolated motus dotted around the lagoon, it really is a slice of heaven. This for me was one of the main reasons I wanted to visit Aitutaki. I had seen photos of the lagoon and thought it just looked like paradise. The programme shipwrecked was also filmed on some of the small islands in the lagoon.
The lagoon is a must when travelling to The Cook Islands! Air Rarotonga do offer a day tour to Aitutaki however it is very pricey, and personally I think if your going to fly there, why not spend a few nights and get around Aitutaki, and spend longer on the smaller islands in the lagoon.
Aitutaki Marine Research Centre
The Marine Research Centre is well worth a visit, it’s free to enter however you can make a donation if you wish to. It’s not particularly large, and you will likely spend around 15 minutes or so there. It has several large tanks where they breed giant clams which are placed into the ocean when they reach a certain size.
There was a large decline in giant clams so The Cook Island government set up a marine centre to breed clams to get the numbers back up, and to reestablish the clams back into the lagoon, as octopuses can eat them when they are still quite small. There are also some large coconut crabs to see as well.
The Marine Research Centre is on the north of the island, not to far from the airport. If you have a scooter definetly wizz round to have a look, as the clams are the most beautiful and bright colours.
Arutanga is Aitutakis only town, but really it is more like a village with a church, a few places to eat, and a supermarket. There is not a lot to do in Arutanga. It’s worth having a look though if you have a scooter as it’s nice to drive around the whole island.
There is also the local market, but when my husband and I drove there the only thing that was left to buy was a few coconuts, and that was at about 10am! There is also The Cook Islands Christian Church located here which is the oldest church in The Cooks, it was built in 1828. If you have time try and attend a Sunday service.
Honeymoon & Maina Islands
Honeymoon and Maina are 2 small motu islands in the lagoon, which are very close together you can swim between them as they aren’t far apart from one another. We did a lagoon cruise and stopped here for lunch. You can also get dropped off here for the day by a water taxi, and have both to yourself for most of the day. They are both stunning, neither of them have anything on the islands apart from palm trees, so take plenty of supplies such as water and sun tan lotion if you are getting dropped off for the day.
Kia-Orana Cruises was a great day out, Captain Fantastic as he likes to be called, is knowledgeable and takes you to the 7 wonders of the lagoon. The 7 wonders are 7 small motu islands which are dotted around the lagoon. This tour is really great as it’s a small group no more than 10 people at a time, unlike some of the larger tour companies like Teking and Vaka Cruise, which take approximately 40-50 people on their tours.
The cruise was reasonable for what you get included in the tour, it was NZ$125 per person when we went on the tour. Kia-Orana Cruises picks you up from your accommodation, and the tour consists of snorkelling, seeing 7 different islands and getting off to explore them and being told about the islands folklore’s and myths. They also provide a lovely fresh local lunch cooked for you on Maina Island.
I highly recommend this tour as you can take in so much of the lagoon all in one day. With enough time for snorkelling around One Foot Island too. They are also one of the only tour companies to operate on a Sunday.
Maungapu is Aitutakis highest peak which is 124meters, up at the top you get the most amazing view of the island and the surrounding lagoon and atolls. If you do have a scooter you can drive up most of the way then walk the remaining bit up for about 5 minutes, which is quite steep and challenging especially on a hot day. Make sure you wear trainers rather than flip-flops, as there is some loose gravel towards the summit which can be quite slippy.
One Foot Island
One Foot Island was one of my personal highlights of our trip to The Cook Islands. We visited One Foot Island on the Kia-Orana Cruise, however I decided I wanted to go back the following day, and was dropped off there by water taxi which cost NZ$60 per person. We had the whole of One Foot Island to ourselves until about midday when some larger tours come and had lunch there, but as soon as they were finished with their lunch they left and we had the island back to ourselves again.
There isn’t anything on One Foot Island other than a small wooden shack and small post office which opens when the large tours come on, there you can have your passport stamped and also send postcards to back home and purchase some drinks, but this is only while the tours are there.
The snorkelling is great and you see lots of giant trevellys, corals and some giant clams which have been put back into the ocean, there is a boy floating above them so you can snorkel over to have a look. It’s also really lovely to walk around One Foot Island as you get some amazing views out towards the edge of the lagoon. It really makes you feel like your at the edge of the world on One Foot Island, as you can see the waves crashing against the corals edge at the end of the lagoon, and then the Pacific Ocean for miles and miles. You can walk around the whole island in about 10-15 minutes and it is really worth it for the views.
Food & Beverage
Boatshed Bar & Grill
The Boatshed Bar and Grill is a lovely laid back restaurant and bar. It’s full of maritime memorabilia, and the food and drink is quite reasonably priced. I recommend the fish and chips it’s very fresh and the portions are large, I was stuffed afterwards. The menu has lots of choice and caters for vegetarians too. If you go on a nice day try and sit out on the front deck for views over the ocean. Unfortunately when we went it was pouring with rain so we sat inside.
Cafe Tupuna was one of my favourite restaurants in Aitutaki, it is the only independently owned restaurant on the island, and is in a rural setting behind the hills of Arutanga, make sure to take insect repellent as I got bitten quite a lot here, as it’s set outside undercover.
It can also be quite hard to find as it’s quite tucked away, take a phone with satnav or maps on if you can. Try and make a reservation prior to going as we went early and only just managed to get the last table!
The food served here is delicious and serves up fresh, authentic Polynesian food! It can be a little pricey, however it is definetly worth it as a treat. They also have a great selection of wine too.
Koru Cafe is great for sandwiches, salads and all day breakfasts. We went for breakfast when we arrived on Aitutaki, and the service was great and friendly and the food was reasonably priced too. Koru Cafe also offer take away meals, picnics and bbq packs which is great if your going to get dropped off at one of the motus for the day, or to just have on the beach, as there is not many restaurants readily available on the beach and islands around the lagoon.
Puffys Beach Bar & Grill
Puffys wasn’t the best place we ate at, however as there isn’t a huge amount of options near by or on the island, we decided to walk down one evening as it’s only a few minutes away from where we stayed at. Puffys is more like a take away than a proper restaurant it has some tables and chairs to sit at, but you order your food from the front.
I decided to have fish and chips and my husband had chicken and chips. They were both ok, but nothing particularly special and we found it quite pricey for what it was. If your staying on Aitutaki for a while I would suggest going here for somewhere different, however if your not on Aitutaki for that long I wouldn’t really bother.
It is good for a drink if you wanted to go there in the evening as the alcohol is quite reasonably priced in comparison with the food. They do also host an island night once a week too.
Tamanu Beach Front
We went to Tamanus Island Night which they host every Thursday, it’s meant to be the biggest and best on Aitutaki, I only went to this island night so can’t compare it to any others. However the buffet was delicious and had a wide variety of dishes available with lots of traditional Cook Island food. The band was great and played lots of island music. The entertainment came after the dinner and had a lot of traditional dances and fire dancing, at the end they did ask for audience participation which was great fun.
The island Night can be quite expensive at NZ$70 per person plus drinks on top, however it is still much cheaper than the island nights that are held on Rarotonga. If you don’t fancy forking out for dinner you can just attend the entertainment after the dinner is served, and just purchase a drink and still get to watch the show.
Tauono’s Garden Cafe & Market Shop
We loved Tauono’s as it was so convenient, it was located a few minutes walk from where we stayed at Matriki Beach Huts. It could be accessed along the beach or by the front along the main road.
Sonja a Canadian-Austrian who runs it is a delight. Sonja makes the most delicious coconut cake which she makes with fresh coconuts. She also sells fresh organic fruit and vegetables from her own garden. This place was really handy to grab some fruit for our breakfast, and some lunch bits. She also makes fresh bread most days which is available to buy.
We didn’t eat in her cafe, but I’m sure the food is amazing as we bought some cakes and bread from her most days, and all were really tasty. If your self catering definitely pay Tauono’s a visit, as the stores around the island don’t really sell much fresh fruit, vegetables or other fresh produce.
Matriki Beach Huts
When we were on Aitutaki we stayed at Matriki Beach Huts. They were reasonably priced, and were not too big with only 2 beach huts and 1 double storey beach hut, and a garden unit.
They had a really good location set right on the beach. They were knocked up and kind of thrown together, however I think this added to the charm of the place. There were shared toilets, the huts themselves however were self contained with bed, small kitchenette and an outside contained shower and a deck area.
The deck was lovely to sit out on at night and listen to the sound of the ocean. There is also a bbq and social area and everyone that stayed at Matriki was really friendly.
There’s also a coconut cutting area and a pole to hook down the coconuts from the trees. This was good fun as the weather wasn’t great on one of the days we were there, and a couple we had made friends with and ourselves decided to get some coconuts down, and cut them open and have drink.
Matriki also offer bikes and scooters available to hire as well as offering lagoon tours, and water taxis. However I would recommend pre-booking a lagoon tour, when I made the booking a few months before our arrival, I asked if I could book a tour and they advised me they would arrange it on my arrival, but when I arrived they said they would let me know as soon as possible. Then 2 days past with glorious sunny weather, then the weather took a turn for the worse, and they said they could not take the boat out, which is fine I understand that bad weather can be dangerous, but I started to worry thinking we wouldn’t make it out to the lagoon, which was the whole reason why we traveled to Aitutaki.
We amended our flights back to Rarotonga to later ones so we could give ourselves some more time to get out onto the lagoon, and we ended up booking Kia-Orana Cruises in the end, which I wish we had just done in the first place, rather than waiting for Matriki to decide on a day to take us. Other than the tour mess up, Matriki did make it up to us and took us out on our last day to One Foot Island and dropped us off there for the day.
I would recommend Matriki as a place to stay as the beach huts are cute and quirky, I would recommend also using Matriki for water taxis, but would advise pre-booking a lagoon tour with Kia-Orana Cruises or another lagoon tour operator as their boats are better equipped incase of bad weather.
Transport & Getting Around
Most accommodation providers will organise or provide airport transfers for NZ$20 per person each way. Prior to arriving try and organise airport transfers as the airport is very small, and there isn’t much at the airport. If your accommodation provider doesn’t provide airport transfers book in advance with Island Tours.
Aitutaki has no public bus services.
Scooters & Bikes
Scooters and bikes are readily available to hire all around the island, however with scooters you need a valid motorcycle licence, alternatively you can obtain a licence for a fee and a practical exam from the police station in Rarotonga. Aitutaki is a lot more relaxed than Rarotonga and don’t ask for a motorcycle license to hire the scooters. Some accommodation providers hire out scooters and bicycles which is the best way to get around the island. The roads are very quiet and the speed limit is low.
Aitutaki has no taxi services, however car hire is available from Popoara Rentals, Ranginuis Retreat and Rinos Beach Bungalows and rentals.
My top tips for The Cook Islands would be take lots of bug repellent my husband and I got eaten alive while we were there. If you have snorkels and masks take them with you, as there are lots of great snorkelling spots within just a few meters swim out from the beach. My husband and I have invested in some full face snorkel masks which are great and don’t steam up, and best of all not having to breathe through a snorkel.
Another tip would be to explore the island of Aitutaki by hiring a bike or scooter, and spending a morning driving around the island, also one evening at dusk head to some of the mangroves around the island, and see if you can spot the crabs coming out of the ground from their dens.
While on the island try and spend as much time as you can out on the lagoon, and on the beach as it’s truly stunning. I noticed most tourists that were staying in the larger resorts would be sat by the pool rather than on the beach. Which was great for us, as most days we had the beach to ourselves, but also made me think The Cook Islands is a long way to travel to, to then sit by a pool and not admire the beautiful beaches.