Flop and drop
Aitutaki and Rarotonga offer myriad marine activities
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