The Cook Islands: Aitutaki

Photo creds Alice Karolina Smith
Upon leaving Bora Bora, I was hit by very unfriendly weather. However, I was lucky to see a phenomenon thanks to the rainstorm clouds, that I would sometimes see again in the future but never this vivid. The island of Bora Bora was mirrored upwards in the clouds and rain, making them bright green, unearthly surrealistic. Almost like a mirage.

I was planning to go to Palmerston Atoll, but after a few days sailing I realized I would arrive on a Sunday. That’s no good, since people here are very religious and consider Sundays as strict Sabbath, therefore not working with customs or anything else. The thing with Palmerston is that they have a tradition of great hospitality towards sailors, naturally as a consequence of their history. There are some private moorings outside the little motu, and families that live there come out and greet sailors, "adopting" yachts and helping them to find a good mooring, get ashore, and help with everything else. I wanted that kind of welcome - not a village angry and disappointed because I wasn’t respecting the Sabbath.

So I turned and went to the island of Aitutaki, which was very conveniently located close to my route. I did some reading about it while approaching, and after that nothing would keep me from there! For example, here is some history as it is described in Charlie's charts. The first European to come (by sea of course) to here was Cpt Bligh in the infamous "Bounty". That was just 2 weeks before the mutiny which happened in Samoa, so it’s up to your fantasy and creativity to figure out the moods and stances of the sailors.

In 1821 John Williams of the London Missionary Society arrived here, and immediately started to convert the islands to Christianity. He ended up in the stew of Big Nambas of Vanuatu, and of though he was eaten by the heathens, his church happens to survive here to this day, as the Cook Islands Christian Church.

On the topic of Cook Islands history, here is a bit more about what happened with Cook, for the Russian-speaking blog followers - here goes. That’s a popular song by Vysotsky, about why Cook was killed and eaten, jokingly describing the different scenarios. In fact, Cook was killed after he tried to kidnap the local king, so it was not at all unpredictable or inconsequent. However, this is not at all where Cook was killed, and he did not name the islands after himself. He named them Hervey Islands, after his arrival in 1770’s. But later, the islands were named after him by the Russians in the 1820s. Russians seem to really like this story.

Google Map screenshot - location of Aitutaki. Bora Bora is somewhere in the middle.
I was planning to be in Aitutaki for a day or two, until the wind will presumably become too hard to stay anchored outside the reef (the boat’s keel is just a few cm too deep for the lagoon entrance). To start with, it was very calm, and the lagoon was epic, bright turquoise like the Parrotfish. It feels like a completely another country here compared to Tuamotu and Society islands. There, French was mostly spoken; here it's English with a New Zealand accent. The locals look more like Maori, and in fact more than 80% of people in Cook Islands are the unique Polynesian Maori - but in Polynesia two thirds are Polynesians, who trace their urheimat to Southeast Asia.

It's a very special feeling to be on Cook Islands, it really feels exotic - like being very, very far away from home, which I, of course, am. But also kind of being at home. And it's a special feeling to just choose an island to go further to and explore, when I want, whenever.

At the same time, unfortunately I cannot stay anywhere too long. It is the beginning of October, and it will be hurricane season here soon, so I need to make progress.

The next island on my route is planned to be Palmerston after all, just hoping that the winds and the swell will not pick up too much. As Aitutaki is the Northernmost of the South Cook Islands, the Palmerston Atoll is the southernmost of the Northern Group. Not expecting any internet there. Read about the sailing, and about my visit to that amazing island!

Beautiful photo of Aitutaki, creds Jim Thirion