It was my sixth visit to Aitutaki, but it had been six years since my last one and I was feeling nervous that it wouldn’t be as I remembered it. But I needed a break – sometimes you just have to get out of Dodge to realign, restore, reboot, and Aitutaki beckoned with its white sandy beaches, turquoise lagoon and calm, peaceful atmosphere. More importantly, as a solo female traveler it is very safe destination to go to on my own.
I headed off on a beautiful Auckland dawn and arrived in Rarotonga to bright tropical sunshine. The moment I stepped off the plane, it was as I remembered it – Jack Numanga was still serenading passengers with the ukulele – as he done for more than 30 years.
It was hot and sticky, the arriving tourists were pale and tired, while the departing ones were tanned and relaxed. Waiting in the queue for customs, I started to fret that I wouldn’t make my flight to Aitutaki – than I reminded myself to chill. I was on island time now and needed to leave my big city angst behind. Sure enough, I was through immigration in plenty of time, a cheery smile and Kia Orana from immigration and I was dashing over to the check-in for the short hop to Aitutaki.
The island is about 40 minutes North East by turbo-prop from Rarotonga. Endless deep blue Pacific Ocean, then a turquoise lagoon appears, and before I knew it we had pulled up outside the terminal.
There is something magical about this island. As I left the plane I could hear the surf from the reef – a constant hum that seems to have a calming effect – at least for me. For the next two weeks, I would lie in my bed at night, or sit on the beach just listening to the not quite roar, not quite hum of the ocean as it breaks against the surrounding reef, the hiss of the gentle lagoon waves on the beach and the rustle of the palm trees when the wind blew through them. It is quite hypnotic. The island is small – only about 18km sq of land, and is surrounded by the barrier reef which is about 12 kms long on each side – and the lagoon is about 50kms sq. The ocean constantly breaks against this – and I have a theory that this is one giant negative ion generator. Every time I’ve been here, within hours my mood lifts and I’m happy and uplifted the whole time. I love it.
Waiting for me is Tracey from Matriki Beach Huts, which is where I always stay.
Many people think the island has only high-end luxury accommodation, but in fact it has a good mix across the island. Matriki is budget accommodation with small self-contained beach huts that are self-catering on the west of the island, next to the small lagoon. The huts are only steps away from the beach and the warm lagoon, which is safe to swim and snorkel on.
Along this shore line is a wide range of accommodation from the luxury to budget – from the Pacific Resort Aitutaki to beach houses for hire, so it’s easy to find something that suits most budgets. Aitutaki tends to be a honeymooner and couple’s destination. There were lots of lovey dovey couples taking selfies, which I accidentally blundered through on a few occasions (well it was dark and I didn’t see them). Matriki often attracts budget and world travelers, and I have always met someone interesting while there. I’m a keen lone traveler but it is nice to have company at times – especially with all the loved-up couples around!
My little reef hut was 5 metres from the beach and with screens instead of window, I would lie awake at night or sit on the beach just listening to the quiet hum.
The main form of transport of the island is by scooter, and I have to say nothing beats zipping around on a scooter on a tropical island. In the city, I find it too intimidating, but up here, it’s the best fun in the whole world. One night when it was raining, I was at my happiest riding along, singing like a crazy woman on my scooter while dodging coconut crabs. Other days, when I had some work to do, I’d strap my laptop on the back and head down to the telecom office to pick up the wifi.
The island has two main lagoons – the smaller one on the western side – and the big one on the east. They are all one but the big area has the small motus or islands, and better snorkelling because it is deeper. The colours are a stunning turquoise and the sand is a shimmering white. It is a bit expensive to go out for the day – about NZD$100 but for that you get snorkeling equipment, towels, lunch and visits to a number of the islands and a variety snorkeling spots. Pretty tropical fish abound and there are giant clams, turtles and eagle rays in the lagoon.
I went out with Teking Lagoon Tours, who I had gone out with on previous tours. Teking has smaller boats than other tour operators and an excellent knowledge of the lagoon fish and wildlife – well I assumed he did or he could have just been making up all the names! And the lunch provided on Maina Island was seriously good! One of those times when you really want to go back for more but don’t want the other guests to think you are greedy.
One night, I was sitting on the beach in front of Matriki and the air was still and warm, the lagoon flat calm and as the sun set the sky turned into shimmering Monet colours and I thought, “This is what I would imagine heaven looked like.”
For two weeks, it was a magical escape from the pressure-cooker world I live in. It is a rare haven – kind, friendly people who are quick with a smile, and no constant badgering of the relentless consumer-driven world we live in. It is so beautiful and so peaceful – if you really want a place to escape – then this is the place to go.