Head to lesser-known Aitutaki in the Cook Islands for plenty of peace and solitutde. // © 2017 iStock
Feature image (above): The villas at Pacific Resort Aitutaki feature ocean views. // © 2017 Pacific Resort Aitutaki
“How do you even get to the Cook Islands?” your clients might ask.
And that’s when you fill them in on the fact that the seemingly private motus (small islands), crystal-clear waters and one-on-one service — particularly on the Bora Bora-like island of Aitutaki — are just a few dreams away.
Rarotonga, the most populated of the 15 Cook Islands, can now be reached via a weekly, direct red-eye flight from Los Angeles on Air New Zealand’s Boeing 777-200. After a good sleep in Premium Economy or Business Premier, lovers and solitude seekers will want to take the 45-minute Air Rarotonga flight to Aitutaki, a South Pacific island of 2,000 people and nearly as many private-island-like experiences.
Sonja Raela arrived in Aitutaki for a day trip in the early 1990s and fell in love with a local, Tauono. The two of them soon married, settled on Tauono’s family land and gradually transformed it into a thriving garden and plantation (managed by him), and market and eponymous restaurant (managed by her).
When he passed in late 2000, managing Tauono’s the entire organic farm-to-picnic-table operation, fell on Raela’s shoulders. As a result, she currently opens only one day per week for an extremely hospitable al fresco lunch (Wednesdays from 12 to 2 p.m.). Seats are limited, so be sure to call ahead for a reservation.
Menus are seasonally based but, if available, spring for the pasta-free, dairy-free breadfruit lasagna; the starfruit salsa; the turmeric coconut bread; and the coconut cake.
After the 15-minute drive from the Aitutaki airport to Pacific Resort Aitutaki, guests will be welcomed by general manager David Castano before another staffer escorts them to one of 27 oceanfront villas. Though rooms are cozy enough for whiling away the day, travelers should put the in-room snorkel gear, reef shoes and complimentary sarong and sun hat to use at the expansive lagoon, just steps away from each villa. The water is so clear and shallow that guests can also observe the abundant coral while trying out the hotel’s stand-up paddleboards and kayaks.
When not swimming in the ocean or the hotel’s infinity pool, clients can partake in free morning yoga or daily Polynesian experiences; reserve the gym for a private workout; relax with a massage at the spa; feast on the local flavors offered from breakfast through dinner; or take one of the hotel’s push bikes or rental motor scooters for a whirl.
Because of Aitutaki’s small population and beautiful settings, couples will find that they’ll enjoy most experiences — from dining to swimming — all to themselves. So it should be no different while on a lagoon tour of Aitutaki, which is surrounded by a number of sandbars and motus. Unlike some other options in the area, Kia Orana Cruise’s small boat seats only 10.
The petite vessel expertly weaves through the gorgeous coral-filled lagoon for seven stops, including Moturakau, a volcanic island where television show “Survivor” was once filmed; a new unnamed sandbar where guests are invited to plant a coconut in the sand; Tapuaetai, or One Foot Island, where guests can get their passport stamped; and Honeymoon Island.
The two-captain crew also took us to their favorite snorkeling spot — warm waters in the middle of the lagoon teeming with clams, trevally and rainbow fish — before preparing a homemade meal.