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Aitutaki Lagoon, Cook Islands, South Pacific
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The following excerpt complete with photos was pulled from a popular MSN blog, this blog has been featured twice internationally by MSN spaces.
Hands down, this is one of the most jaw-droppingly beautiful, not to mention friendly, places in the world. There's a look all new arrivals have at the airport - I think “Gob-smacked” sums it up. They've just flown over a lagoon that laughs in the face of poets, “Go on, try to describe my beauty with words!” They are in a state of mild shock because, lets face it, nowhere can really look as good as the postcards and travel brochures, can it? Aitutaki can, and does…times ten.
Location of the Cook Islands
At the very centre of the Polynesian triangle, the Cook Islands consist of 15 islands scattered over some 2 million square kilometres of the Pacific Ocean. It is bordered to the west by Tokelau, the Samoas and Nuie and to the east by Tahiti and the islands of French Polynesia. It lies in the Tropic of Capricorn, latitude from 9-22 degrees. The islands north to south, are Penhryn, Rakahanga, Manihiki, Pukapuka, Nassau, Suwarrow, Palmerston, Aitutaki, Manuae, Mitiaro, Takutea, Atiu, Mauke, Rarotonga and Mangaia. With a land area of just 240 square kilometres, the islands range from low coral atolls to the mountainous majesty of Rarotonga, the largest island of the group and home to the capital, Avarua. Aitutakin lagoon is known as the lagoon of the South Pacific and a Cook Islands vacation is not complete without a visit to Aitutaki lagoon.
It was during the Great Polynesian Migration (which began about 1500BC), that our ancestors first arrived in these islands. Their giant double-hulled canoes - ‘Vaka’s’ - guided by the stars and the power of ancient Polynesian navigation, arrived here approximately 800AD. It is said that Chief Taoi arrived in the Cook Islands during the original migration. Toi presided over the creation of a grand road, built of coral, laid through the inland swamps. This all-weather road is still in existence, despite being almost 1000 years old. Now tar sealed, it lies inland and is called the Ara Metua. When the early explorers arrived on Rarotonga, they were staggered to find the Great Road of Toi and while there’s much in the way of legends to explain its presence, the original reason for its construction remains shrouded in mystery.
The first Europeans were the Spanish explorers Alvaro de Mendana, who sighted Pukapuka in 1595 and Pedro Fernandez de Quiros who sighted Rakahanga in 1606.
There was no further European contact until over 160 years later in 1773, when Captain James Cook, for whom the island group was eventually named, sighted Manuae atoll which he named Hervey Island. On a later voyage, he also discovered Palmerston, Takutea, Mangaia and Atiu in 1777.
The ill fated Captain William Bligh sighted Aitutaki in 1789. Legend has it that Aitutaki lagoon highest point, the 124-metre Maungapu, is the top of Rarotonga’s Raemaru Peak, stolen away by local warriors. Shortly after Bligh, on April 28th 1789, on the same vessel, mutineer Fletcher Christian sighted Rarotonga following the famous “Mutiny on the Bounty”. However Rarotonga’s official discovery is credited to Captain Phillip Goodenough in the Cumberland in 1814, whilst seeking sandalwood.
Aitutaki lagoon was the first island in the Cook islands group to embrace Christianity when the Reverend John Williams of the London Missionary Society arrived in 1821. Traveling with Williams was a young missionary, Papeiha, from the Society Islands, who stayed on when Williams continued his travels and dedicated the rest of his life to his task. The CICC Church, construction of which started in 1828, is the oldest church in the Cook Islands and has a memorial to John Williams and Papeiha.
The Cook Islands became a favorite stop for whalers in the 1850s, the British flag was raised in 1888 at which time Aitutaki and Rarotonga were included in the boundaries of New Zealand.
THE NATION of the Cook Islands
The Cook Islands are comprised of 15 islands spread over 850,000 square miles (2.2 million square kilometers) of ocean smack in the middle of the South Pacific between Tonga to the west and the Society Islands to the east.
The Cook Islands consists of two main groups, one in the north and one in the south. The southern group is nine "high" islands mainly of volcanic origin although some are virtually atolls. The majority of the Cook Islands population lives in the southern group. The northern group comprises six true atolls.
Aitutaki and the Cook Islands
Islands group (pop., 2005 est.: 13,900), southern Pacific Ocean. Located roughly 2,000 mi (3,000 km) northeast of New Zealand, the 15 islands, scattered from north to south over some 900 mi (1,450 km) of ocean, are divided into a southern group of nine islands, including Rarotonga (the seat of government), and a northern group of six. All in the northern group are true atolls; most in the southern group have volcanic interiors. They were probably settled by Polynesians from Tonga and Samoa; there is evidence of a highly organized society c. AD 1100. Capt. James Cook explored many of them during the 1770s. Established as a British protectorate in 1888, they were annexed by New Zealand in 1901. Self-government in free association with New Zealand was achieved in 1965. Aitutaki is considered the vacation island of the Cook Islands.
Aitutaki Cook Islands vacations are the stuff of which dreams are made. This magnificent and remote island has a triangular-shaped 'almost'-atoll rising up 4000 meters from the floor of the Pacific Ocean. It consists of three volcanic and 12 coral islets (motus)
Aitutaki lagoon was probably first settled around 900 AD and one of its great legendary Polynesian Outrigger canoe discoverers was Ru who named it Utataki Enua O Ru Ki Te Moana. Roughly translated, this means The Leading of a Cargo of People by Ru Over the Ocean. It can be inferred that Aitutaki lagoon was, therefore, the ultimate destination of one of the great Polynesian ocean voyages.
The first recorded discovery by Europeans was Captain Bligh on the "Bounty". He arrived on April 11 1789 and shortly afterwards the famous mutiny occurred. Bligh returned later on July 25 1792. He is credited with introducing the paw paw fruit to Aitutaki Island and this is now an important export product from the Cook Islands.
The first missionary to the Cook Islands, John Williams, landed on Aitutaki before any of the other Cook Islands and there is a large, airy coral block church in Arutanga, the main township, which bears testament to his success in converting the people to Christianity.
Life on Aitutaki moves at a wonderfully relaxed tempo which is why it is such a popular destination for visitors who fly in from Rarotonga for day trips as well as extended stays. The Aitutaki lagoon can be approached in leisurely fashion in traditional outrigger canoes for quiet paddling just off the beach or in more sophisticated launches favored by foreign anglers who know its reputation for saltwater fly fishing for the fighting bonefish.
The motus which are mainly at the outer perimeter of the lagoon are wonderful landing places for the day cruises available to visitors. The favorite motus are Moturakau, Ropota, Maina and One Foot Island.
Wow, this place sure looks ugly!
Why would anyone want to go here?
Yuck, fresh tropical fruit!
Great, the beach is crowded again!
Why isn't Aitutaki like the “in” New York restaurant, with line ups down the block and waiting lists that stretch into the year 2013? The biggest part of the problem is marketing. For years the Cooks have fought for their share of the tourism pie, battling with Fiji, Hawaii, Tahiti, and Bora Bora for sun & sand seekers. Rarotonga has the international airport, and the money, so that’s the island everyone has focused on. Aitutaki has been promoted as a day trip destination, or a two to three day getaway. And, oh my, how sad it is to see the faces of our guests who’ve just spent ten days on Raro and arrive here for the final three days of their vacation, with a horrible and sudden awareness that they should have done it the other way around. We try to warn them but it happens all the time.
Not to put anyone off visiting Raro, it’s nice enough, I guess. There are more shops and restaurants and City Folk stuff but given the choice between here and there? Puh-lease, no contest.
See you on Aitutaki