Flop and drop

Ai­tu­taki and Raro­tonga of­fer myr­iad marine ac­tiv­i­ties

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - DESTINATION AFLOAT - AN­GELA SAURINE

THET BLUE LA­GOON: The high­light of a visit to the Cook Is­lands is Ai­tu­taki La­goon, a vivid turquoise ex­panse that en­cir­cles the ar­chi­pel­ago’s sec­ond-most vis­ited is­land, Ai­tu­taki. The best way to ex­plore is on the Vaka Day Cruise, which takes up to 45 pas­sen­gers to visit three of the la­goon’s 15 islets on the 21m dou­ble-hulled cata­ma­ran Titi ai Tonga (“Wind from the South”). White-sand beaches are lined with co­conut trees, like a re­al­ity TV pro­ducer’s dream. Sur­vivor, Ship­wrecked and Trea­sure Is­land are among the shows that have been filmed there. The six-hour cruise in­cludes a lunch of bar­be­cued tuna and salad, with the cheeky crew per­form­ing co­conut husk­ing and sarong-ty­ing demon­stra­tions be­tween swim stops. More: the­vakacruise.com.

SUPS AND SALUTE THE SUN: “Feel the breeze against your skin, smell the salt wa­ter, feel the sand be­tween your toes …” in­struc­tor Brynn Ach­e­son coos as I sit cross-legged on a stand-up pad­dle­board with its fin an­chored in the sand at Ko­ru­miri Is­land. Com­bin­ing stand-up pad­dle-board­ing and yoga, Ach­e­son leads up to 10 pad­dlers across Muri La­goon be­fore in­struct­ing how to stand on the board and salute the sun look­ing back to­wards the Cooks’ main is­land of Raro­tonga; then you lie back and dan­gle your fin­gers in the wa­ter while med­i­tat­ing. More: kite­sup.co.

DIVE RIGHT IN: With a reef fring­ing the 32km cir­cum­fer­ence of Raro­tonga, a drop-off of up to 4km4 and vis­i­bil­ity to 60m on a good day, the is­land draws scuba divers from across the world. Ger­man cou­ple Sabine Jain­neck and Sascha Schmitt, who have run The Big Fish Dive Cen­tre for more than a decade, choose the best spot to go based on daily con­di­tions. The reef is home to hawks­bill and green tur­tles, ea­gle rays, ham­mer­head sharks and more than 70 species of fish, in­clud­ing threadfin but­ter­fly fish, known as the “Romeo and Juliet of the sea” be­cause they mate for life and starve if their part­ner dies. More: the­di­ve­cen­tre-raro­tonga.com.

INTO THE DEEP: That drop-off also makes Raro­tonga ideal for deep-sea fish­ing, with mar­lin, wahu, tuna, mahi mahi and sail­fish among the species to be caught year-round. “You don’t have to travel far to be in deep wa­ter,” says Cap­tain Cameron Thorp from Akura Fish­ing Char­ters. “Within 30 sec­onds of leav­ing the har­bour you are in wa­ter that is a kilo­me­tre deep.” The com­pany has four boats rang­ing from 8m to 12m and the record catch is a 380kg blue mar­lin. More: aku­rafish­ing.com.

W WET, WET, WET: Jump­ing off a boat into Ai­tu­taki La­goon and snorkelling with 1m-long Napoleon wrasse and gi­ant trevally that show no fear of hu­mans is truly spe­cial. So is get­ting up close to myr­iad trop­i­cal fish among the large clus­ters of coral and gi­ant clams near Hon­ey­moon Is­land, where it’s tra­di­tion for new­ly­weds to plant co­conut trees. Know­ing there are no sharks within the la­goon is com­fort­ing. Quin­ton Schofield, from Wet and Wild Ai­tu­taki, runs pri­vate boat char­ters, with his en­thu­si­as­tic sons, Chakyl, 8, and Quin­ton (known as “Lit­tle Q”), 10, act­ing as crew on week­ends and dur­ing school hol­i­days. Schofield can also teach you how to wa­ter ski or wake­board, and runs whale-watch­ing tours from July to Oc­to­ber. More: wet­nwild-ai­tu­taki.com.

HANG ON: Too lazy to snorkel? A sea scooter sa­fari al­lows you to cover greater dis­tances in shorter time. Kave Ta­maariki, from Ariki Ad­ven­tures, op­er­ates 1.5 hour tours from Ti­tikaveka Beach on Raro­tonga. The first half-hour is spent on land learn­ing how to hold the 8kg ma­chine and ma­noeu­vre through the wa­ter, and be­ing briefed about safety is­sues, in­clud­ing avoid­ing fire coral, which in­flict a painful st­ing. It takes a while to get the hang of it but, once you do, head out­side the reef to ex­plore a ship­wreck. More: arik­i­hol­i­days.com.

AYE,A AYE, CAP­TAINS: The ukulele-play­ing and co­conut tree-climb­ing crew from Koka La­goon Cruises, who have given them­selves nick­names such as Cap­tain Bligh, Cap­tain Amaz­ing and Cap­tain Awe­some, en­sure a fun day out on their glass-bot­tom boat tour to see the coral and marine life on Raro­tonga. The com­pany’s own­ers, Con­rad and Bobby Hunter, grew up swim­ming and fish­ing in the la­goon at Muri Beach, where cruises de­part. Their two boats, which can seat up to 35 or 55 pas­sen­gers, have a carved Tan­garoa (God of the sea) at the bow and Poly­ne­sian mo­tifs along the sides. More: kokala­goon­cruises.com.

THET NEED FOR SPEED: The fastest and most thrilling wa­ter ac­tiv­ity is a speed and ba­nana b boat­ing tour with Ron­go­hiva Wa­ter­sports. As the boat leaves the ramp at Avatiu Wharf on Raro­tonga, the AC/DC song Thun­der­struck blares from the speaker, set­ting the tone for the ad­ven­ture ahead. First up is the ba­nana boat, in which the driver tries to flip up to six peo­ple be­ing dragged be­hind the ves­sel. Ap­par­ently, the long­est any­one has lasted is 15 min­utes. The fun-lov­ing crew mem­bers are so en­thu­si­as­tic it’s hard to be­lieve they do it ev­ery day. The boat then whizzes around the is­land do­ing donuts, bal­anc­ing at a 45-de­gree an­gle. Af­ter that, I rec­om­mend you dive into the elec­tric-blue wa­ter for a swim. More: ron­go­hiva.com.

NIGHTN MOVES: Imag­ine ly­ing back on a stand-up pad­dle­board at night gaz­ing up at the stars, or watch­ing a fiery red and or­ange sun­set re­flected across the la­goon. Ariki Ad­ven­tures of­fers evening stand-up pad­dle board­ing tours, which set out from Muri Beach on Raro­tonga at twi­light. The boards are strapped with bat­tery-pow­ered LEDs, in­clud­ing flash­ing disco lights, that il­lu­mi­nate up to 4m. While fish are usu­ally sleep­ing at night, you may see tur­tles or ea­gle rays in the lights. Most par­tic­i­pants are first-time pad­dle board­ers and you can sit or kneel if you don’t feel con­fi­dent stand­ing. The all-ages tours run for 90 min­utes with guides at the front and back who talk about the is­land and its cul­ture. More: arik­i­hol­i­days.com.

WILDW TIMES: Its shal­low la­goon and favourable trade winds make Ai­tu­taki one of the best places ini the world to try kite­board­ing. “You prob­a­bly learn three times faster here than other places,” Quin­ton Schofield from Wet and Wild Ai­tu­taki says. “It’s some­thing ev­ery­one can do. It doesn’t mat­ter if you’re young or old; you don’t have to have good co­or­di­na­tion skills or be re­ally fit.” Schofield be­gan kite­board­ing a decade ago af­ter a cou­ple of tourists asked him to take them to check out some good spots. The first three-hour les­son cov­ers safety, set-up, kite con­trol, self-res­cue and board re­cov­ery. Then you hit the wa­ter on les­son two. Schofield rec­om­mends go­ing for at least two weeks to max­imise your chance of get­ting good winds, with June to early Oc­to­ber the best time for the sport. More: wet­nwild-ai­tu­taki.com.

An­gela Saurine was a guest of Cook Is­lands Tourism. • cook­islands.travel

Muri La­goon, top; pad­dle­board yoga, top right; sea scooter sa­fari, above right; pad­dle­board­ing at sun­set, above cen­tre; abun­dant marine life, above; Vaka Day Cruise on Ai­tu­taki La­goon, left

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