So, it’s been a long while since I’ve written about the Cook Islands, and it has been a while since I was last there. But! I still have a bit more to write about it, so here it is, finally. This is what we got up to for the rest of our stay on Aitutaki, the most beautiful island in the world.
We hired a scooter from the nearby bar for $25 NZD / day. Pretty cheap. No helmets needed. Scooting around Aitutaki is a great experience. The wind in in your hair, and on the wind is the ever present scent of burning coconut husks. There are so many coconuts on the island that the only way to get rid of them is to burn them. It’s a great smell. The ride from the resort into “town” is via the road next to the runway, so that when a plane comes in you can race it, if you like. I did. I lost. Next time.
I did two dives one day with one of the local dive operators, Neil Mitchell. My Dad recommended him, from when he went diving in Aitutaki, 20 years earlier. We were told where to find him by one of the locals, and when we rode up the dirt road on our scooter we were greeted by a small herd of goats outside a small house. Classic. I booked a double dive for the next day. I dived with about 6 people from a public health conference (I can’t possibly imagine a better place to have a conference). We took a dive boat out beyond the reef and dropped in – no wetsuit, just boardshorts. The water was 29 degrees. It was amazing. We went to about 25 meters depth, and met a few giant turtles, a napoleon wrass, and a white tipped reef shark. On my second dive I returned with 10 bar of air, which any diver will tell you is not enough. Whoops. I must have been having a lot of fun.
A lot of the civil works on the island, like the port, were built by the NZ army in the 70’s. The landcruiser that dawn and the dive guys used on the island came from that era, and they had an interesting story about it’s history. A woman came on a dive trip and was being driven around in the landcruiser when she realised that she had driven it before. She even knew of specific characterised marks, dents, and features of the car. She had driven it in the saharan desert, years earlier, when she and the car were stationed there with the UN. Small world. I digress.
In 2009, Cyclone Pat came through Aitutaki. Luckily no one died. Unluckily, many buildings, homes, shops and businesses were destroyed, leaving one third of the population with no other option but to leave for Rarotonga, New Zealand or Australia, and start again. Before the cyclone there were 2800 people, afterwards, there were 1800. This is apparent when riding around the island on a scooter – abandoned, crumbling buildings are everywhere, people are almost nowhere. On a Saturday afternoon we could count the number of people we saw on one hand, and most of them were on a scooter riding the other way. I’m not saying this is a bad thing, on the contrary, I think it’s amazing. Down at the port there is a large old administrative building which used to house a number of businesses, and now houses a grocery shop, which sells sarongs and select bits of food. The rest of the vast open building is empty. There are many abandoned buildings on the island – some from world war 2 times, some from recent times. All overgrown with trees and grasses, even the recent ones. It’s actually quite beautiful. One shell of a house had a few scooters inside, each with trees growing through them.
Another day, we took a lagoon tour with Bishop’s Cruises. I may have mentioned that the Aitutaki lagoon is the most beautiful place in the world before. Crossing it by boat is incredible. There are many smaller islands, or motus, in the lagoon, and the lagoon tour took us to the most picturesque of them. One used to host the show Survivor, and also has the remains of an old seaplane dock, from the glory days of pacific island hopping by seaplane. They don’t do that anymore, but I sure wish they did. Another motu had a dense jungle trail that lead to the other side, to a deserted beach facing the vast expanse of the pacific ocean. Finally, we visited “One Foot Island” with perfect white sand beaches and turquoise waters – absolute paradise. A bit of snorkelling was done here, and a beach BBQ. The lagoon tour also took us out into a popular snorkelling spot in the midst of the lagoon, where the water was only about 4 metres deep max. We met some of the local fish, including George, a giant trevally, as well as scores of other colourful fish.
We only spent 4 days on Aitutaki – not enough! I can’t wait until I go back.