I’ve seen it in movies a hundred times, but to have a fragrant lei of fresh gardenias placed around your neck as you arrive on Aitutaki really is the most beautiful welcome to paradise. The lei lasts only a day which makes it all the more special that someone went to the trouble of making it for you.
The first thing I noticed when we settled into our villa at Etu Moana was the soothing rustle of wind in the coconut palms – an iconic tropical-island sound. Any tension immediately began dissipating. The only other sound that forms a constant backdrop to living on Aitutaki is the distant rumble of surf on the reef edge.
We stayed in the beachfront villa 3 but they all have the same thoughtfully designed layout. The beds face the glorious view, and screened, louvred side-windows provide a welcome cross breeze across the bed.
The useful kitchen has all the necessary cutlery, crockery and glassware, including a plunger and ground coffee. The bathroom has a comfortably large shower (big enough for two people) but the shower head provides only needle-like sprays which I found too meager for hair washing. I chose instead to wash my hair under the private outdoor shower which had a more generous flow.
Outside the back door of the villa is a small washing line with some pegs thoughtfully provided in half a coconut shell. I found that hand-washed items hung on the line overnight were pretty much dry the following morning. But if you want a load of laundry done for you, drop it in the basket provided and they will be washed and folded for $25 a load.
The bed was very comfortable (needing only a sheet at night), and the local roosters never woke me up!
I was concerned that by June the weather might be too cool to fully enjoy a beach holiday, but the temperature was perfect – about 30 degrees every day, only dropping a couple of degrees at night. It felt like perfect body temperature, with a soft, warm breeze. The lagoon water was also warm so we could spend hours on end swimming, kayaking and snorkeling. I wore shorts and a t-shirt every day and didn’t need any long-sleeved tops or jeans while on the island.
Although the breakfasts provided at Etu Moana are only continental, there were plenty of luscious options and we never felt the need for anything more before lunchtime.
Buying food on Aitutaki is quite expensive as just about everything needs to be flown or shipped in, and cooking for yourself is easier than it sounds because fresh supplies are limited. You can buy frozen meat and chicken, but only in large packs (six pieces of chicken), and fresh vegetables are few and far between. There’s plenty of tinned spaghetti and tinned tuna. The take-away stores on the island all seem to sell hamburgers (which look good) and fish and chips. We chose to eat at local restaurants – there are four within walking distance of Etu Moana.
A short walk along the beach to the left brings you to Tamanu which serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. The menu is quite retro (including tinned fruit salad and ice cream), but their Island Night celebration on Thursday nights ($55pp) is a must! I was fascinated by the large coconut palm fronds that were plaited onto the poles for decoration. To get there, turn left along the sand and walk until you come to a row of single baby coconut palms. Keep going until you reach a small grove of baby palms then turn inland and you’ll see the island-style open restaurant.
We missed it the first time and walked on until we found ourselves at the more expensive and glamorous Pacific Resort (which is great for a celebration dinner.) If you want to walk along the road to get here instead, it takes about 30 mins.
Remember to take a torch (provided at reception) if you go out for dinner because evening falls early on the island and both the beach and the road are very dark at night. A bonus of this is the glittering array of stars that swathe the night sky.
You can reach the other two restaurants by beach, too, but it’s easier to walk along the road. Turn left along the road for Puffy’s for really good fish and chips, or right along the road for Sonja’s Kitchen at Tauono’s Garden Café – delicious organic home-cooked lunches/afternoon teas on Monday, Wednesday and Fridays. You’ll get a map showing all these places.
I’ve seen some critical comments about the water in front of the villas being too shallow to swim in at low tide, but the plus side is that you can paddle in the crystal clear, knee-deep water (wearing reef shoes provided) and see wonderfully colourful fish without even having to don a snorkel! Within five metres of the shoreline, right in front of villa 3, we saw small bright blue reef fish, zebra fish, a huge blue starfish (after which Etu Moana is named), an iridescent blue-lipped clam about 15cm across (on top of a large flat piece of coral), and an octopus.
There is also a deep swimming hole about 100m along the beach to the right where you can swim any time. When the tide was higher we had fun kayaking around the lagoon, and also tying the kayak to a yellow buoy about 200m out and then snorkeling in the deeper water there.
On Sundays it’s worth going into the town to attend a local church service to hear the beautiful harmonies sung by the local villagers – each village trying to out-sing the others. There are several churches and the one you want is a bright white building PAST the four-way intersection (not the Catholic church AT the intersection).
Hiring a scooter is not for the faint-hearted if you’re getting on a bit, specially if you’re the one sitting on the back. We decided not to have scooter stress on our otherwise totally relaxing holiday and returned ours after a couple of hours.
I strongly recommend a lagoon cruise – you are really only getting half the experience without one. We were delighted with Aitutaki Adventures (and Captain Puna). Swimming and snorkeling in the crystal blue water surrounding the outer islands is purely magical – you feel like you’re in a movie - and hand-feeding brightly coloured reef fish was a treat! The lunch served on One Foot Island was the best food we had during our whole stay. Take a light jacket to wear on the boat after swimming because the wind is quite strong.
A walk up the closest hill is also worthwhile to get a fabulous view of the outer reef and some of the other islands in it. It took us about 20 mins to reach the top (you think you’re there about 10 mins in until you turn around and see there’s more to go).
Our travels around the island confirmed that Etu Moana was the perfect mix of comfort and style, together with an authentic edge. (The plastic thatching on the villas at the Pacific Resort really spoilt the effect for me there.) It is small enough to feel special, but sophisticated enough to feel luxurious.
- Official Description (provided by the hotel):
- Etu Moana Beach Villas offers ten Polynesian style villas with thatched roofing. The Villas are situated on a beautiful white sandy beach and you have a mesmerizing view of the turquoise lagoon from each Villa. The Villas are all self contained and have a kingsize bed, large covered verandas, and Tasmanian oak floors. The style is crisp and modern. We offer complimentary Tropical breakfast, kayaks, SUP, snorkel equipment, and bicycles. In the rooms are smart TVs with 40+ movies on a hard drive. You are also able to listen to your own music by connecting your phone via bluetooth with a sound bar. In addition we also offer a gift USB card, coconut drink, ei's and airport transfers. The lovely Cook Island staff at Etu Moana are waiting for you! ... more less
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- Also Known As:
- Etu Moana Aitutaki
- Etu Moana Hotel Aitutaki