I RECENTLY SPENT 8 NIGHTS IN RAROTONGA WITH MY ENTIRE FAMILY TO CELEBRATE MY YOUNGEST BROTHERS WEDDING TO HIS LOCAL POLYNESIAN PRINCESS. WHILE THERE WE ENJOYED A BUNCH OF AMAZING SERVICES AND EXPERIENCES AND THIS WEEK I WILL SHARE THEM ALL WITH YOU. I KNOW RAROTONGA IS A FAVOURED DESTINATION FOR KIWI’S AND IT’S ALWAYS NICE TO HAVE RECOMMENDATIONS OF PLACES TO GO WHEN PLANNING A FAMILY GETAWAY SO I HOPE THIS SERIES OF POSTS WILL HELP YOU IF YOU ARE HEADING TO THE COOK ISLANDS FOR A LITTLE VACAY SOMETIME IN THE NEAR FUTURE.
If you’ve ever talked to anyone who has been to Rarotonga they will tell you how beautiful it is. If you have ever talked to anyone who has been to Aitutaki, they’ll tell you how breathtaking it is, how above and beyond it is from the mainland and how you simply have to go there if you have the chance.
With all my planning for this holiday and putting together adventure and fun activities for our immediate and extended family, as well as pampering and indulgence for myself, I also wanted to ensure that my hardworking man and I got some romantic, one on one time amongst all the chaotic fun and crazy family time on the island. What better place to do that but than in Aitutaki right?
With the benefit of three grandparents as well as a great aunt and uncle on the island, plus two uncles + their partners and another aunt, I knew that we had guaranteed childcare available to facilitate a mini-getaway. We would have been silly not to take advantage of that you see!
We woke early on Wednesday morning to find a grey old day and an increase in wind levels from the day before. We said a wee prayer to the weather gods and set off on our solo adventure. We were picked up on the main road at 7am and made our way to the airport. After a quick check in and wait time, we boarded our tiny 8-seater plane and winged our way into the skies for a 45 minute flight across the seas. The cloud cover was increasing as we made our way towards the outer islands so I read my book and continued those good weather prayers.
Three quarters of an hour later and we were there. We touched down on the tarmac in light drizzle and made our way to the beat up but rugged and real tour ‘bus’ that we would journey on for much of the day. We were taking part in the Aitutaki Day Tour so were quickly acquainted with our travel mates – from all around the globe: honeymooners from Seattle, travelling buddies from LA & NYC, an older couple from Wales, some fellow Kiwis from Otorohanga and a mother & daughter from Santa Clara where the Superbowl had just been played. A brief tour around the ‘town centre’ from the airport and back to pick up a couple of other guests and we were given the opportunity to stop for drinks. We grabbed a couple of Corona’s and a packet of overpriced muesli bars and then journeyed to meet The Vaka Cruise – a 21m catamaran on which we were to spend most of our day out on the picture-perfect lagoon.
Unfortunately the rain never eased and our day was hampered by grey skies and a steady drizzle. The scenery really was stunning, crystal blue ocean as far as the eye could see, sprawling white sands and miles of inviting beach, but you could just imagine how much more impressive and jaw-dropping it would be were the sun high in the sky and the glare intense. I wished for the cloud to break like you wouldn’t believe, but alas, that was not to be our experience. We had a different view of Aitutaki, albeit a beautiful one – rugged, unpolished, but gorgeous all the same.
Our guides on board the Vaka Cruise were entertaining, their operation slick. With a crew who introduced themselves as Captain Bossanova, Captain Supernova, Miss Pavlova, Miss All Over and Captain Cassanova, we got the distinct feeling we were in for a fun day. And indeed it was. We motored off shore to remote outer islands in the lagoon and learned of legends along the way. We stopped to explore two small islands; the first a beautiful stretch of white sandy beaches perfect for an impromptu photo shoot to showcase one of my new swimsuits. Retrieving my camera and phone from the base of the tree where I had placed them just moments earlier, I managed to get stung by the most gigantic wasp I’ve ever seen. Captain Cassanova told me the best way to curb the sting was to pee on my hand, which I did (!), someone on board offered me a nurofen, I had Lavender oil in my bag to also apply to relieve the sting and my new friends from Otorohonga performed Reiki on me and hallelujah, it worked! From there we travelled to another island, disembarked for ten minutes to see the hauntingly beautiful White Terns that call that island home. Deep blue beaks and eerily still, these little white birds are dotted all around the trees above.
Back on the boat, a little more motoring and finally it was time to snorkel. Honestly, the one thing I regret not having was an underwater camera. We bought a disposable one for our honeymoon in Fiji, super excited about the amazing underwater shots we were going to capture, only to be suuuuuper disappointed when not one of our photos turned out when we had the film developed. I realise technology has come a long way in almost ten years, but from that experience, we’ve been put off, however thinking back now I wish we had something to show for that magic underworld. Although in a way I feel like it’s even more magical because all that beauty I viewed in that underwater paradise is only in my memory (does that make sense?)
Whoops, sidetracked! So, we snorkelled in choppy waters, but the thing about being in and under the water is that it really doesn’t matter what is going on above the sea, when you’re in and under it, you’re truly in a world of your own. The fish don’t know it’s raining, they don’t alter their behaviour accordingly so being face down, you witness nothing but magical magical moments every where you look. Tiny stripey black and white fish were my favourite. I mean I loved the neon blue, almost rainbow see-through varieties too, but those lil stripey guys are so striking under water. The huge electric blue star fish were amazing and the giant clam shells (up to 1 metre long – I kid you not) were so impressive. I half expected them to open and for Ariel to be sitting inside singing to me. I was hoping beyond hope to see a turtle or two, but it was clearly not my lucky day. After a beautiful time under the ocean, we boarded the boat and got ready to feast. A delicious meal had been prepared by the hard working staff while we frolicked in the sea and thankfully so because kicking and exploring really does require some energy. I am constantly amazed by how easy it is to swim and stay afloat for ages when you’re wearing flippers. I don’t know if it’s because I’m so distracted by the beauty around me, but I just feel like swimming in the ocean with flippers and a mask and snorkel is a breeze.
We ate seconds, and maybe thirds of a scrumptious lunch – again, the tuna was perfect, the salads delicious and the tropical fruit, just right. One Foot Island was to be our final island hop for the day and what a spectacular conclusion to our tour. Captain Cassanova told us the legend of One Foot Island and after a spell-binding storytime, we were given two hours to explore. Where on a day of gorgeous sunshine I have no doubt it would have been not enough time to soak in the atmosphere, at the announcement of a two hour stop, every one of the 30 or so guests on board looked at each other and asked “really?” Conscious of not squandering the only opportunity to enjoy our surroundings, we all wrapped ourselves up in the provided towels and waded out to the sand bar where coconut trees are planted. It was a treacherous walk through warm shallow waters, as the rain was by this point was what can only be described as torrential and the wind severe. The wind was warm and the water was too, but the fact remains, being whipped about by rain and wind, no matter the ambient temperature, is simply not enjoyable. We pushed on and made it to the sandbar, agreed collectively that this would have been simply out of this worth beautiful on a different day and headed back, into the wind mind you. We reached the boat, dried off, changed back into our dry clothes and ordered another drink.
Once the Vaka Cruise made it back to shore, we sprinted from the boat to the ‘bus’ and were driven back to the airport. It was touch and go whether or not we would make it off the island and back to the mainland, such was the force of the winds. But you know what… it made for an adventure. There was no romantic canoodling in the white sands on a remote island and there was no glamorous backdrops for my photo shoots, but we had a great day together and we will laugh for years to come about how terrible the weather was on our one day together in what had the potential to be one of the most beautiful places we will ever visit. You have to laugh right!? How we spent our Aitutaki Day Trip-ping!
And despite all that rain and wind, I would still highly recommend this trip – especially how magnificent it would be if the sun was out even just a peep!
MORE ABOUT THE TOUR:
- The Aitutaki Day Tour operates daily Mondays to Saturdays from Rarotonga, departing at 8 am and returning by 5.30 pm.
- Coach transfer from all hotels and motels to Rarotonga International Airport are available for an 8 am departure to Aitutaki. The flight takes forty minutes on our thrity four passenger Saab 340 pressurised regional airliner.
- On arrival at Aitutaki you will be taken on a one hour island tour by ‘le truck’. Then it’s on to the highlight of the day – The Vaka Cruise aboard the 21 metre vaka (catamaran) Titi-ai-Tongawww.thevakacruise.com.
- The vaka has comfortable covered seating as well as deck sun loungers. Access is easily negotiated for people with physical challenges including those in wheel chairs.
- There is time for snorkelling and swimming before stopping for a tasty barbecue lunch, cooked right on board. Anyone who has not snorkelled before will find our tour guides happy to help you to experience the wonder of the lagoons underwater world. It’s not that hard and after a short lesson most people will find snorkelling easy.
- The cruise stops at several motu (small islets) including One Foot Island, before passing by Akaiami, once a stopover for huge TEAL (Tasman Empire Airways Limited) Shorts Solent flying boats en route from Fiji to Tahiti on the famous weekly Coral Route.
- Snorkelling gear and towels are provided on the lagoon cruise. We recommend you bring a light change of clothing, sun protection and lots of extra film or memory cards for your camera.
Included in the tour price of NZ$ 493 per person:
- Pick up and drop off from your hotel or accommodation on Rarotonga
- Domestic flights from Rarotonga to Aitutaki and back to Rarotonga
- Aitutaki Island Tour taking in the entire main island
- The Vaka Lagoon Cruise with stops on several islands in the lagoon
- Snorkelling equipment and towels
- BBQ lunch, tea, coffee and water
- VAT tax
* We were hosted by Air Rarotonga on the Aitutaki Day Tour, but as always, all opinions are my own.