It doesn't seem too long ago that the expansive Aitutaki Lagoon saw the stirring sight of massive flying boats coming in to land on the turquoise waters. The lagoon served as a refuelling stop for TEAL (now Air New Zealand) flying boats servicing the famous Coral Route between North America and the South Pacific.
Those days are long gone and the largest plane now coming in to Aitutaki is the small Air Rarotonga plane bringing tourists on a one hour flight from the capital. The lagoon, extending some 45 kilometres around is peaceful.
Many islets and motus or small islands dotting the lagoon, including Moturakau, provide nesting places for birds while visitors can swim and snorkel in such delightful places as the evocative Honeymoon Island.
It is said that a visit to the Cook Islands isn't complete without a trip to the beautiful island of Aitutaki. The second-most visited of the Cook Islands after Rarotonga, it lies 220 kilometres north of the capital. It measures just 20 square kilometres and is partly volcanic in origin.
Legend has it that Aitutaki's highest point, the 124 metre Maungapu is the top of Rarotonga's Raemaru Peak, stolen away by local warriors. Aitutaki was the first island in the Cook group to embrace Christianity when the Reverend John Williams of the London Missionary Society arrived in 1821.
Travelling with Williams was a young missionary, Papeiha from the Society Islands who stayed on when Williams continued his travels and dedicated the rest of his life to his task. The CICC Church, construction of which started in 1828, is the oldest church in the Cook Islands and has a memorial to John Williams and Paeiha.
Captain William Bligh of HMS Bounty fame is credited with being the first European to sight the island in 1789, just weeks before the infamous mutiny. A favourite stop for whalers in the 1850's, the British flag was raised in 1888 at which time, Aitutaki and Rarotonga were included in the boundaries of New Zealand.