Another paradise island in the South Pacific, Aitutaki has it all: gorgeous white sand beaches and a stunning turquoise lagoon surrounded by motus on the barrier reef. Though considered an atoll, it has a significant large area of high land on the north side, providing sweeping views across the lagoon. According to legend, the island was settled by Ru, who sailed from Raiatea in the Society Islands in search of new lands and many Aitutakians believe they are descended from this seafaring warrior. Aitutakians are known for their charm, easy going attitude and warm hospitality. Whether relaxing on the beach, snorkelling the crystal-clear lagoon in search of colourful tropical fish and corals, or discovering remnants of an ancient past, Aitutaki offers the best of both worlds.
The largest and most populous island, Rarotonga is the hub of the Cook Islands, with its chief town, Avarua, as its capital. Settled by Polynesians from French Polynesia around the 9th century, the bond with Tahiti and her islands has always remained strong. Today, as modern Pacific people, the high-spirited Cook Islanders are a cosmopolitan blend of Western influence and ancient Polynesian heritage. Many important archaeological sites can be found here, such as Arai Te Tonga, the most sacred marae in Rarotonga, and nearby, the Ara Metua, a thousand-year-old interior road, paved with basalt or coral slabs, that once circled the island and about two-thirds still exist. Highland Paradise, sometimes known as “the lost village”, is a cultural centre consisting of old and faithfully rebuilt traditional structures where re-enactments and cultural demonstrations take place.
One of the largest raised atolls in French Polynesia, the island formation of Rurutu is not what one expects to see in the South Pacific. Basalt and limestone cliffs are dotted with caves where the islanders once lived, as well as a volcanic interior with a lush tropical jungle, and sand beaches with beautiful bays, all create a stunning sight. The island’s fertile soil and cooler climate are ideal for growing cabbage, lettuce and potatoes as well as coffee and taro. Archaeological digs have uncovered habitation sites, council platforms and marae temples in the village of Vitaria, showing man’s presence around 900 A.D. Rurutu is known throughout Polynesia for the quality of its woven products, including magnificent hats, bags and baskets, or mats from pandanus leaves and other natural materials. From August to October each year, humpback whales can be seen and heard in Rurutu, where they come south to mate and give birth. As Aranui 5 will be here in September, this should be a feast for your eyes and ears.
As you approach Rapa, only accessible by sea, the Captain may announce: “Welcome to Rapa. Next stop Antarctica”. As the southernmost inhabited island of French Polynesia, this crescent shaped land mass — with a fjord-like coastline deeply indented by 12 bays —is as remote as it gets. Rapa-Iti, or “small Rapa” as the island is also called, has a strong cultural connection to Easter Island, known as Rapa-Nui or big Rapa to the Polynesians. Legend tells of the settlement of Rapa-Nui by the people of Rapa-Iti. Once home to fierce warriors who lived in fortified settlements built on terraces among volcanic peaks, the islanders now live off farming and fishing. During our visit, you will be greeted by the unique dances of Rapa. You may choose one of two different hikes offered. The first goes from the village of Area around the stunning bay to the main village of Ahurei and the second ends at the ruins of an old mountaintop fort. A traditional lunch will be served on shore.
Among the other activities on offer during our one and a half day stopover in Rapa, you will visit Ahurei, the main village of the island, explore ancient fortresses, visit an agricultural production centre, discover local arts and crafts, meet the inhabitants of this isolated island, and share a ma’a over a wood fire in the village.
Raivavae’s white sand beaches, large emerald lagoon and 28 motus encircling the lush green main island, have earned it the title of the “Bora Bora of the Austral Islands”. Giant stone tikis, including an unusual smiling tiki, resembling those in the Marquesas and on Easter Island, wood sculptures, an open-air marae temple and Polynesian canoes are some of the archaeological elements you will discover during a circle island tour. If you wish, you can relax on one of the motus and swim in the crystal-clear lagoon. An excursion by speed boat is available. A beach barbecue featuring local dishes will be served for lunch.
A small atoll with less than 500 inhabitants, Anaa wrote its way into the history books as the birthplace of Tahiti’s royal family — the Pomare Dynasty. These days it’s best known for its luminous jade lagoon with green clouds above from the sun rays reflecting off the water and picturesque motus with no less than eleven little islands scattered around the atoll. Be introduced to local craftsmanship and challenge your family or friends to the traditional javelin throw.
This is the end of our journey. It’s time to say Nānā! (Goodbye) to your travel companions, to the Polynesian staff and Aranui guides.