Our hostess is serving refreshments as we sit comfortably cradled in leather seats on board Air Rarotonga’s Saab 340. We are heading to a remote island in the middle of the South Pacific Ocean - it’s a beautiful clear day, with just a few fluffy whites floating over an indigo blue ocean. Some of us will travel further and take in two islands over a period of five days, on what Air Rarotonga describe as their Two Island Discovery Tour.
As we near the conclusion of our 50 minute flight, hushed voices suddenly become more excited as passengers catch their first glimpse of Aitutaki’s stunning turquoise lagoon, languid in the morning sunlight. The lagoon, dotted with its small motu’s, smiles back at them, just as it did in the photos that enticed them here, and all expectations are fulfilled.
We are greeted at the airport and adorned with floral ei’s (garlands) and then transferred to our accommodation at Tamunu Beach Resort on the sunset side of the main island. Our garden room is inviting and comfortable. Tamanu Beach is in a good location on the island and we soon discover all its amenities, including a swimming pool and the restaurant which is located near the beach, offering a-la-carte dining each evening except Sunday, which is reserved for a sumptuous barbeque buffet.
Shortly after lunch we are off on a tour of the island with Aitutaki Safari Tours, to get our bearings and familiarise ourselves with the island. With a full commentary from our guide we are quickly absorbing all the fascinating details and history of Aitutaki. A spectacular view from an elevated position on Maungapu, just 124 metres high, enables us to see most of the amazing lagoon and its fringing motu’s.
The highlight for me however is a visit to the ancient marae of Paengariki. This sacred place, looking a bit like a mini Stonehenge in a bush-clad valley, is the first site to be systematically excavated in the Cook Islands.
The next morning we are off on a lagoon cruise aboard the vaka Titi-ai-Tonga. The colours in the lagoon are simply amazing. We stop to visit Akaiami, the old Coral Route flying boat base, before heading off to our snorkelling spot. The boat cleverly anchors in water that you can stand up in, but close enough to deeper waters with coral heads, myriads of colourful fish and clams. It’s stunningly beautiful.
We are hungry after our snorkelling, but right on cue the crew are serving a lunch of barbequed fresh fish and refreshing tropical salads on-board our floating haven. Then it’s off to renowned One Foot Island to laze in the sun on pristine beaches and have our passports stamped at the world’s smallest post office.
We are back at Tamanu Beach Resort in time for a snooze before dinner and the Thursday evening ‘Island Night Show’ which features a spectacular fire-dance sequence.
The next morning is day three and we are free to explore Aitutaki’s main island before taking off to Atiu at 1pm. It’s a 50 minute flight during which we fly over the uninhabited islands of Manuae and Takutea. Our host at Atiu Villas is at the tiny airport to greet us with floral ei’s.
On the way to our accommodation at Atiu Villas an informative commentary gives us an insight into the island’s complex geological make-up. In short, Atiu is a volcanic island that was thrust up out of the ocean, thus revealing its lagoon and reef, which now form the lower rings of the island. The old reef, now overgrown with lush tropical forest is known as makatea, which is sharp and jagged, and difficult to walk on, but full of fascinating caves.
After checking-in we are immediately on our way to explore the island’s bird life with ‘Birdman George’. George is a likeable character who has been overseeing the eradication of Myna birds as part of Atiu’s land-bird conservation programme, allowing the more endangered species to flourish. Atiu is known as ‘the island of birds’ and we are fortunate to see the now somewhat less endangered Kura (Rimatara Lorikeet) and Kakerori (Rarotonga Flycatcher).
There is much to see and do on Atiu and its difficult deciding how we will fill the next day. In the morning we grab a couple of motor scooters and visit Mata Arai’s to have a cup of famous Atiu coffee, roasted in a traditional way and served with fresh coconut milk and pikelets, before heading off to try our hand at some reef fishing. We only manage to catch a few small tiddlers, but it’s a fun couple of hours.
In the afternoon we are taken by guide to the spectacular Anatakitaki Cave, which is home to the rare Kopeka bird, a swiftlet unique to Atiu. The magnificence of the cave is breathtaking, with huge stalactites reaching to the cavern floor and massive stalagmites sparkling as though embedded with millions of diamonds.
After the cave we visit a traditional island ‘Tumunu’. A lot of fun! Local men were sitting in a circle drinking the local ‘bush-beer’ while one played the ukulele. We were made most welcome.
On our last day our guide takes us on an island tour, driving through shady roads and forest thick with ancient trees, to coastal beaches and coves, one of which we stop at for a picnic. And then it’s time to board our aircraft back to Rarotonga.
Reflecting on our adventure during the flight, I am truly amazed at the diversity of activities we have experienced and landscapes we have visited, not forgetting the wonderful people we have met during the past few days. This has truly been an unforgettable journey.
The cost of a Two Islands Discover Tour includes airfares, two nights at Tamanu Beach Resort Aitutaki, two nights at Atiu Villas and all transfers. Local tours are optional and extra. Flights depart Rarotonga Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays between April and Mid December.
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