Aitutaki

Our last day in Rarotonga, we went back to Bella beach on the bus so that Michael could fish. There is a nice shady park along the beachfront with picnic benches and palm trees. I admired the local chickens and scenery, and read a book while Michael tried his luck.

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The beach park

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The rest of the day was spent running errands on the bus and packing up to head onwards. In the morning, we took the bus into town to go to the Punanga Nui Market. Saturday is the biggest market day when the market has fruits, vegetables, prepared foods, crafts and artwork, and local entertainment. We saw a drumming and dancing demonstration, perused the market, and also checked out the local port next door. The people watching was great and the food was inexpensive. After taking the bus back to the Tree House, Carlo took us to the airport to catch our afternoon flight to Aitutaki.

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Entrance to the market

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View of the port

The skies were a bit overcast, but I managed a few shots of the lagoon on the way in to Aitutaki. We were picked up by a staff member from Paradise Cove Lodge and driven to the resort. It’s small, having only 10 rooms, and a bit rustic. However, you can’t beat the location. Our A-frame bungalow faced directly on the beach, which was one of the nicest on the island. Aitutaki is a good deal smaller than Rarotonga, and much flatter. It lies at the northern edge of the southern group of the Cook Islands and is the second most visited, after Rarotonga. The attraction here is the lagoon, which includes a number of small islets.

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Our plane

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The view from our bungalow

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Our bungalow is on the left

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The beach at fairly high tide

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On one of our walks, looking back toward Paradise Cove

Sunset on our second night looked like this:

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Our time on Aitutaki was pretty low key. For the most part, we had terrific weather. We walked the beach almost daily, snorkeled in front of our hotel, and rented a scooter to tour the island on our own. On the one morning it rained for a short while, we played cribbage. Food was expensive, as on Rarotonga, but we managed to have some light meals in our room, which had a kitchenette. The hotel included breakfast in the morning which helped. However, it was pretty much the exact same thing every day, so by the end of the week, I was pretty tired of papaya, passionfruit, instant coffee (yuck!) and toast. The cereal wasn’t worth trying. I know the fresh fruits sound appealing, and they were, but by day 6, I was very grateful for a banana instead of more papaya! Michael gobbled up the fruit as he loves fruit for breakfast anyway. I tend to gravitate more toward eggs, so the lack of protein took its toll. Here are some photos from our adventures, including some of a vaka, a traditional sailing canoe. The islanders still build and sail these long distances on the open ocean. We saw one at the harbor in the main town on the island. It was a beautiful piece of craftsmanship!

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The vaka

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Detail of carving on vaka

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I enjoyed having the scooter and being able to go where we wanted at our leisure. Neither of us is a small person, so we drove carefully with both of us on one scooter! I did most of the driving as Michael’s legs are so long, it wasn’t very comfortable for him to sit on the front with me in the back!

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One of the highlights of our stay was a lagoon cruise and snorkel tour we did with Teking Lagoon Cruises. They picked us up at our lodge and drove us to the launch point, picking up two other couples along the way. The boat was smaller than some of the other operators, which allowed us to go to places in the lagoon the bigger boats can’t get to. We had a tour of the lagoon, snorkeled at three different spots, stopped at Honeymoon Island, had a barbeque lunch on another island, and even got our passport stamped at One Foot Island. It was a fantastic day and we enjoyed all of it. Our companions were an Aussie couple on their honeymoon and an Italian couple. Our guide was Captain Oops! At the first stop, we snorkeled with some Giant trevally and Napoleon wrasse. These were huge fish! They get fed some scraps by the snorkel boats, so they hang around a certain spot. That’s not a practice I usually support as it’s not natural fish behavior. However, I have to admit it was super cool to swim with them! The reef and other fish in the area were terrific too. Visibility was great and we saw plenty of nice coral, colorful fish, and tiny, fascinating, sea creatures. As usual, there were bright blue starfish, but also bright green or blue or purple lipped clams, some with spots too. Our second stop was another snorkel spot with giant clams and huge, two-thousand-year old brain coral formations. The giant clams were really neat, but the visibility wasn’t as good and there wasn’t as much marine life, so that one was just so-so. Afterwards we were dropped at Honeymoon Island where we could walk on the beach and sand spit before being ferried over to the adjacent island for our lunch.

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Honeymoon Island on the left and our lunch stop on the right

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I couldn’t stop photographing the incredible hues of blue!

Lunch was delicious! We had grilled chicken, eggplant, banana, and pumpkin, with quite a few cold salads and fruit. A papaya salad was particularly good, as were the grilled bananas. After lunch, Captain Oops showed us how to weave a plate with coconut palm fronds. It was simple, yet so effective! We were the only ones on that little atoll.

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A Giant clam at our lunch stop

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Our little boat

Our third snorkel stop proved to be the best one of all. We swam around some incredible blue and purple coral formations and saw a lot of amazing fish, coral, colorful clams, and one spectacular green/blue/purple spotted lipped Giant clam. Its color changed depending on your viewing angle. That place would have been a good justification for a waterproof camera. Sadly, I don’t have one, so you’ll just have to use your imagination. It was some of the best snorkeling I have ever experienced.

After our last snorkel, we went to One Foot Island and walked around a bit, gawking at the mind blowing variety of blues in the color of the water and sky. It really was just like all the fantasy photographs you see of a South Pacific paradise. A great way to end a fun day. Then we cruised back to our waiting return shuttle.

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The Vaka tour boat at One Foot Island

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That night, Michael and I took the scooter down the road at dusk to go to dinner and encountered a few hundred of the land crabs that march down to the sea at night, when the moon is full, in order to spawn. Trying to avoid them on the road was quite a challenge! They are not small, and looked as if they were chasing us when they threw up their big claws and started scuttling back across the road at our approach. Oddly, on the way back, in full dark, there were only a few. We saw these creatures on the beach, by the road and in the forest for several days as we were there over a full moon. Here’s a photo of one we saw in a little creek during the day. They live in burrows in the forest.

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Here is some of the bird life we spotted right on our own beach. These guys were regulars!

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Our last evening in Aitutaki we walked down the beach to the Tamani Beach Resort for an Island Night. This included a buffet feast of traditional Cook Island foods and a performance of dancing and drumming, including fire dancing. There was a lovely sunset that evening and we enjoyed the show and dinner.

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On our day of departure, the skies were sunnier than on arrival, so I got some decent shots of the lagoon and island from the plane.

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Honeymoon Island on the right with the sand spit

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Coming into Rarotonga

The flight back to Rarotonga takes about an hour. We overnighted in Rarotonga before flying on to New Zealand because I didn’t want to risk missing the connection on separate tickets. Our extra day was spent doing laundry, going to the beach, and getting ourselves sorted for the next phase of our journey. It rained pretty steadily from about 4pm onwards, so our excursion out for dinner was a rather soggy one. The next day, our flight to Auckland was delayed a bit, but otherwise it all went as planned. We left Rarotonga on a Saturday afternoon and arrived in Auckland on a Sunday evening, having crossed the dateline en route during the four-hour flight!

My next post will be about our ten-day tour of Northland in a camper.

Stay tuned and I’ll see you down the road!

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