Paradise awaits on remote, relaxing Aitutaki

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AITUTAKI, Cook Islands -- Perhaps notorious Captain Bligh, the first European to lay eyes on Aitutaki, should have treated his crew to a holiday on the island when he sailed past back in 1789. If hed just anchored the HMS Bounty and relaxed, he might have avoided that fateful mutiny.

Travelers today arent making the same mistake. The ultimate in paradisiacal destinations, Aitutaki is distinguished by exotic culture and unspoiled, uncrowded beaches. Although its a mere 50-minute flight from Rarotonga, the main island of the Cooks chain, it remains well off the beaten path for tourists.

Although there are only 250 beds on the island -- early bookings are essential -- accommodations types span all budgets, from high-end resorts to reasonable bungalows.

Are Tamanu Beach Village combines resort luxury with bungalow privacy. Once two separate hotels, Are Tamanu is now one larger resort with five accommodations levels. Bungalows on the Tamanu side of the resort, a bit crowded and lacking privacy, are geared to couples and honeymooners; thus, children under 12 are not allowed. But the Manea suites, which accommodate four, are perfect for families.

With great ocean views, the best values are the Tamanu Lagoon Bungalows and the Manea Lagoon Suites; nightly bungalow and suite rates at Are Tamanu run from about $199 to $345, based on occupancy. 

For those on tight schedules, Air Rarotonga offers day trips; the nine-hour, $265 tour operates Mondays to Saturdays.

Although small (7 square miles) Aitutaki has no shortage of things to do.

For a taste of local culture, try the Island Nights buffet and floor show at the Samade on the Beach Hotel. The evening starts with a Polynesian buffet; afterwards, the show begins. Dressed in grass cuffs and loincloths, men fiercely stomp their feet and swing their knees, while women gyrate their hips with implausible fluidity.

Another highlight is cruising with Bishops Lagoon Cruises. The first stop is Akaiami, an uninhabited islet that once served as a refueling station for flying boats. The cruise next sets anchor for an hour of snorkeling, after which it sails for One Foot Island, where a delicious lunch is served. 

Travelers looking for authentic Aitutaki souvenirs should stop at the Womens Craft Center, an excellent place to buy traditional tivaevae quilts; rito hats woven from uncurled coconut palm fibers; colorful pareu sarongs; and nono juice, a foul-tasting drink with exceptional health benefits.

Meanwhile, the Aitutaki Discovery Safari is a great way to get ones cultural bearings. The three-hour tour ($33 for adults, $7 kids) takes in interesting sites such as Te Poaki o Rae Marae, a well-preserved sacred altar. The safari fills up quickly, so its important to reserve well in advance.

Contact Cook Islands Tourism at (866) 280-1739 or www.cook-islands.com.

To contact the reporter who wrote this article, send e-mail to [email protected].

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