A Complete Travel Guide to Aitutaki, Cook Islands: The Pacific ParadiseEverything you need to know about visiting Aitutaki and its wonderful lagoon
A piece of paradise
Aitutaki is basically one big lagoon and it’s one of the most beautiful places on earth.
Even flying in is an experience by itself. It’s simply stunning.
We really loved staying here for two nights!
Time moves slower in Aitutaki and this piece of paradise is just the perfect place to truly relax and escape from the hustle and bustle of the world.
In this guide, we’ll do our best to guide you to visit Aitutaki including where to stay, where to eat and the best things to do.
Where to stay in Aitutaki:
- Luxury: Pacific Resort Aitutaki.
- Value for money: Gina’s Garden Lodges.
- Budget: Aitutaki Budget Accommodation.
Table of contents
Why visit Aitutaki
Famous for its turquoise lagoon and palm-fringed beaches, Aitutaki is like stepping into a postcard.
It’s breathtakingly beautiful!
Lounge on the beach with a fresh coconut or dive into incredible waters full of corals and tropical fish.
Aitutaki is a place like no other and it’s definitely one of the best reasons to visit the Cook Islands.
Aitutaki is just a 45-minute plane ride away from Rarotonga but fortunately, mass tourism hasn’t found its way out here yet.
Not that Rarotonga is that touristic, anyway – and just a quarter of visitors to Raro make their way to Aitutaki.
Map of Aitutaki
Just north of Rarotonga is the small Aitutaki atoll and it is the second most visited island of the Cook Islands (after Rarotonga).
Arutanga is the main village and it’s located on the western side of the atoll.
When to visit Aitutaki
Aitutaki and the Cook Islands have a truly tropical climate and can be visited year-round for sun and warm waters.
The temperatures generally go down to about 22°C (71.6°F) when it’s “cold” and all the way up to 30°C (86°F).
The yearly average is between 25°C and 28°C (77°F and 82.4°F).
In the summer months aka the rainy season (December to April) it’s hotter, rains more and becomes more humid. It also brings fewer tourists and many fruits are in season.
The dry season approximately lasts from June to October.
It can rain all year but mostly, the showers are short and warm.
The most popular time of year to visit Aitutaki is in July and August when it’s wintertime in New Zealand and Australia.
If you can, try to avoid the school holidays as prices on accommodation go up.
Aitutaki never really gets crowded or busy, though.
What to do in Aitutaki
Go on a lagoon cruise
Doing a lagoon cruise is definitely the most popular and beautiful thing to do while in Aitutaki. There are lots of companies offering to take you out on the glistening waters.
We did a lagoon cruise with Vaka Cruises (managed by Air Rarontonga) and we had the most amazing day.
- Sailing on the lagoon. We couldn’t stop taking photos of the magnificent water.
- The awesome crew. We heard so many funny stories and absolutely loved the band who played classic songs on ukulele. “Somewhere over the rainbow” hit hard as we were sailing back making us miss this Pacific paradise before we even left.
- Snorkelling with giant trevallies. They’re seriously huge! It’s also possible to spot giant clams and other tropical fish. The water is (obviously) incredibly clear.
- Lunch on the boat. So many delicacies and plenty of healthy vegan options. Yay!
- Visiting One Foot Island. Probably the most famous and pretty of all the islands in the lagoon. Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t great once we got out there, but it was still splendid. This is where you can get your passport stamped, if you wish.
There’s no shortage of activities you can do in the lagoon.
Apart from the lagoon cruises, you can go sailing, diving, kayaking, stand up paddle boarding, snorkelling, whale watching (in season), kite surfing and, of course, swimming. The choice is yours!
Sunbathe on Ootu Beach
Just south of the airport strip, where the lagoon cruises depart and return, you’ll find the lovely Ooto Beach – probably the best beach on the Aitutaki “mainland”.
Enjoy an island night
Enjoy an island night cultural show in Aitutaki with a Cook Islands’ feast and traditional dancing.
We heard that Aitutakian fire-dancers are rated as some of the best performers in the Cook Islands.
Different resorts have island nights on different days. For example, Aitutaki Lagoon Resort & Spa offers a traditional drum dance show on Monday and Thursday nights including a big buffet.
Hike Maunga Pu
Go on a hike to the highest peak on the island called Maunga Pu.
The 30-minute walk takes you up to a height of around 124 metres and from here you can see the entire splendid lagoon and the whole atoll.
Visit the old church
Cook Islanders are proud Christians and Aitutaki was actually the first of the Cook Islands to accept Christianity in 1821.
You can visit the oldest church in the Cook Islands in Arutanga, Aitutaki.
Visitors are welcome to attend church services on Sundays where you can experience incredible singing and Hymns sung in Cook Islands’ Māori.
Drive through the banyan tree
On the trip around the island we drove through an incredible banyan tree that stands on both sides of the road.
It’s a really cool photo spot, but beware of traffic – although there isn’t much of it in Aituktaki!
Relax with spa and wellness
Unwind and enjoy spa and massage treatments at one of the many spas and salons around the island.
Anyone up for a couples massage, body wraps and scrubs, facials or beachside treatments in paradise?
Where to eat in Aitutaki
There aren’t that many restaurants and cafés in Aitutaki, but if you want to explore the island you do have a few options.
- Tauono’s Market and Cafe offer a few vegan options (including a delicious-sounding lasagne). It’s frozen, though, so you need to cut a deal with the staff at your resort or stay in a place where you have access to a kitchen. The Austrian owner also sells fresh fruits.
- Koru Café offers a simple menu of western and Pacific dishes. Though there aren’t that many vegan-friendly dishes, the staff understood the concept of veganism just fine.
- Other restaurants and cafés include The Boat Shed, MVA’s Tunu2nu, Blue Nun Cafe, and Mouarii Cafe.
- With a reservation you can also dine at the resort resturants. To our knowledge, the best one is Rapae Bay at Pacific Resort.
Where to stay in Aitutaki
Preface: Staying overnight in Aitutaki (as opposed to going there on a daytrip from Rarotonga) is relatively expensive.
But that’s expected for staying in one of the world’s most beautiful and remote lagoons, right?
Accommodation is going to be your biggest expense of staying here.
For a longer stay, it makes sense budget-wise to find a place with a kitchen so you can cook some meals for yourself and save on food that way.
But if you’re splurging a bit, we can recommend staying in luxury to get that complete feeling of tropical bliss.
Pacific Resort Aitutaki
We stayed at Pacific Resort Aitutaki and believe it to be the most luxurious accommodation in Aitutaki.
You’re bound to feel like you’re truly in paradise here!
Aitutaki Lagoon Private Island Resort
Another enticing option in Aitutaki is staying at Aitutaki Lagoon Private Island Resort.
The resort is on its own island just below the southeastern tip of the main island giving it a truly unique location.
Where else can you live on your own island?
While staying on the main island offers no shortage of access to the lagoon, staying in the lagoon like this must feel amazing.
And did we mention the overwater bungalows? Wow.
Value for money
Gina’s Garden Lodges
If you want to stay in Aitutaki with your own kitchen, we think that Gina’s Garden Lodges look like a nice place.
The huts looks spacious and are surrounded by a lush garden.
The bungalows by the beach at Ranginuis Retreat come with seaviews, aircondition and a small kitchen which for the price is a pretty good deal.
There are some cheaper rooms as well which could be great for the budget-oriented traveller who wish to stay right by the water.
There’s a pool and free use of kayaks so you can explore the lagoon on your own.
Aitutaki Budget Accommodation
Aitutaki Budget Accommodation just might be Aitutaki’s cheapest place to stay overnight for the single traveller.
How to get around Aitutaki
There is no public transport on the island of Aitutaki.
The main forms of transport are renting a scooter or car.
If you haven’t already gotten a driver’s license in Rarotonga, you may have to purchase one at the police station in Arutanga (the main town on the island). Remember to bring your foreign driver’s license to obtain it.
Cars can typically be rented for around 65 NZD to 85 NZD a day (~ 42 to 54 USD / 38 to 50 EUR) with a 40 NZD petrol deposit (~ 26 USD / 24 EUR)*.
Scooters start at around 25 NZD a day (~ 16 USD / 15 EUR) with a 10 NZD petrol deposit (~ 6.4 USD / 6 EUR)*.
You can also rent a bike. The island isn’t that big so it’s definitely doable to see it that way.
We used two complimentary bicycles from the Pacific Resort Aitutaki and biked around one afternoon. Just remember to wear sunscreen!
As far as we know there are two taxi companies on the island and they are fairly expensive. You can get your resort to arrange pick-ups and agree on the price beforehand.
*Prices are from 2020.
How to get to Aitutaki
There are no international flights to Aitutaki so you have to get there from the main island of the Cook Islands, Rarotonga.
Luckily, it’s only a 45-minute plane ride with Air Rarotonga.
They have daily flights and they also offer a day tour from Rarotonga.
If you go on the day tour, you will be picked up at around 7 am in the morning, fly to Aitutaki, go on a lagoon cruise and fly back to Rarotonga again in the late afternoon.
The airplane is quite small (and cute in our opinion) and the airport on both Rarotonga and Aitutaki are super informal.
There were no security or gates and we really liked the relaxed island atmosphere.
A flight to Aitutaki will inevitably emit CO2.
If you want to be awesome, consider offsetting your flight’s carbon footprint.
We have written an article about the subject here that gives a good overview of your different options:
Internet in Rarotonga and the Cook Islands
To our knowledge, there’s no free wifi in Aitutaki or in any other of the Cook Islands.
At the time of writing, 4G is available in Aitutaki (and Rarotonga) but it’s rather expensive.
A preloaded Travel SIM from Vodafone can be a good deal. For 49 NZD (~ 31 USD / 29 EUR), you get 3GB of data, 30 minutes of talk and 300 texts.
You can also find a wifi hotspot and purchase data for those. They’re easy to use – you just connect to a hotspot and login with your bought credentials.
Our resort (Pacific Resort Aitutaki) had a wifi hotspot and we imagine most other hotels on the island have one too.
Fiber is coming to Aitutaki and the Cook Islands, but we don’t know exactly when.
Our best tips for visiting Aitutaki
- The currency in the Cook Islands is the New Zealand Dollar.
- There are ATMs in Aitutaki and most shops, restaurants and hotels accept credit cards.
- There’s a small hospital on the island but for more serious illnesses and operations, patients are usually flown to Rarotonga or Auckland in New Zealand.
- Travel in the off season for cheaper rates on flights and accommodation.
- Book your accommodation well in advance if you’re travelling in the high season months of December, January, July and August. While there are likely always beds available, the best hotels get booked out months ahead.
- The electrical outlets in Aitutaki and the Cook Islands are the type I plugs. Voltage is 240 V and the standard frequency is 50 Hz. We had no problems using our electrical appliances with a simple adapter.
- Beachwear stays on the beach. Cook Islanders are pretty traditional and wearing beachwear away from the beach is not well looked upon.
What to pack for Aitutaki
- A good camera – here’s a guide to the gear we use.
- Travel insurance (adlink). Never travel without it!
- Pack light! The weather is sunny and warm year-round.
- Swimwear. You will want to use it daily.
- Bring a rain jacket if you travel in the rainy season and plan to venture outside of your resort.
- A sarong or a quick-dry towel (adlinks) for drying and chilling on the beach (or for covering up when not on the beach).
- Sun protection; a hat, sunglasses, light covering clothes and an organic, reef-safe sunscreen (adlink).
- Mosquito repellent.
- Reef shoes and snorkel gear if you plan to spend much time in the water. You can also easily rent equipment on the island.
Thanks for reading
Thanks for getting all the way to the end!
We hope this Aitutaki guide has been useful.
What do you think about Aitutaki and the stunning lagoon? Would you go there?
If you’ve been to Aitutaki it would be awesome to hear your best tips in the comments.
If you haven’t been yet, please don’t hesitate to ask us anything. We’re happy to help!