During our time in the Cook Islands we split our time between Rarotonga and Aitutaki. We were super excited to partner up with Cook Islands Tourism to experience the islands for ourselves. If you are planning a trip to the Cook Islands, I urge you to not miss out on Aitutaki because it is very different from Rarotonga so you will have two very diverse experiences in your holiday. Aitutaki was the island of my tropical dreams and it was unbelievably beautiful – quite possibly one of the most beautiful places I have been to! The Aitutaki lagoon is considered the most beautiful lagoon in the world and rightly so; it was most definitely the highlight of our trip. Scroll on further for more details.
Don’t we all #lovealittleparadise? If you are looking for an untouched tropical paradise that is totally not commercialized, has very less tourists and still has its authentic traditional charm – the Cook Islands are for you! Most people who I told I was going to the Cook Islands had no idea where it was! Do you :)? The Cook Islands is an archipelago nation of 15 islands in the South Pacific region, between Tahiti and Fiji. Having been to Fiji and Hawaii, I can assure you that the Cook Islands are what you would imagine Hawaii/Fiji was 20-30 years ago – not commercialized, way less crowded and most importantly – so much more affordable! We visited two islands on this trip – Rarotonga and Aitutaki. Each island is beautiful and diverse in its own way so I have split my travel guides into two posts to keep it separate and give you as much as info as possible.
The Cook Islands are surprisingly more accessible than you think. If you are live in Australia or New Zealand, chances are you already know of the Cook Islands. There are tons of easy direct flights from Australia and New Zealand to the Cooks.
Now in its 94th year of continuous service, Hawaiian Airlines is Hawaiʻi’s biggest and longest-serving airline. The new weekly flight between Honolulu (HNL) and Rarotonga (RAR) will provide travelers from Hawaiian’s 15 U.S. Mainland gateway cities convenient one-stop connections to the Cook Islands. Currently the departure from Honolulu to Rarotonga is every Saturday and the return from Rarotonga to Honolulu is every Sunday.
The best time to visit is June – Aug which is the dry and cooler season. Dec – April is the hotter and wetter months, so there are chances of more rain. But since its a tropical place there really is no bad time weather-wise to visit the Cook Islands, although the shoulder months of April, May, September, and October usually provide the best combination of both sunshine, warmth and lower prices :). My best travel tip for timing – we always try and visit a destination just at the “end of the shoulder season and beginning of the peak season” . So for the Cook Islands we chose end May to early June and we were blessed with fantastic weather for the most part of our trip!
Air Rarotonga is the best way to get from Rarotonga to Aitutaki, they have several flights a day so it is super convenient. Even if you don’t stay in Aitutaki, you can opt for doing a day trip by taking the first morning flight out of Raro and coming back in the last evening flight. Air Rarotonga also has a fab day tour option to Aitutaki, that also includes the Vaka Cruise which is the must do lagoon cruise!
Flying into Aitutaki on Air Rarotonga
The pristine island of Aitutaki totally epitomizes the perfect South Pacific tropical island. Aitutaki lagoon is aptly been known as the “most beautiful lagoon in the world” and there is no surprise why. It is incredibly pristine with the most dazzling blue waters I have seen in my life (in my opinion even more dazzling than what I saw from anywhere in the Maldives or Caribbean!), coral reefs, uninhabited islands and untouched palm-fringed beaches. The Aitutaki atoll actually has 15 islands (of which 14 are uninhabited), sandbars and other small almost islands. The triangular shaped lagoon is surrounded by a barrier reef, hence the waters in the lagoon are very calm, shallow and low lying.
The island is smaller than you think! Aitutaki is just 17 square km in size, with a high point barely 100 metres above sea level. You can easily get around in scooters. We opted for a car from Aquilas Rentals just in case it might have rained during our time around.
Also a quick tip on how to stay connected while on the islands. The best way to stay connected is to buy a Vodafone wifi card. There are BlueSky Teleshops in Avarua and Muri Beach in Rarotonga and on Aitutaki island as well that all offer internet access and sell prepaid wi-fi access which can be used at hotspots around the islands. Many convenience stores and hotel front desks also sell these cards.
Biking around the island
We stayed at the charming Tamanu Beach resort located on the west coast of Aitutaki. Its sits on the edge of a gorgeous blue lagoon and is filled with lush tropical greens and palms throughout the beautiful property. It is very conveniently located close to the airport and close to town. Read more about our stay in my blog post here.
Tamanu Beach Resort (top and bottom pic)
If you are looking for a private island experience and the chance to stay in a beautiful overwater bungalow – definitely check out Aitutaki Lagoon Private Island Resort. It is the only resort with overwater bungalows in the Cook Islands and Aitutaki’s only private island resort. We had a chance to spend a day here at their gorgeous overwater villa. The Polynesian style bungalow is spacious and comfy and boasts a million dollar jaw dropping view of the Aitutaki Lagoon. This would be an incredible option for a honeymoon or a special romantic getaway.
For other options around Aitutaki – check out this page here.
Aitutaki lagoon resort overwater bungalow (top and bottom pic)
The number 1 thing to do in Aitutaki is to take a lagoon cruise. There are many charters that do it – the most popular one is the Vaka Cruise. As I mentioned earlier, if you do a day trip to Aitutaki with Air Rarotonga they have a great deal for a RT with Vaka Cruise option. We wanted to hire a private charter for half a day so that we can cruise around at our own schedule and pick and choose what island we want to explore. We did 2 private lagoon cruises with 2 different charters during our time on the island just so that we could get the most amount of time (and content!) on the world famous lagoon.
The first private cruise was with Bishop’s Cruises and we had the most incredible day ever! Our captain Seka was very friendly and informative; going on this lagoon cruise with him was such a pleasure. We started off at Ootu Beach at Aitutaki Village and made our way through the lagoon, stopping on one dreamy island after another. And on every island we went to, we were literally the only ones there! Thats the thing I loved about hiring a private charter – they plan your itinerary such that you visit the islands when the other boats have already passed by or are yet to come :). We spent time on some random deserted islands, Heavens Sandbar and One Foot Island which is undoubtedly my favorite place in all of the Cook Islands!
Heavens sandbar (above and below)
The very reason the Cook Islands was on my bucket list was cos of the iconic “One Foot Island”. Anush and I have traveled to a ton of islands so far but without a doubt both of us felt that this had to be one of the most BEAUTIFUL little islands we have ever set foot on. With its idyllic landscape, it is exactly what you would imagine a deserted South Pacific islet to look like – uninhabited, powdery white sand, warm turquoise waters, gentle waves lapping the shore and swaying coconut trees. Ahh just describing it makes me want to cry – it was utterly PERFECT! Read more about our cruise with Bishops Cruises in my BLOG POST HERE.
Beautiful One Foot Island ( above and below )
The second private charter we did with Teking Tours. Teariki from Teking Tours is also fun, entertaining and so knowledgable about the ins and outs of the lagoon. The islands in the atoll are all family owned and the best part about going with Teking is that he actually owns one of the islands in the atoll! Its on the side that no other tour boats go so you are really in for a treat when you head over to that part of the lagoon. The Teking group tours start with going around the lagoon, snorkeling, and a lunch on his island. He also mentioned to me that they are soon going to start private dinner options which sounds freakin amazing! On this tour we also did One Foot Island and then we stopped over Honeymoon Island. This is an island that no other boats usually go to so chances of you being the only one there is very high. This island is also very popular with the windsurfers so the only other people you might see around here are windsurfers. Read more about our cruise with Teking Tours in my BLOG POST HERE.
Also just to note both Bishops Cruises and Teking tours do small group lagoon tours as well in addition to offering private tours.
One foot island
A must do while on Aitutaki is the traditional Island Night at Tamanu Beach; it is a fantastic cultural experience – right from the delicious spread, music and dance. I have been to other cultural shows during my travels and this was unlike any other. It truly felt so authentic as it was an intimate gathering and had all the locals involved (including children!). I highly recommend this show if you are ever in Aitutaki. It happens every Thursday evening. Warning : Please go on an empty stomach lol! The food was ah-ma-zing and I think I ate till I was 200% full haha.
My outfit for Island Night
Tamanu island night buffet – so delicious!
The short 20 minute (one way) climb to the highest point in Aitutaki Maunga Pu Peak is totally worth it! The views are absolutely incredible. It can get steep and slippery (if it has rained) in some parts so bring athletic shoes for this. To get to this, look out for the sign near Paradise Cove resort. You can also drive upto another lookout point called Piraki Point that also has stunning views of the lagoon. I don’t have any photos to share from here because the minute we got up here it started pouring rain haha so we didn’t stay for too long.
At the top of Maunga Pu Peak
The prettiest beach on the main island of Aitutaki is Ootu beach which has sandbars on sandbars! You can literally walk or chill on sandbars here, its so unbelievably stunning.
Ootu Beach (above and below)
If you are a beach sunset lover then you are going to die over Aitutaki’s magical lagoon sunsets. There is something so special about a sunset over a lagoon. Since the waters are so calm, the picture perfect mirror reflection of the sunset on the water is what makes it beyond epic! We caught this dreamy sunset right outside our villa in Tamanu Beach.
Lagoon sunset at Tamanu Beach
Aitutaki really is the place to “embrace doing nothing and being within yourself”. Its quiet, refreshing and peaceful all around the whole island, Anush and I fell in love with the quaint charming vibes of this little paradise. Its soo magical, it is sure to cast a spell on you like it did on us. I felt super rejuvenated just being here in this heavenly isle – loved meditating on the beach, driving around and feeling the balmy island breeze, making friends with the locals and local kitties, etc. Fun fact about Aitutaki – while Raro has tons of free roaming island dogs, dogs aren’t allowed on Aitutaki ; on the contrary you will find plenty of cute island kitties who were all very friendly.
For other things to do on the island – check out this page here for more fun options.
Making kitty friends all over Aitutaki
Loved our breakfasts here every morning. Especially loved the “Island Night ” spread. It was one of the best meals of our trip for sure.
Fresh fruit breakfast at Tamanu
Hopped on over nextdoor to the Pacific resort Aitutaki to catch a casual dinner at their beach bar called Black Rock. Their poke bowls here are amazing! They also have a fancier sit down restaurant called Rapae Bay.
Super cute cafe in Aitutaki Village. Loved their yummy fish sandwiches here. They also do picnic lunches here which is super convenient if you are heading out to be on the water for the day, as the cafe is right by where most boats ply in Aitutaki village.
We had an amazing tropical breakfast at Aitutaki Lagoon Resort on one of the days, with a view to die for! If you aren’t staying here its a great idea to head here for a meal so you can get to enjoy the stunning private island resort.
Delicious breakfast at Aitutaki lagoon resort
Stopped by Boat Shed Bar and Grill for lunch one day and we loved the yummy food! The fish burger was so delicious.
Outside Boatshed bar and grill
Located right at Aitutaki Village, this adorable beachside restaurant has incredible views of Ootu beach. Perfect option if you are spending time at the beach here.
Delicious baked good, coffee and bowls in a charming little inland cafe.
Other food options in this page here.
One Foot island
In my happy place!
Laying on sandbars in the lagoon
Stunning palm groves at Aitutaki Lagoon Resort
“Heaven” on earth literally – heavens sandbar
Tamanu beach resort sits on beautiful Amuri beach
Hope this guide helped you whether you are planning a trip out soon, or getting inspired to do so in the near future :)! You can also check out my Rarotonga guide here as well.
We are head over heels obsessed with the Cook Islands, its hard not to be once you experience them for yourself! And I am sure we will make it back to this little South Pacific Paradise real soon.
Leaving you with a short recap video :
Thanks for stopping by! xoxo
** This trip was in partnership with the Cook Islands Tourism North America, Air Rarotonga and Hawaiian Airlines but all thoughts and opinions are my own.