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Hoofing It Around Aitutaki

(Reprint from News: December 14, 2001)

December 11, 2001

 

After getting unpacked around noon, I walked down to the powdery white beach.  There, I met an Aitutakian named Mary Thatcher and we talked for a half-hour.  Mary told me that she'd returned home to Aitutaki last week for her father's funeral after teaching for the past 14 years in Auckland.  "I don't want to go back to New Zealand," she said.  "It's too crazy there.  My husband lives in Auckland, but I told him that I don't want to leave Aitutaki.  It's peaceful here and this is my home."  From what little I'd seen of Aitutaki so far, I could understand why she wanted to stay here.

 

After strolling on the brilliant white sand beach, I hiked up to the 400-foot high Maungapu, the highest point on the island.  I was rewarded there with an absolutely stunning view of the huge, turquoise-colored lagoon with the most distant motu (small island) visible about 10 miles away.   It was pretty warm, probably around 80 degrees, and quite humid, but the constant trade winds were refreshing and made it comfortable.  

 

       

Above left:  Outrigger canoes on the deserted beach at Vaikoa.

Above center:  The best view on Aitutaki is from Maungapu, the highest peak on the island.  From here, you have a spectacular 360-degree view of the island.

Above right:  Part of the huge lagoon at Aitutaki, from Maungapu.  Back in the late 1940s, flying boats crossing the Pacific landed in this lagoon and refueled.  While the planes refueled, passengers often went swimming in the lagoon.

 

While walking down Maungapu and through a forest of mango trees, I stopped and picked up several mangoes that I was going to save for breakfast the next morning.  How many places in the U.S., I wondered, can you hike and pick up the next dayís breakfast?  One warning though:  beware of ripe mangoes.  As I was walking along the trail, I heard a loud "splat," turned around, and saw a mango splattered on the ground right behind me.  At first I thought someone had thrown it at me, but then I realized that it had fallen from a tree.  I very narrowly missed getting a mango shampoo -- something you'd pay $30 for in the U.S.

 

I spent the next four hours walking completely around Aitutaki, about 12 miles altogether, strolling through coconut groves, small villages, and scattered settlements where the children waved shyly as I passed by.  They were curious, Iím sure, about this foreigner with the camera and daypack.  Judging from the reaction of the Aitutakians that I passed by, it was obvious that not many white tourists visited the far side of the island.  During my walk that afternoon, I saw hundreds of Aitutakians and not one Caucasian, many of whom I'm sure were holed up in their $200-a-night bungalows.  While walking down the dirt lane with scattered farms on either side, I heard a young voice shout, "Hello, hello..." and I turned around to see a young boy shouting and waving to me, so I smiled, waved and yelled back, "Hello!"

 

Late that afternoon, I strolled into the town of Arutanga, the largest settlement on the island.  I stopped at a nearly-deserted open-air cafe overlooking the wharf, ordered some fish and chips for dinner, sat down at a picnic table there, and listened to the Jimmy Buffett music playing on the boombox while watching the sun set beyond the reef.  Within a few minutes, a couple sitting nearby invited me to join them for dinner -- typical behavior in the Cook Islands.  I spent the next few hours getting to know Wayne, a retired Caucasian engineer from Auckland and Chloe, his Cook Islander wife.  It was a very pleasant evening spent with a very pleasant couple, and I walked back to Vaikoa by moonlight.

 

       

Above left:  Flowers on Aitutaki...

Above center:  ...and another palm tree.

Above right:  Why did the chicken cross the road?  Apparently, to eat a squished mango.

 

       

Above left:  There's lots of fruit all over the island, like these bananas.  I picked up a bunch of mangoes and ate them for breakfast the next morning.

Above center:  This is a typical house on Aitutaki, most of which are from the "Neo-Concrete Block" period.  The people on Aitutaki aren't very affluent, but they take great pride in their yards and in the few possessions they have.

Above right:  As I walked around the island that afternoon, I kept thinking of the "Lime in the Coconut" song.  You need to be careful, though, not to linger under the coconut trees!

 

         

Above left:  On my hike around the island.

Above center:  The Aitutaki welcoming committee.

Above right:  Arutanga, the main town on Aitutaki, is a sleepy South Pacific seaport.

 

   

Above left:  Back at Vaikoa that evening downloading photos into my laptop (right).  The rooms here are small but they cost only $14 a night...

Above right:  ...and come with complimentary lizards.

 

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