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July 1, 2009

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WHERE'S JOHNNY JET?                    Rarotonga to Aitutaki

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Kia orana! We left off last week from the South Pacific island of Rarotonga in the Cook Islands. This week, we visit neighboring Aitutaki, which many compare to Bora Bora Ö minus the French. If youíre looking for a tropical island setting for a family adventure or a romantic escape thatís cheaper than Tahiti, but with the same incredible views and a ton of sea life (though not much human life) and all the comforts of home (Internet, TV, five-star hotel), then listen up. Aitutaki is for you!

The name Aitutaki comes from the words God (Aitu) and Led (Taki). Led by the gods. Aitutaki is just three to four miles long and one mile wide with a population of 1,400 people (about the size of my high school). The total land mass is just 18.5 square kilometers (7.1 square miles) and the island is almost completely surrounded by a large, shallow lagoon -- the deepest part is 10.5 meters (34 feet).

To get to Aitutaki requires a 40-minute (230-kilometer) flight on Air Rarotonga. After my harrowing inter-island flight in Fiji a few years ago, Iím always nervous about getting on small, interisland planes. However, when I showed up at Rarotongaís domestic terminal, I was relieved to learn the plane wasnít that small Ė they use 34-passenger Saab 340 regional turbo-props with two pilots and one friendly, pretty flight attendant. The interior of the plane needed some fixing Ė the seat in front of me was broken but the flight was smooth as can be. Air Rarotonga flies this route four to six times per day and flights cost around $200 each way. FYI: Thereís no security for domestic flights since terrorism is not a threat here, which just adds to the relaxed atmosphere.

I was expecting to be landing on a tiny airstrip or even a grass field but that couldnít have been any further from the truth. Aitutakiís runways are gigantic and thatís because the American and New Zealand armies built it during WWII. Apart from the long runway, the Aitutaki Airport (AIT) might be my new favorite. Itís so remote and quaint with itís open-air terminal the size of a house and they welcome visitors with fresh leis and live music. On top of that, the ride to your hotel isnít going to take longer than 10 minutes. Ours took just seven.

There are no dogs on the island and they arenít allowed to be brought in. There are a couple of rumors or legends as to why. One legend: dogs were thought to carry leprosy. The other story is that a dog mauled the child of a high chief and he banned them. The one good thing is you donít have to worry about any dogs darting into the road while you drive unlike in Rarotonga.

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Pictures From

The Trip


Rarotonga Domestic Terminal


Pack Light


Air Rarotonga


Smooth Scenic Flight


Arrival in Paradise


Welcome Lei


7 Minute Drive



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