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Aitutaki:  Just Your Average Tropical Paradise

(Reprint from News: December 14, 2001)

December 11, 2001


My plans to visit to Aitutaki started about a year ago.  While working last winter at my job in downtown Portland, I'd take out my Lonely Planet book on the Cook Islands each day during lunch and read about Aitutaki (pronounced "eye-two-talky").  As I learned, Aitutaki was a beautiful island with a huge lagoon that was located about 150 miles north of Rarotonga, the major island in the Cook Islands.  After looking at the beautiful pictures in the book and staring outside at the cold, rainy streets below, I decided to visit Aitutaki if and when I ever got to the Cook Islands.  


After spending two days on Rarotonga, (see News: December 10, 2001), I flew out to Aitutaki on a small Air Rarotonga turboprop, got off the plane, and walked into the Aitutaki “air terminal.”  The terminal is actually a large thatched hut, but it definitely sets the tone for this island paradise.  I hopped on a rickety-but-colorful bus and got a ride into "town," hopping off at my lodge, the Vaikoa Units, where I was greeted by the owner, a pleasant woman in her 40's.



Above left:  "Leaving on a jet (well, prop) plane."  Boarding the plane to Aitutaki at the Rarotonga Airport.

Above center:  No movie on THIS flight.

Above right:  150 miles later, I arrived at the Aitutaki "airport."  No metal detectors here... and no need for one.  The landing strip here was built during World War II by the U.S. Marines and is one of the longest in the South Pacific.  


With a few exceptions, most of the lodges on Aitutaki are small, family-run establishments with a lot of “character.”  The Vaikoa Units were definitely on the budget end of the spectrum.  For US$14 a night, I got a two-bed unit with full kitchen, plates, and utensils about 100 feet from one of the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever seen.  The “character” part includes the bare light bulbs on the ceiling, cool showers, and a room that comes fully equipped with a resident lizard.  But hey, what do you expect for $14 a night? 


Here's some nice island music.  This is Israel Kamakawiwo'ole singing Ka Huila Wai.

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There are several higher-end accommodations on Aitutaki and next time I visit (and there will definitely be a next time), I might opt for one.  You can even spend several hundred dollars a night for the top-of-the-line Aitutaki Lagoon Resort, though I’ve heard that you don’t get what you pay for there.  On the low end of the spectrum, you can spend about $10 a night in a “kikau,” or enclosed thatched-roof hut right on the beach at Paradise Cove, which sounds intriguing.  By the way, the total cost of my two-day jaunt to Aitutaki was just $180, including round-trip airfare from Rarotonga, meals, transfers, and two nights at the Vaikoa Units.  For information about package deals to Aitutaki, I recommend the travel company I booked with, Jetsave Travel, located on Rarotonga.



Above:  Aitutaki, a beautiful mountainous atoll in the South Pacific.  The main island, with the airfield, is on the top.  The other islands are uninhabited.


After the tremendous buildup and my very high expectations of Rarotonga, I must admit that I was a bit disappointed.  Mostly, I was surprised by how crowded Rarotonga was, with few secluded beach areas.  Still, though, I thought Rarotonga was nice.  


If Rarotonga is nice, then Aitutaki is simply wonderful.  I spent two full days on Aitutaki and couldn’t figure out why more people haven’t discovered this place, because it's an unspoiled tropical paradise.  No, I’m not talking about some overdeveloped place like Maui, Tahiti, Acapulco, or Cancun – you can have those places (and their high prices).  Unlike those places, the locals here are very friendly (friendlier even than on Rarotonga), the scenery is right out of a postcard, the weather is usually ideal, and the food and lodging is very reasonable, about a quarter of what you'd pay in the U.S.  Aitutaki is also quite "colorful" -- pigs seem to outnumber people here by about 2 to 1 and the many roosters here begin crowing each morning precisely at 4:30 a.m.  Good thing I brought my earplugs.


Like I say, it’s not Club Med.  If you want to be pampered, then visit one of the many expensive, exclusive, and snotty places in the South Pacific that cater to the plump and affluent.  But if you want to rub elbows with locals, bask in the sun, and experience genuine South Pacific friendliness, Aitutaki is the place to go.



Above left:  The Vaikoa Units, home for my two nights on Aitutaki.  You drink rainwater that's stored in the white cistern on the left.  Fortunately, this was the wet season.

Above center:  The receptionist at Vaikoa.

Above right:  As this grammatically-challenged sign in my room said, "Please don't used the plate for your mosquito coil and feeding the cat."  After reading this, I decided not to eat off the dinner plates.



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