I’ve often looked at pictures in magazines of people strolling along white beaches beside impossibly turquoise water under a perfect blue sky and wondered, with somewhat envious eyes, if I might ever get to see a place like that. I suspected that such places only existed in the enhanced world or travel brochures and torturous office calenders. I now know that not to be the case, because I have been to one such place. I’ve been to paradise, and it was just somewhere along the path I’m taking on my long way home.

After a night flight from Los Angeles it’s still dark when my plane lands at Rarotonga airport in the Cook Islands. Any sleep I might have gotten was insignificant in terms of rest, but as I peer out of the small airplane window I can make out the silhouettes of palm trees on the backdrop of a Polynesian dawn and my excitement extinguishes any tiredness I might have had.

As we walk down the steps of the plane, like touring rock stars from the 1970’s, a singing man greets us. It’s not screaming fans or even ladies with those flowers to put around your neck, but nonetheless when compared to the usual snarling immigration officer, this is easily the warmest welcome to a country I’ve ever had.

With my onward flight to Aitutaki was not leaving until later that afternoon I decided to leave the tiny airport and take the short walk to the Aquarius hotel for breakfast. Once there I discover that the owner, Cameron, comes from the same place in the UK where I live. He’s a friendly guy, chatting and offering me cups of tea. Our geographic familiarity might have contributed to Cameron’s friendly and generous nature as he allowed me to use the hotels facilities to freshen up, though something tells me that such generosity isn’t all that uncommon in these parts anyway.

Oddly enough my first task after breakfast was to walk to the local police station to take my driving test and obtain a license that would enable me to rent a scooter while I was in the Cook Islands. The test consisted of riding a scooter around the block with a policeman following close behind on a motorcycle. “I’m pleased to tell you that you passed.” He tells me as we circle back to the police station, and as I pay my $25 (NZD) for the plastic license I wonder if anyone has ever failed.

I spent the rest of my time in “Raro” riding the scooter through the rain that had unexpectedly descended on the island like bank robbers in a morning heist. I didn’t see much of anything really, a few beaches here and there, but mainly the shelter of a bus stop that protected me from the rain.

A fellow traveler had referred to Rarotonga as “Rainytonga” and it was living up to that name. “Aitutaki is different. I promise it won’t disappoint you.” He said, and as I sat in that little bus shelter soaked to the skin I hoped he would be right in that regard too.


On my arrival in Aitutaki I had to hitch a ride on the back of a pickup truck. I was supposed to have been collected but there was some kind of mixup with the arrival time, but this was no big deal and in fact only seemed to add to the relaxed pace that was already clearly a way of life here. I held the packages and the pickup driver took me to right to the door of where I was supposed to be, and even helped me with my luggage!

I set my bags down, then looked around. “Slow down sweet freind” read a nearby pained road sign. The misspelling obviously hadn’t worried anyone but either way I was happy to take the advice. Slow down indeed, I thought to myself. That’s exactly what I planned to do.

Aitutaki sits on a breathtaking turquoise coral reef lagoon made up of 14 mostly uninhabited islets that are surrounded by beautiful palm-fringed white beaches. It is no exaggeration to describe the place as a paradise that is largely unspoiled and as yet undiscovered by the sun seeking masses. It’s a quiet and unpretentious place where the locals smile and wave at you as they pass on the street.

I spent my first night in the Amuri Guest House run by a friendly local couple and popular with backpackers. Following that I stayed in a treehouse on Matriki Beach. To wake up to the sound of waves and be able to just walk right out onto the beach from my treehouse was just pure bliss.

While I suspect some visitors to Aitutaki probably don’t stray far from the beach, I just had to explore. I trekked across the main island on my rented moped which I nearly crashed horribly while foolishly trying to climb to the highest point on the island on a track of lose coral rock and sand. Not wishing to meet my death in paradise I decided to park the bike and walk to the peak where I sat and watched the sun set.

On another day I ventured into the jungle like forest. Locals had assured me that there are no creatures in Aitutaki that can harm a human more than the occasional mosquito bite.

Snorkeling in the lagoon is a must. I took a lagoon cruise on “the yellow boat” which stops to allow guests to snorkel and explore the reef. It was just awesome swimming around with fish that I’ve only ever seen in tropical marine tanks. I even found myself face to face with a scary looking Moray Eel!

I rented a kayak and ventured out onto the lagoon to explore some of the uninhabited little islets. This was just magical, if a little hard work. I made my way from island to island and didn’t see another soul for the entire time. Each islet I went to was beautiful but completely deserted. I suspect this is why they were chosen as locations for the TV shows Shipwrecked and Survivor.

A few times I felt like pinching myself because I could hardly believe that places like this were real. The colors were so rich and vibrant and the beaches so perfect and unspoiled that everywhere looked like the picture of paradise.

I met a whole host of travelers on the island ranging from backpackers to honeymooners, marine photographers to a family who had left their jobs and lives behind them to travel the world! Every moment and every turning was a picture postcard. I took a staggering amount of photographs, but often would simply just stand still and soak in the beauty.

I could have happily stayed in the beach treehouse and enjoyed the serene pace of Aitutaki for much longer. What little rain there was would simply glide over the island in minutes, it was perfect from start to finish, and while I might have only spent just four days there, those four days were simply unforgettable.

Aitutki (Wiki)