After my visit to Tahiti and Huahine, our boat was at sea, with nothing in sight but the vast Pacific Ocean: no land, no ships, and no flying fish. My next destination was the Cook Islands, a tiny chain of only 15 islands.
The Cook Islands were first by 8 ancient tribes. They all worshipped the same gods: Tangaroa, creator and sea god; Tane, god of crafts and warfare; and Rongo, god of fertility and crops.
The first European to arrive was Captain James Cook, who discovered one of the southern Cook Islands on his last voyage. He was very thorough in mapping the Pacific Ocean, as well as documenting nature and the culture of the different peoples. Captain William Bligh was the first European to visit Aitutaki in 1789, just a few weeks before he was set adrift in Tonga by the mutinous crew of HMS Bounty.
Today, the people of the Cook Islands live in villages along the beaches.There are no highrises and few signs of the western industrialized world. As a matter of fact, no building is higher than a coconut tree, and people get around mostly on motor scooters on the one road that skirts the island. The small native population is supported by New Zealand as part of the British domain.
Environmentally protected, these remote islands are one of the few places left that are still pristine, idyllic, and a paradise to see, with palm-shaded white beaches and crystal-clear waters in the protected lagoons. Inland, there are paw-paw fields, with coconut, banana, and pineapple plantations still exist. Life is laid back, there is no crime to speak of, the scenery is natural, and the natives are friendly. The weather is warm and the sea reasonably calm. I was looking forward to swimming, snorkeling, and spending time on the several of the Cook Islands.
After a day and night at sea, the boat slowed and carefully entered the lagoon of Aitutaki, where we dropped anchor. The most noticeable feature of this island is the distinct volcano, rising high above and surrounded by tropical vegetation, as you can see in my photo at the top of this blog post. The island is only 8 square miles in area, with a population of 2, 500 residents.
I could see smoke rising above the thick vegetation: a sign of people with cooking fires or burning brush. Our crew took down a tender from our boat, and soon I went ashore, where I walked along the road of the one-street village. The village had a large community hall, several churches, a market, and schools. The people mostly farm and fish for their own families and hang on to some of ancestral traditions. The people are laidback and many of the younger people go to New Zealand for education or work opportunities and don’t return. It is far from any international airport, and its lagoons have no big ports or docks.
The barrier reefs are filled with colorful fish and plant life. Aitutaki is a swimmer’s paradise. The climate is warm and the water clear. This was a dream come true for me to be here, spending time in the water.
After a quick walk in the village, I went on the small motorized tender, to the most beautiful beach of a tiny island called Honeymoon Island. As I walked along the beach, tiny crabs darted into holes. Although it was raining at Aitutaki, perhaps a mile or two away, the sun was shining here. There were a few tropical trees in the center of the atoll, and several red-tailed tropical birds flew overhead. To my surprise, I found an egg on the ground, under a tree. There were no crowds here on this hot, sunny day on this fine sand beach. After a few hours, the tender came back. Imagine a pristine island on a warm day, with the clearest water for swimming, and no crowds. All alone! This was paradise.
(posted February 9, 2016)