It wasn't until 1789 that Europeans discovered this island haven, with the HMS Bounty's crew arriving, just a few weeks before a mutiny tore them apart. The Europeans were beaten to the islands, however, by the streamlined wooden canoes of the Polynesian settlers, who arrived around 900AD. While Western missionaries would eventually visit to spread Christianity to the island - evidenced by the white, coral-encrusted walls of the many churches - their efforts to repress the people’s deep love of communal singing and dancing ultimately failed, and music forms a key component of the islanders' culture to this day.
Top Sights and Activities
The beaches here are flawless, and swaying in a hammock, suspended between leaning palm trees, as the ocean gently ruffles the sand nearby, feels gloriously indulgent. Aitutaki Lagoon is a huge aquamarine pool of water, alive with a kaleidoscopic swirl of tropical fish, which lurk just below the surface. You may even be lucky enough to spot turtles padding across the sand, scraping themselves towards the open ocean.
The snorkelling opportunities here, and on One Foot Island - where you'll want to acquire the badge of honour of having your passport stamped with the island's iconic huge footprint - are sublime. Don't miss the tiny island of Moturakau either, which is crammed full of exotic birds and crabs, who have dominion over the island's tangled, jungle terrain.
Aitutaki has escaped over-development, and the vibrant pulse of the island’s culture is palpable from the second you arrive. Visits during July give you the honour of witnessing the Te Maeva Nui celebrations, during which the country dances and harmonises as one to celebrate the Cook Islands' self-governance. Feel your own limbs twitching, as you match the pounding drum rhythms of the traditional Ura Pau dance, which shakes the islands during this period.
Hotels & Restaurants
The relative inaccessibility of the atoll means there is a real sense of exclusivity here, and it's easy to feel mesmerised by the tranquil isolation as you wander out on a glorious sand bar, before wading back to your beach-side wooden cabin.
Aitutaki Lagoon Resort & Spa is one of the finest places to stay on the island, offering stress-extinguishing massages, below woven roofs, and bedrooms with colossal windows that reveal the glorious, island-studded ocean. Pacific Resort Aitutaki is another sumptuous option, where you can sip from coconut shells, before splashing in the ankle deep water of a private beach, or kayaking out across the gentle bob of the waves.
The crackle of barbecuing seafood - which varies from swordfish to octopus, depending on the day's haul - is never far away here. Restaurants like the Pacific Resort's Rapae Bay serve up flavour-filled platters of seafood, while Koru Cafe is a laid-back option for a delicious lunch - enjoy salt and pepper squid, or rustic sandwiches bulked out with juicy local greens.
Aituaki is a small island, and chances are you'll want to spend your time on the beach rather than shopping. You can pick up limited supplies at the island's small gas stations, however, with fresh fruit - including juicy bananas and star fruit widely available. The hotels offer plenty of supplies for visiting guests.