Hoofing It Around Aitutaki
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
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.
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.
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!"
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
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.
Travels (2001-02) >
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New Zealand and Cook Island Stories > Hoofing
It Around Aitutaki