Aitutaki, the gem of the Cook Islands. If you’ve ever seen a picture of the Cook Islands it most likely was of the Aitutaki Lagoon. I remember the first time googling Aitutaki and thinking there is no way the lagoon is that big and has that watercolor.
Well, we can officially say it does, and there is no better way to prove it than take a trip to the Cook Islands yourself. And of course a lagoon cruise, it’s the #1 thing to do in Aitutaki and there is no better way to explore it than by boat.
We spent one week in Aitutaki and put on over 100 miles on our rental car so it’s safe to say we drove around the island a few times. We put together this Aitutaki guide with every you need to know about the island and the best things to do in Aitutaki.
*When looking for the best price and biggest selection of hotels in Aitutaki check prices on Booking.com, we’ve found they are the best option and have a great cancelation policy.*
All Prices Below are in New Zealand Dollars $1 NZ = $0.68
How To Get To Aitutaki
There is only one way to Aitutaki and it is by air. Air Rarotonga has several flights a day from Rarotonga, it’s a quick 45-minute flight. Flights to Aitutaki aren’t cheap but it’s more than worth it. The best bet is to book in advance to ensure you get a seat the day you need to travel.
On average flights are $240-290 NZ one way BUT they just introduced a new fare seat only (no checked luggage with no option to purchase checked luggage) for $129NZ on select flights, this only an option if you have a carry on bag less than 7kg (15lbs).
There is luggage storage available at the Rarotonga airport for only $2NZ per bag per day, this what we suggest doing to save money. There is a once a week flight from Atiu to Aitutaki on Wednesday mornings. The local people of Aitutaki are trying to stop inbound flights to the island on Sundays, so we wouldn’t be surprised if in the near future this happens.
How Many Days Should You Spend in Aitutaki
Visiting Aitutaki can be done as just a day trip from Rarotonga if you’re tight on time, but we really suggest spending a few nights on the island – you won’t regret it. We spent 2 weeks in the Cook Islands – 5 nights in Rarotonga, 5 nights in Aitutaki, and 2 nights in Atiu.
If you are short on time 2 or 3 nights in Aitutaki would be a good amount of time to explore most of what there is to do in Aitutaki. If you are super short on time and the pricey day trip to Aitutaki from Rarotonga ($493 NZ) doesn’t bother you than the day trip is totally worth it.
We can’t imagine traveling to the Cook Islands and not seeing Aitutaki. With 5 nights we left feeling like we say everything with still plenty of time to relax on the beach.
Where should I spend more time Aitutaki or Rarotonga?
They are both great options and it will come down to what you are after on your trip to the Cook Islands. Rarotonga is much bigger with more things going on… and Aitutaki is basically the opposite. If you are looking for a more quiet time we would suggest spending more time on Aitutaki.
However, that’s not to say Rarotonga is that busy or crowded – it’s not, there are plenty of empty beaches here too. We would urge you to as evenly as you can split your time between the two islands if you are coming for one to two weeks.
A longer trip you may want more time in Rarotonga because there are more things to do in Rarotonga and there is a real possibility of Aitutaki running out of beer (occasionally). If you have one week we would say to spend 3 nights on each island, and with two weeks 5 nights in each with a trip to another island would be about right for most travelers.
Recommended Place To Stay in Aitutaki
We spent 5 nights at Tamanu Beach Resort in their beachfront villa. We had a gorgeous villa right on the beach as the name suggests with massive outdoor space with a living room setup, dining room, and a mini kitchen.
We loved how our room doors completely opened up to our outdoor space, one day we only left our room to eat. Gorgeous views and breeze all day long. Tamanu Beach is in the perfect spot to watch the sunset. Breakfast is included, Book online now.
Overwater Bungalows in the Cook Islands
The only place within the overwater bungalows in the Cook Islands is in Aitutaki at the Aitutaki Lagoon Private Island Resort. There are only 7 rooms available and they are in high demand, make sure to book online well advance.
We didn’t stay at this resort so we can’t say how the property is or the service. We can say the overwater bungalows have an amazing view of the Aitutaki Lagoon and they would be great to jump in a kayak from and explore.
We just looked at prices for this October and it’s only $800 a night which really isn’t that bad when comparing prices to other Aitutaki hotels or overwater bungalows in the Caribbean which typically cost $2,000+ per night.
Best Restaurants in Aitutaki
Tamanu Beach Restaurant
We ate at Tamanu’s 3 out of 5 nights, and it was by far the best restaurant in Aitutaki that we tried. We were there for their Friday night steak night which features beef, lamb, and tuna steaks. We each ordered their Tuna Steak which was cooked perfectly and a great deal for $31 included a choice of potato, grilled veggies or salad, and a dipping sauce.
We also went to their Sunday night family BBQ for $45, it was a fun night and we left stuffed. On the BBQ there was: fresh tuna, steak, pork, sausages, garlic bread, salad, pumpkin soup, potato salad, coleslaw, grilled veggies, ice cream, and a ton more.
Make sure to make reservations in advance for BBQ night. On our last night (Tuesday) we had their Beef & Reef a 300-gram tenderloin steak and garlic seared prawns for $38 and their seafood pasta with scallops, tuna, and prawns in a nice creamy cheesy pesto sauce for $31. Bottles of white & red wine start at $37 and beers at $7.
We wish we would have skipped some of the other meals we had elsewhere and ate here, as nowhere else on the island had as good of dinners.
Puffy’s is known for the best fish & chips on Aitutaki, but we can’t say for sure because we didn’t eat at every restaurant in Aitutaki. Every Friday night Puffy’s has an Aitutaki island night for $55 per person.
It’s a great location, right on the beach and a great spot for sunset. Main prices $20-$30. It’s a local restaurant and is known to sometimes just not open for the night unannounced, so maybe have a backup plan if you want to try this place out.
Voted as the #1 restaurant in Aitutaki on TripAdvisor we had to give Koru Cafe a try. Open daily 7nam-3 pm it’s a great place for a good cup of coffee and breakfast (served all day) or lunch. Their breakfast menu includes omelets, french toast, and more $10-24. They start serving lunch at 11 am with deli sandwiches, salads, and more $10-25.
We suggest the pulled fish or pork sliders served with fries for $21 or their Ika Muta (if they have it as a daily special) for $16 with garlic cheese bread. There is a BlueSky hotspot too, which is the cheapest option for Wi-Fi but it seems to be spotty and wasn’t working when we visited twice – likely because it was raining those days, but we can’t be sure. We would have eaten here for dinner too, but they are only open for breakfast and lunch.
The Boat Shed
Open for lunch & dinner and has some Asian flair to their menu. We were recommended to check out this place so we went for dinner. Everything we had was fine, just fine.
Hannah had their chicken which was mystery pieces of chicken in a very salty sauce for $28 served with a small bowl of rice. Adam had their Pad Sue (that’s how they spelled it), before ordering we enquired if it was the thick gooey rice noodles. They said yes, so we assumed this would be Pad See Eww like in Thailand (we’ve lived in Thailand and were missing some favorites). It more or less was Pad Thai rice noodles and just okay.
Our biggest concern was the food came out within 5 minutes of ordering, which makes you wonder how long it had been sitting around. For the price point and quality, we wish we would have skipped and just went to Tamanu Beach. We think the Boat Shed would be a better lunch spot (cheaper menu) and a good place to get a beer.
Wifi in Aitutaki
The best deal on wifi is to purchase a Bluesky tourist SIM card package for $50NZ that includes 3GB of data, the SIM card, 300 texts anywhere in the world, and 30 call minutes anywhere in the world. You can get a SIM card at the Bluesky office at the Rarotonga office or in Aitutaki in town, they have an office next to the BSP Bank.
We had coverage the whole time we were on the island. You will need an unlocked phone for this to be an option. Most hotels charge $10 for 100MB which will last you less than an hour on your phone.
You can also purchase data vouchers to use on Bluesky Wifi Hotspots that are installed around the island and at several Aitutaki resorts. We don’t suggest purchasing a bulk wifi package from Bluesky as we did for use on Aitutaki. Not every hotel uses Bluesky as their network, so if you purchased a package you will have to go to a local restaurant/hotel that has that network.
Our hotel used Zenbu, but we didn’t want to purchase another package so used our Bluesky at the restaurants we ate at. Additionally, our hotel Tamanu Beach gave us each 100MB voucher when we checked in,
General Stores in Aitutaki
If you plan on self-catering The shelves are pretty bare inside of many of the stores in Aitutaki. Expect chips, canned goods, noodles, and frozen food. We actually had to go to 3 different shops to find one with beer, and the hardware store was the one that ended up having it.
- $6 for 1.5 liters of Diet Coke
- $4.80 for a large bag of chips
- $2 for one scoop ice cream cone of Tip Top brand
- $2.80 for a bottle of NZ lager beer
- $1.60 for a ramen noodle pack
Sundays in Aitutaki most things are closed, there are only 2 stores that are open. They aren’t on the main road and you’ll need to get directions from your hotel. Most tours in Aitutaki also don’t operate on Sunday, so expect Sundays to be your beach day.
Things To Do In Aitutaki
The #1 thing to do in Aitutaki is exploring the lagoon with Vaka Lagoon Cruises. This was hands down the best day we had in the Cook Islands. Just when you think you’ve seen every shade of blue possible you see another sandbar or island in the lagoon.
We visited a few great spots for snorkeling, had an amazing BBQ lunch with fresh tuna right on the boat, and visited One Foot Island! The guides were great giving us a history of the islands and even pointing out where the season of Survivor Cook Islands was filmed.
If you were ever thinking of getting a drone this is the time to do so, the pictures from above are amazing. Check out our drone comparison guide here to see which drone is right for you.
If you book the day trip from Rarotonga to Aitutaki this is the lagoon cruise company you will go with and it will be an epic day.
Get Your Passport Stamped At One Foot Island
Don’t forget to pack your passport for the Aitutaki Lagoon cruise to get it stamped at One Foot Island. Since our name is Getting Stamped it was a given we were getting our passport stamped at One Foot Island. It’s now our favorite stamp in our passport.
NOTE: You don’t need your passport for One Foot Island it is just a souvenir stamp. On the island, they charge a few dollars for it but if you go on the Aitutaki Lagoon cruise with Vaka Lagoon Cruises they stamp your passport for free on the boat.
Kayak around the Lagoon
Grab a kayak and get out on the water. The lagoon is super calm with little current, making it great for a peaceful time on a kayak. Make sure to be aware of the coral and don’t paddle into the coral, just gently glide over or around it.
Most hotels offer kayaks and stand up paddleboards for free, our hotel Tamanu Beach had them available for us to use whenever we wanted.
Climb the Summit Lookouts
If you are in need of a little morning exercise our are just looking for some great viewpoints head up to one of the great lookout points in Aitutaki like Piraki Lookout and Maungapu Lookout. You can drive right up to the Piraki Lookout and drive almost to the top of the Maungapu Lookout it’s just a few minutes hike up a steep gravel path.
The Piraki Lookout is one of the best places on Aitutaki for sunrise, the owner Nick of Tamanu Beach was getting married here the week after we left.
The best island night in Aitutaki is at Tamanu Beach on Thursday nights. Several of the hotels in Aitutaki have an island night each on a different night of the week. Island night at Tamanu Beach sells out so make sure to stop by or email them to reserve your spot.
It’s $75 per person and that includes a massive buffet and a great cultural show. If you aren’t there on a Thursday here is the island night in Aitutaki schedule:
- Tuesday: Aitutaki Village Island Night
- Wednesday: Pacific Resort Island Night
- Thursday: Tamanu Beach Island Night
- Friday: Puffy’s Island Night
Diving in Aitutaki
Whenever you are given the chance to dive go for it. If you’ve never dived before there is no better place to learn to dive than in Aitutaki. Diving in Aitutaki is a great place for a discovery dive, this is where you get a mini-course on diving and go out with a master diver and get a small taste of diving without being dive certified.
Adam dove with Bubbles, a 2 tank dive with them is $170NZ which includes all equipment. This is a standard price for 2 tanks in the western world, about $125 USD we’ve paid more and we’ve paid way less it’s all relative to where you are in the world. Adam highly recommends diving in Aitutaki with the guys at Bubbles dive shop.
Hire A Private Boat For The Day
Get out and explore as many of the islands and sandbanks as possible. You can hire a local boat to bring you out for a few hours or drop you off at Honeymoon Island and pick you up hours later. We suggest going out with Teking Tours. No one knows the lagoon better than he and his crew.
We spent our last morning out with Teking checking out a few more sandbars and islands before our flight. We couldn’t leave Aitutaki without going to Honeymoon Island. We highly suggest going with them on their private snorkeling safari for $269 a couple (only $19 more than the group snorkel trip for 2 people). This way you’ll have the boat to yourself and go wherever you want and have a private island to yourself.
Book online in advance here and tell him Hannah & Adam from Getting Stamped sent you (we get no commission we just hope to send him business as he was awesome).
Watch The Sunset in Aitutaki
Make sure to check what time the sunset is and head down to the beach about 15 minutes before the actual scheduled sunset. You’ll need to be on the west side of the island to catch the show. Our room had the best spot on the island to catch the sunset on Aitutaki. Sunset is our favorite time of day we always make sure to check and see what time it is every day.
The mosquitos tend to come out around sunset, so make sure to pack good mosquito spray, we always buy this 40% deet on Amazon for $6.
Bike/Drive Around Aitutaki
Rent a car or a bike and literally drive around the entire island. It’s a small island so you can’t get lost, but if you ask us getting lost is sometimes the best journey you can have. Find a private beach all to yourself or that picture-perfect palm tree.
We like to plan a day to just see where the road brings us and that usually includes a few dead-ends. We rented our car with Rinos Rentals.
Go Snorkeling in Aitutaki
Grab a snorkel and fins and head out right from the beach. You can see a ton of fish right from the beach. There aren’t many places in the world that have great snorkeling from the beach. You are guaranteed to see a ton of fish snorkeling in the Aitutaki Lagoon.
*Most hotels have snorkel sets available for free*
Visit the giant banyan tree – There is a tree in Aitutaki that stretches across forming a natural tunnel. This tree has to be several hundred years old and is just magical.
No matter what you do in Aitutaki or how long you stay you’ll have an amazing time. There are very few places in the world that blew us away and we can say Aitutaki is one of those places. The water is some of the best we’ve ever seen and is now up there with our favorites the Maldives & Koh Lipe. We can’t wait to return to the Cook Islands.
Have you been to Aitutaki? Are we forgetting any of the best things to do in Aitutaki or your favorite restaurant? Leave us a comment below we’d love to hear from you.
*Thanks to the Cook Islands Tourism Board & Tamanu Beach for hosting us. As always our opinions are our own. We had an epic time and the Cook Islands is one of our favorite islands in the world.