Books like Robert Louis Stevenson´s “Treasure Island” and having grown up with a South Sea picture on the wall of my bedroom in teenage years are likely to have influenced me on this one. Visiting Polynesia (“many islands”) is the fulfilment of a childhood dream. As Polynesia has many destinations to offer, we had to pick one and went for the Cook Islands. The B777 we landed in seemed higher than the control tower. We immediately liked the Cook Islands.
There are two main operators, that offer cruises to the beautiful Muri Lagoon: Captain Tama´s and Koka´s. Both seem ok, so no worries. The Lagoon itself is located to the South East of Rarotonga. The tours offer an entertaining and educational mix about the local culture, coconuts, sarongs (there are 374 ways to wear them) – and of course you can snorkel to your hearts content. Food is superb (fresh tuna steaks) and there is always the happy tune of Cook Island music. Just don´t be bothered to be sharing a glass bottom boat with 20+ people.
Famous 6km-cross-island (or cross-mountain) trek, preferably done with Pa´s Treks, which is something like an institution on Rarotonga. It takes approx. 3hrs and will take you from the North to the South. Rewards? Learning about the local Flora and Fauna as well as getting spoiled by beautiful nature and views from “The Needle” – a high pointy rock in the middle of the island.
The bus schedule is explained easily. There are two buses, one drives clockwise, the other counter-clockwise. So if in doubt, just hop on, you will always arrive at your destination! It takes approx. 1 hour to get around the island. The fare system is similarly easy: you always pay 5 NZD per ride – or get a slightly cheaper multi-trip ticket.
From the doorstep of our accommodation, we took the canoes out to Motutapu, a sand island in Muri Lagoon, where palm trees and beautiful sandbanks seemed like an attractive destination. After our little excursion we found out that this quaint little island is also called Mosquito Island. Needless to say that by then we already knew why.
Taking a domestic flight on Air Rarotonga is a good reminder, what flying was supposed to be like. No security checks, no restrictions on liquid, no baggage tags, just give them your luggage, get on and enjoy the flight. It´s a short 45min hop to Aitutaki, but you arrive in a different world. If Rarotonga already offers a different rhythm, the one on Aitutaki is even more relaxed.
…not really. Even if we now can claim that we made it up to the highest point on Aitutaki: Maunga Pu Summit (124m above sea level). Most TV towers around the world are higher – but they certainly do not offer a comparable view!
“Aitutaki´s stunning lagoon, brimming with marine life and ringed by 15 palm-covered islands, is one of the treasures of the South Pacific” (Excerpt from the Lonely Planet Travel Guide). We agree. My wife and I rated it as one of the most beautiful places we have experienced.
Approx. 120.000 visitors come to the Cook Islands, approx. 25.000 fly on to Aitutaki during their stay, yet only 1.200 visitors a year make it to Atiu. That´s a little more than 20 people on a weekly basis. Want something truly off the beaten track? Go to Atiu! A geological adventure place, a bird haven and local coffee are three good reasons to visit!
Anatakitaki caves is a must see, when you are on Atiu. Embedded in tropical rainforest, this limestone cave with spectacular stalactites and stalagmites is untouched by any human infrastructure or safety measures. It also contains an underground pool, in which you can take a candlelit swim and is home to an absolutely unique bird (please go to the next blog entry).
Unique to Atiu, unique in its features: the Kopeka (Atiu swiftlet). This little bird, not weighing more than 13 grams, has some serious technical features. While it´s got perfect sight to find its way when there is light, it also is equipped with sonar. It lives in the Anatakitaki cave – where it is mostly dark – and navigates by issuing click-sounds, which reflect of the cave walls and structures. And please remember, we are talking about a bird here, not a bat!
Atiu has a couple of institutions, George Mateariki is one of them! We joined him on a day tour to learn about the islands flora and fauna, specifically the birds. George is an absolute expert in his field and is managing bird life on Atiu. That means making sure the reintroduced Rimatara Lorekeet is doing fine as well as the rare Rarotongan Flycatcher. In September he will share his experience in Hawaii, at the IUCN World Conservation Congress.
Coffee was introduced in the early 19th century to Atiu. The early export success slowly faded and coffee production came to a halt. A German who moved to the island in the 1980s saw the potential and re-established coffee growing and production. Certainly a gift for the island. As he recently passed away, Mata is the only remaining coffee producer on Atiu. She stands in the long tradition of her family making coffee since the 1950s and is very modest about her central role in the Atiuan coffee industry. A special twist to her coffee: the beans get roasted in coconut cream!