The people of Aitutaki are acknowledged as among the Cook Islands most spectacular entertainers, with a particular skill in the making and playing of the pate - slit drums that accompany traditional dancing. A scintillating drum dance with swirling traditional costumes and swaying hips is a cultural event not to be missed.
However, perhaps what Aitutaki is most famous for is its large brilliant turquoise lagoon. The lagoon is many things: a place of legends, a vast source of inner reef seafood, and an island paradise where visitors can be taken to picnic on the motu (small islets) and snorkel among brightly coloured tropical fish.
Loveliest of the motu is Tapuaetai - One Foot Island - which is surrounded by beautiful glassy water and pure white sand.
Options for visiting Aitutaki include our exclusive Aitutaki Day Tour which operates Mondays to Saturdays and includes flights, an island tour, and the "The Vaka Cruise" exploring the lagoon and visiting One Foot Island.
For those who choose a longer stay, the island boasts several fine resorts and a range of other accommodation from self-catering bungalows to budget guest-houses. Aitutaki is the ideal place to get away from the hustle and bustle of the modern world.
There are also some gentle activities one can pursue; scuba diving, snorkelling, lagoon cruises, walkabouts or stroll through a village and interact with the locals.
It is also possible to combine Aitutaki with a visit to Atiu on our two island, four night Aitutaki & Atiu Island Combo.
Make your visit to the Cook Islands truly unforgettable by including Aitutaki in your itinerary.
The original Aitutaki coral airstrip was constructed by American Marines during World War 2. Then from 1951 until 1960 Aitutaki's lagoon was a colourful stopover between Samoa and Tahiti for huge TEAL Shorts Solent flying boats plying the famous 'Coral Route'.
Travel on the Coral Route was expensive during a period when most international passengers still went by sea, and many of the world's rich and famous stepped onto the sands of Akaiami while the giant aircraft re-fueled during a short layover.
We fly a modern jet-prop Saab 340 aircraft from Rarotonga to Aitutaki up to five times daily, landing and taking off from the same runway built during the Pacific war but recently upgraded with asphalt sealing and the installation of night lighting.
Our associate company Paradise Islands operates the nostalgic TEAL Dinner Cruise commemorating a romantic era in Pacific aviation.
Atiu is a forty-five minute flight from Aitutaki and Rarotonga. When travelling from Aitutaki, the flight passes by the uninhabited atoll of Manuae, and the small island of Takutea, a nature reserve.
In geological terms, Atiu is a ‘raised or uplifted’ island with central volcanic hills encircled by a raised makatea of fossilised coral riddled with limestone caves. Known also as Enuamanu – island of birds - Atiu is home to a variety of interesting native plants and birds including the recently reintroduced Kura (Rimatara lorikeet), once endangered Kakerori, and the unique cave dwelling native Kopeka.
The island receives less than fifty visitors each week, making a stay in Atiu special. There are many secluded coves with white sand beaches to be enjoyed and for those keen on keeping up with their regular exercise there are cycle trails and hikes through verdant rainforest.
Atiuan people are typical of all Cook Islanders, welcoming, friendly and always willing to share stories of their island, life and culture.
A well-known local institution is the tumunu - or 'bush beer' school. Back in the days when the consumption of alcohol on the island was illegal, local men made an intoxicating beverage by fermenting oranges in the hollowed out base of a coconut tree.
Today the tradition continues with five tumunuoperating around the island serving a more conventional brew made from hops. Visitors – both men and women – are welcome at thetumunu, which are no longer at obscure locations in the bush.
For coffee aficionados the island produces organically grown Arabica beans that can be sampled and purchased on teh island. The Fibre Arts Studio features the work of resident artist Andrea Eimke including intricately crafted wall hangings and tivaevae (quilts).
Cave and wildlife tours are available every day. Art gallery and coffee factory tours are by arrangement.
At the weekend, visitors are welcome to join one of the many island church services. On Sundays the imposing limestone Ziona Cook Islands Christian Church features choral singing that Cook Islanders are well known for.
Two hundred kilometres east-south-east from Rarotonga lies the 'high' island (raised atoll) of Mangaia that has always been isolated and determinedly independent. Mangaia is the second largest of the Cook Islands and one of the oldest in the South Pacific, having been formed by volcanic eruption more than 16 million years ago.
Tradition has it that the island was not discovered by a voyaging ancestor - Mangaian belief is that the first human being rose from a hole in the centre of their island. Mangaia and Avaiki, the spiritual homeland, are thus one and the same. In less legendary terms, it is thought that the island was populated by seafarers from Tahiti, Rarotonga and Tonga.
Geologically, Mangaia is by far the oldest of the 15 islands in the Cook Group, and is shaped like a tail-less stingray whose head faces north-west. Fifty-one square kilometres in size, the island is surrounded by a thick coral reef, with tiny white-sand beaches notched into its coastal rock.
The shoreline steps up a few metres to a narrow rocky plain, a shelf of land covered with palms,pandanus and coarse grasses on which large herds of cute goats graze. Located on this coastal fringe is the main road and several villages, on the north-western corner is the island's coral airstrip.
Between this fringing shelf and interior hills of Mangaia is the island's most formidable feature, a band of makatea - fossilised coral composed of calcareous limestone - in places over 60 metres high and with an average width of a kilometre and a half. The makatea surrounds Mangaia like giant coils of razor-wire, jagged, unbroken and impenetrable.
The karstic nature of the makatea means that it is honeycombed with sinkholes, tunnels and caves which the Mangaians have used as tombs for hundreds of years. Teruarere Cave, for example, on the northern inland edge of the makatea, is an apparently endless succession of connected chambers, from the inner reaches of which it is possible to hear the beating of waves on the reef, somewhere overhead.
At just inside latitude 22º south, Mangaia is the southernmost of the Cook Islands. The coolness of the months from June to August, when the mean temperature is just over 21ºC, means that crops more commonly associated with temperate climates grow well here.
Direct flights from Rarotonga most days and several guest house style accommodation make visits to Mangaia an interesting excursion away from the beaten track.
Is one of the three close islands of Nga-pu-toru, Mauke is 40 kilometres from neighbouring Mitiaro, and 70 kilomtres from Atiu.
In many countries religion is divided on theological grounds, but on the small Island of Mauke it is divided architecturally. Mauke is a raised atoll with a close fringing reef and a population of approximately 300 people.
A road encircles the island and others lead up through the makatea to its fertile core. Located here are the small villages of Ngatiarua and Areora, near the junction of three roads. Standing within the junction is the Cook Islands Christian Church called Ziona, which was completed in 1882.
When the decision was made to build a church, they agreed sensibly that a single place of worship would be sufficient to serve the spiritual needs of both villages. The exterior building materials and labour needed to erect the church was duly contributed by both Ngatiarua and Areora. Once the structure was raised, the problems began.
The villagers could not agree on the design of Ziona's interior. After some debate, agreement still could not be reached, so it was decided to amalgamate two markedly different designs into one structure, each the preference of the two villages. A wall was built down the middle, Ngatiarua built its preferred interior on one side of it, and Areora did likewise on the other. Two doorways were cut in the walls and two walkways, each with its own distinctive carved coral portal built leading up to the two doors.
The wall was eventually taken down and a pulpit built, which straddles the divide with the clear understanding by both villages that the pastor would thereafter conduct the service with a foot in each camp. Well over a century later, the Ziona church of Mauke remains that way today.
Deserted white sandy coves, caves, sinkholes and several guest lodges attract a small number of visitors each year looking for the peace and tranquility of a remote Pacific Island.
Three ‘high’ islands islands known as Nga-pu-toru (the three roots), Atiu, Mitiaro and Mauke, are clustered in a triangle approximately 45 kilometres apart.
Like the other raised atolls, Mitiaro has a close reef, no large beaches, a ring of makatea - fossilised coral - and a centre of more fertile land. At just 200, its population is one of the smallest in the Cook Islands.
Every island is in some way distinctive. In Mitiaro's case its singularity lies with the two lakes of Rotonui (Big Lake) and Rotoiti (Small Lake).
Both are a little way inland on the eastern side of the island. Swampy and uninviting, the lakes however yield the Islands bountiful treasure of eel.
Itiki is like caviar to the Isands inhabitants. Eels always return to the sea to spawn, so it can be assumed that the itiki of Mitiaro find their way to the surrounding sea through subterranean channels. Not even an eel could navigate the razor-sharp rock of the makatea without grievous injury to itself.
Mitiaro eels, like eels everywhere, move in mysterious ways. But whatever the route they take, the itiki elvers return eventually to the twin lakes of Mitiaro to fatten and be harvested for consumption.
Several flights per week from Rarotonga and small guest lodges make visits to Mitiaro possible for visitors.
Rarotonga, the capital of our friendly little corner of the Pacific, is a very small island at only 32 kms around the outer perimeter. It takes approximately 40 minutes to drive around the island by car or motor scooter, which means all services and amenities on the island are just 20 minutes from wherever you are.
There are only 16,000 of us living in the Cook Islands. 10,000 live on Rarotonga with the rest living on 12 of our 15 islands. We are Polynesian, naturally friendly and openly welcome visitors to our shores like we have been doing for the past millennium or two. Everyone speaks English as well as the native Polynesian language.
Rarotonga is the transport hub of the Cook Islands with frequent connections from New Zealand, Australia, Tahiti, North America (via Los Angeles) and South America (via Tahiti or Auckland).
Being the capital, Rarotonga has all that you would expect. There are two international banks on the island, both offering international banking services and ATMs everywhere. The local currency is NZ Dollar but there are also some Cook Islands coins and notes available. There is a great variety of outlets with locally made arts and crafts, supermarkets with international brands and our speciality, locally grown black pearls. Te Punanga Nui Market is a 'must see' on Saturday mornings.
A bus service operates every half-hour in alternating directions around the island during the business week and late night buses also operate for those dining at one of the many restaurants. Service during the weekend is limited.
Inexpensive rental bicycles, motor bikes and cars are available in town, Avarua or in one of the outlets around the island.
There are more than 50 different restaurants and cafes around the island ensuring a variety of interesting dining for all visitors be they staying in self catering accommodation, or hotels/resorts. During the day you can stop off at a road side stall for great coffee or tropical fruit.
The Cook Islands is a great place to get married. Let our professional wedding planners put together a wedding ceremony that will fulfil your dream wedding day without breaking the bank. Just plan on being here at least three clear working days to finalise arrangements. All Cook Islands weddings are legally binding.
A holiday in the Cook Islands can be varied from cross island walks, a genuine cultural village conservation area tours, 4-wheel drive safari tours, reef walks, reef fishing, windsurfing, kayaking, pony treks, scenic flights, scuba diving and a host of other soft adventure eco-friendly tours. Then again there are plenty of opportunities to finish off the latest best seller novel...
Even if you are limiting your stay in the Cook Islands to the island of Rarotonga, don't miss the opportunity to see it from the air aboard our Rarotonga Scenic Flight.
A great range of quality Hotels, Resorts, self-catering Motels and Holiday Homes are scattered right around the Island. From 4 star to Backpackers, there's something to suit every taste in accommodation, from romance to families to wedding groups.
The island is often described as one big holiday resort with many different standards of rooms.
Tahiti and her islands, a legendary South Pacific island destination where French flair blends with Polynesia. Paul Gauguin painted her, Michener wrote of her charms.
From Papeete it is only a 30 minute ferry ride to scenic Moorea or you can catch domestic flights with Air Tahiti to no less than 42 destinations in French Polynesia.
Since April 2007, Air Rarotonga and Air Tahiti have operated weekly code-shared service between Rarotonga and Tahiti with quiet and comfortable Air Tahiti ATR72 and ATR42 regional turbo-prop aircraft, providing travellers with fabulous dual-destination options.
Visit our two Polynesian nations and experience our vibrant South Pacific cultures.
With our regional link it is now possible to stopover in both Tahiti and Rarotonga either northbound or southbound between North America, New Zealand, or Australia without the need to back-track.
Manihiki & Rakahanga - Sisters in the Sun
The twin Northern atolls of Manihiki and Rakahanga are separated by 42 kilometres of sea, with Rakahanga lying a few points west of due north from Manihiki. Although in close proximity to one another, there are significant geographical differences between these two islands.
Manihiki is larger and roughly triangular in shape, Rakahanga is neatly rectangular. Manihiki has the larger population, but Rakahanga has more fertile soil, producing puraka - a coarse dry species of taro - breadfruit, pawpaw and bananas. In contrast, Manihiki produces copra, but little in the way of food crops. Aside from subsistence activities, pearl farming occupies most working age people on the atoll.
The lagoon is dotted with seeding houses perched rather precariously on coral heads, providing the platform for the diving, cleaning and harvesting of pearl oysters.
Lustrous black pearls, produced in the deep lagoon waters of Manihiki find their way as finished jewellery, into the fashion houses of the world.
Located 1200 kilometers northwest of Rarotonga Manihiki is a very remote and rarely visited place which adds to its appeal to those who wish to get away from the hustle and bustle of modern civilisation.
Despite its isolation, lodge accommodation is available on Manihiki and visitors are welcomed with enthusiasm.
Visitors to Manihiki will enjoy swimming in the warm and crystal water of its lagoon. Other activities include visits to black pearl farms both above and below the surface, snorkelling, diving, lagoon and deep sea fishing; a visit to nearby Rakahanga; and the experience of life in a close knit community hundreds of kilometres from the next outpost of civilisation.
Scheduled flights operate from Rarotonga each fortnight and a stopover at the island is included in the Northern Atolls Experience.
Largest and northernmost atoll of the Cook Islands is Penrhyn, also known as Tongareva. Its lagoon, 275 square kilometres in area, dwarfs its surrounding motu, which total only six square kilometres.
At 9º south latitude, Penrhyn is 1,400 kilometres from Rarotonga and 350 kilometres from its nearest neighbours Manihiki and Rakahanga. It’s isolation may have contributed to it being one of the last of the Cook Islands to be set foot upon by Europeans.
Penrhyn's huge lagoon occupies an area greater than the land of all 15 Cook Islands put together. From one side of the lagoon it is just possible to see the tops of long lines of coconut palms, which delineate the motu of the other side. The two villages Omoka and Te Tautua lie on opposite ends of the atoll.
The lagoon is up to 200 metres (600 feet) deep and is teeming with turtles, rays, trevally and sharks. Not surprisingly, Penrhyn offers excellent ocean and lagoon fishing and bonefishing here is said to be on par with Christmas Island – Kiribati, to the north.
Tongareva was first discovered and settled by Polynesian voyagers about 700 years ago. However in 1862 a calamitous event occurred.
412 people out of a total population of 500 were transported to Callao, in Peru. Not one returned.
Penrhyn is once again a peaceful haven of tranquility. People live a largely subsistence life supplemented by diving for natural pearls and Mother of Pearl shell.
Penrhyn women manufacture some exquisite handicrafts. Beautifully designed and woven hats, some inlaid with pearl shell, find ready markets in Rarotonga, Hawaii, Tahiti and elsewhere.
Currently, Air Rarotonga flies to Penrhyn on a charter basis and once per month on the Northern Atolls Experience. Flying time is approximately 4 hours from Rarotonga.
Most westerly of the Cook Islands is Pukapuka atoll and its tiny neighbouring island, Nassau. At 165º east, the pair of isolated islands are closer to Samoa to the south-west and Tokelau to the north-west than they are to Rarotonga, which lies 1,300 kilometres away.
Pukapuka was discovered by seafarers from the west about 700 years ago, and as a consequence its culture is much more closely related to that of Samoa and the Tokelau's than the language and customs of eastern Polynesia.
For many years Pukapuka was known as Danger Island, and still appears under this title in some atlases. It was so-named by an Englishman, Commodore Byron, in 1765. Neither Byron nor Pukapuka's first known European visitor, the Spaniard Alvaro de Mendana, who approached the atoll in 1596, were not able to land because of the heavy seas on the surrounding reef.
Pukapuka's isolation and hazard to shipping meant that it was the last of the Cook Islands to be Christianised, in 1857, thirty-six years after Paheiha and Williams first brought the gospel to Aitutaki.
The main island lies to the north of the triangle and is known as Wale (House).
This hook-shaped island is divided into three village districts, Ngake, Roto and Yato.
Horseshoe-shaped Motu Ko is ten kilometres south of Wale, separated by a string of cays, and to the west is Motu Kotawa, the smallest of the three.
The coral airstrip lies along the southern littoral of Motu Ko. Within the triangle formed by the islands is the lagoon of Pukapuka, which is a rich source of seafood - clams, bonito and parrot fish - for its people.
Surprisingly on an atoll, there is a sizeable taro growing area in the interior of Wale. Here soil has been created laboriously by filling a depression in the motu coral with vegetation, which over the years has become composted until it supports the growth of the staple root crop.
It was in 1924 that Robert Dean Frisbie, born in Ohio in 1896, came to Pukapuka to run a small trading store for A.B.Donald. After leaving the United States Frisbie lived in Moorea, Tahiti and Rarotonga, but he yearned for total isolation, which he hoped would fully liberate his artistic spirit and so help him write a classic novel of the South Seas.
Frisbie saw himself as a successor to Herman Melville and Robert Louis Stevenson, writers he greatly admired. And so, much has been written about this fascinating island and its culture.
It is now possible to visit Pukapuka on one of our monthly Northern Atoll Experience tours or you could charter one of our aircraft to visit this truly remote place.
Private accommodation in local homes can be arranged.