Cook Islands Travel

Aitutaki, Cook Islands

Introduction

Scattered over a vast expanse of empty ocean is the 15 fascinating tiny islands, known as the Cook Islands. This is a castaway’s dream come true. About the size of Western Europe, you’ll find thousand of years of Polynesian culture sitting side by side with some of the most spectacular natural scenery in the South Pacific.

There are no two ways about it – people come to the Cook Islands for the beaches: pristine, powdery ribbons, lapped by fittingly sparkling waters. A great bonus with Cook Islands tourism over neighboring French Polynesia is the local currency, the New Zealand dollar, which has a most attractive exchange rate against the US dollar, UK pound or Australian Dollar.

The jewel in the crown is Rarotonga, the largest island of the group (and home to the capital, Avarua) is a captivating blend of craggy mountains, dense jungle and of course the glorious soft white beaches – but you really need to get out and explore some of the other islands as well. The hook-shaped atoll of Aitutaki, the second most popular island visited by tourists, sits at the top of one of the world’s largest coral lagoons, packed with giant clams, technicolor tropical fish, and ringed by smaller uninhabited islets. Then there’s the small, rocky island of  ‘Atiu, with its limestone caves, coffee plantations and bush-beer drinking; the makatea islands of Mau’ke, Mitiaro and Mangaia, where traditional village life still predominates; and the far-flung black pearl fields of Penrhyn and Manihiki, which most visitors never get the chance to see.

Rarotonga

Rarotonga is the main island of the Cook Islands. This is where you will arrive. There are some stunning beaches to be found right around the island itself, Muri Beach is the best known beach of the island and it’s the best snorkeling location. There are plenty of water sports to be done there for example, kayaking and sailing. In the evening go and experience one of the cultural nights.

Aitutaki

Aitutaki is one of the best islands of the Cook’s. The lagoon there is said to be the most beautiful in the world. Postcard perfect white powder beaches and crystal clear waters awaits you there. Aitutaki is the place to get away from it all and to just relax. One of the must do’s there is to spend a day out on the water in the lagoon for a perfect day out snorkeling and a visit to One Foot Island. 

   

Islands

Rarotonga
Rarotonga is the vibrant centre of the Cook Islands and only 32 km in circumference. The island is almost completely encircled by a reef, which harbours a lagoon of clear turquoise waters and many inviting white sand beaches. Beyond the reef, the indigo blue of the ocean provides a vivid contrast and a bountiful supply of fish. Avarua is the main town on the island and the commercial centre of the Cook Islands. During business hours, it has a friendly, bustling atmosphere together with a good selection of shops, banks, cafes and visitor facilities.

Aitutaki
The sun shines, the coconut palms sway and your cocktail is only a hand’s reach away. It just doesn’t get any better than this. Less than a hours flight from Rarotonga, here there is a saying “You’re on Island Time” which means relax, breathe in the fresh air, stare in to space and smile. There’s no need to do anything else then just enjoying the moment. No doubt, you’re in paradise!

Being warm and sunny almost all year round the temperate island breezes refresh and revive. Whether it’s dancing, drumming, song or traditional carving, weaving and quilt making, culture is alive and kicking on this beautiful atoll. Being immensely proud of their island paradise, the people of Aitutaki are aware of the fine balance they must keep, balancing the needs of tourism in the area with protecting the amazing natural environment they have been blessed with. Experience the magic and mystique of Aitutaki in a place where the people still rely on the bounty of the sea and richness of the land, with culture and tradition a guide to their daily lives. A real haven for those who want to get away from the stress and strain of the outside world.

Atiu
The island of birds and legends – is the third largest in the group. Air Rarotonga operates regular flights to Atiu, which is 50 minutes by air to the northeast of Rarotonga. It’s a fascinating island, riddled with caves, raised coral atolls, cliffs, and white sand beaches. Orovaru Beach is where Captain James Cook landed in 1777. The birdlife mostly lives in the Makatea Forest found on the costal area of Atiu. One of the most unusual birds is the Kopeka, that lives permanently inside the limestone caves. They are never seen anywhere else.

Mitiaro
In the Southern Group (Atiu Mitiaro and Mauke) there is a small island called Nga Pu Toru, this island would be the least visited by tourists. Not because it is any less beautiful than sister islands Atiu and Mauke, but simply that it is probably the least known. Mitiaro is partially different to its sisters in that it has two large freshwater lakes in its interior, Rotonui and Rotoiti. These are full of Itiki (freshwater eels) that are considered a delicacy in the Cook Islands and a popular dish on this island. Flights to Mitiaro are dependant on demand but ususally twice a week Mondays and Fridays.

Mangaia
These limestone battlements are honeycombed with caves featuring extraordinary beauty. Mangaia is 45 minutes by air from Rarotonga, is the southernmost and the second largest of the Cook Islands. Lush Taro plantations and vegetation are located in the centre of the island at the bottom of the makatea and in the central valley. Mangaia has many caves, many of which can be reached via a short trek over the makatea to yawning openings that run deep into the interior. Market day in the ‘town’ centre on Friday mornings provides an excellent opportunity to buy fresh local produce and to check out the ornate craftwork made by skilled Mangaian women.

Manihiki
Manihiki is the most accessible of the Northern Group islands, with air services from Rarotonga. But note that the flight time is approximately 4 hours and Air Rarotonga advises that flights are dependant on bookings. Manihiki is a large atoll with a deep lagoon and sits atop an underwater mountain rising 4000 meters above the ocean floor. Regarded for its outstanding natural beauty, the lagoon houses the farms for much sort after cultured black pearls. This beautiful atoll is the cultured black pearl capital of the Cook Islands, producing pearls that become centrepieces for fine jewellery worn by women and men worldwide.

Manuae
Manuae, a now unhabited and peaceful sanctuary lies 102 kilometeres south-east of Aitutaki and was once home to contract workers employed on copra production. It consists of two horseshoe-shaped islets, Manuae and Te Au O Tu covering an area of 6 square kilometers. The island is occasionally visited by residents of Aitutaki who travel by small boat or aircraft for game fishing or diving expeditions.

Mauke
Mauke takes its name from the legendary founder ‘Uke who came to the island in search of a peaceful place to live. By today’s standards, he certainly chose the perfect island. Mauke’s peaceful existence belies its unsettled past and visitors will find a real Pacific haven on this infrequently visited island. It is often referred to as the ‘garden’ island of the Cook group and can be found 40 minutes by air northeast of Rarotonga. Surrounded by makatea (fossilised coral) with a volcanic plateau in the centre, the close caostal reef provides shallow swimming spots.

Non-commerical and with a relaxed pace of life, Mauke offers peace and seclusion ‘off the beaten track’. Visit the Oliveta Chruch at Kamiangatau, the ‘divided church’ built where the villages of Ngatiarua and Areora meet or walk through the lush vegetation of the makatea is as much of a refreshment as a swim in the caves themselves.

Nassau
There’s no airport, so access is limited to inter-island ships from Rarotonga – a voyage of three days or interisland boat from Pukapuka which takes approximately 2 hours. Their village is located in the north-west. Inland there are rich taro swamps and fruit groves, and of course off shore excellent fishing.

Palmerston
The unique social fabric of this atoll arises from the last century when Englishman William Marsters settled here with his two Rarotongan wives. The resulting small population now shares the same surname and speak a local dialect, itself a mixture of Cook Island and English languages. Accessible only by sea, a few adventurous travellers visit the island each year to experience life on this remote outpost.

Penrhyn
The northern most island of the Cook Islands, Penrhyn is located 1365 kilometres from Rarotonga and has the largest lagoon areas of the Cook Island’s atolls. Known for its golden pearls (poe pipi) and sandy beaches cultured black pearl farming only began here recently. Penrhyn women make the finest rito craftwork (from young coconut fronds). Hats, bags, fans and mats made here are the best to be found in the Pacific.

Pukapuka
This beautiful atoll with untouched white sandy beaches has excellent swimming and snorkelling with a reputation for its finely woven mats. Isolated insular and renowned for its unusual social customs, Pukapuka lies far to the north-west, nearly 800 miles from Rarotonga and 280 miles north-east of Samoa. Only recently opened up to air-services, the population have preserved innovative ways of sustaining a comfortable life almost oblivious to the outside world. Its remote location has kept the traditions and culture of Pukapuka largely unchanged for centuries and they are perhaps more similar to those of Samoa due to its relatively close proximity.

Rakahanga
Situated 25 miles northeast of neighboring Manihiki, Rakahanga is a picturesque and unspoiled atoll with a picturesque, almost totally enclosed lagoon where access is limited to a three hour ride by small craft from Manihiki or a three day voyage by inter-island ship from Rarotonga.

Suwarrow
This is one of the few atolls in the Northern Group with an accessible lagoon and one of the best harbours in the Pacific. Due to no continuous history of Polynesian habitation there is no traditional Polynesian name for the island. Its first recorded discovery was by a Russian ship, the “Suvorov” in 1814 where it was named after. Suwarrow was for many years the home of a New Zealand hermit, Tom Neale, who wrote of his life in a book – “An island to oneself”.

Today a caretaker and his family live on the atoll for most of the year, together with a million sea birds. Their solitude disturbed only by the occasional visiting yacht.

Takutea
Takutea lies 50 miles northeast of Atiu. It is a sanctuary declared to protect the breeding site of a number of seabirds whose condition is monitored regularly by members of the Atiu community. Thousands of red footed boobies and red tailed tropicbirds nest on the island, which makes it one of the most important sea bird breeding grounds in the Pacific region. Feathers from the tropicbird are gathered for traditional costumes and the kota or great frigatebird that nests there has become an unofficial emblem for the Cook Islands.

Takutea is the only island in the Cooks never to have had a permanent population. Even when some of Captain Cook’s crew went ashore over 230 years ago, there was no evidence of a permanent settlement except for some empty huts.

Climate

Warmth and sunshine as well as water temperatures are pleasant all year round. Their Winter falls between July & September and Summer is from December to April but the difference in temperature is only a couple of degrees. Severe weather is rare and infrequent.

Average Temperature
Summer: 82F maximum (28°C) 71F minimum (22°C)
Winter: 77F maximum (25°C) 64F minimum (18°C)

Average Water Temperature
Summer: 86F maximum (30°C) 80F minimum (27°C)
Winter:
80F maximum (27°C) 75F minimum (23°C)

Cool/Dry Season
April – November

Wet/Humid Season
December – March

Additional Information

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