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C2C’s Travel Diary

Monday, 08 Dec 2008

Location: Aitutaki, Cook Islands

MapHow to describe Aitutaki? It’s a tiny island, pop 2000 but it seems much less, with a huge, turquoise lagoon. It’s subtropical and everywhere you look there are exotic trees, flowers and fruits. There is a rudimentary road encircling the island but 10 minutes can pass without traffic.

It appears in ‘lifestyle’ books and has the reputation of being one of the most beautiful and unspoilt islands on earth – and who are we to disagree? In the lagoon are a number of small islands (motu) which are uninhabited (apart from a couple of years ago when some were taken over for series of ‘Survivor’ and ‘Shipwrecked’). Surprisingly, some of the detritus from these ghastly programmes remains.

We arrived at our hotel Etu Moana, (meaning ‘blue starfish’) a ‘cluster’ of studio villas on the beach. What a contrast with Muri Beach. Under the gimlet gaze of Jo-anne, a diminutive and hyperactive Canadian, the staff, plants and animals all know their roles in life and perform them impeccably. Unfortunately she has not yet persuaded the ocean to deposit seaweed in neat piles outside her borders but she’s working on it.

On the beach there are strange and unusual birds – for example black seagulls and a huge flock of black heron – presumably they’ve evolved that colour to blend with the black volcanic rocks; can anyone with more than our rudimentary knowledge of birds elucidate please?

Next door to Etu Moana is an organic fruit and veg garden with pineapples, papaya, plantains and soursop (custard apple), fresh turmeric and lots of herbs. The owners (Cook Island man Tauono - & Austrian woman Sonja) run a lunch – only restaurant there. It’s pretty chaotic – the food on offer bears no relation to the menu and Tauono struggles to remember complex orders so he takes them in bits, running back to the kitchen with each item. The food, when it finally emerges, is historic – perfectly cooked and strong local flavours.

Our first couple of days were overcast (one day it rained continuously) but the third more than made up for it, We went on a cruise of the lagoon run by Poona, ably assisted by his wife Tutu (in charge of the food – a fruit ‘snack’ on an uninhabited sandy bank and a complicated and delicious barbecue for lunch) and their son who drove the second boat. The colours were breathtaking and constantly changing. It’s a cliché but nonetheless true that photos can’t possibly do it justice. But we did our best.