Aitutaki and Atiu
Enchanting Aitutaki, an island with an area of barely 7.5 square miles (20 sq km), lies 140 miles (225 km) north of Rarotonga. The hilly main island with its nearly 400-foot-high (124 m) Maungapu hill is of volcanic origin. To the east, a string of uninhabited coral atolls (motes) stretch out like a pearl necklace, from a geological point of view an unusual combination of volcanic and coral formations.
The barrier reef surrounding the island bars larger ships from entering, thus protecting the shimmering emerald-green lagoon. The island is among the most beautiful places in the South Seas, which has earned it popularity among tourists. Prior to tourism, the only sources of income for its 2400 inhabitants were fishing, agriculture, especially planting copra and bananas, and financial aid from islanders living abroad.
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The first European to sight Aitutaki was Captain Bligh of the Bounty in 1789. The first missionaries arrived in 1821. American soldiers stationed on the island in World War Two built the airport and the Arutanga Wharf in the principal city of Arutanga on the west coast.
The coral islets sprinkled at the edge of the lagoon all boast much-sought fine white sand beaches and can be easily explored on a boat tour. On the inlet of Akitua, southeast of the airstrip, there is luxury resort where the tropical paradise can be comfortably enjoyed.
The elevated coral atoll Alin is just over 6 square miles (15 sq km) in area, 112 miles (180 km) from Rarotonga. Its main attractions are limestone caves, gentle bays, white sand beaches, red volcanic soil and bizarre coastal rock formations called makatea, which are formed from the coral limestone. About 1000 island inhabitants live in five villages on a 224-foot-high (70 m) volcanic plateau in the island’s interior. They grow taro, pineapples and coffee. Individual travelers can enjoy Atiu and hike its numerous trails, explore caves, such as Takitaki Cave, with a guide, or simply laze in the sun on the beach.
Several beaches vie for attention: Taungaroro Beach, Orovaru Beach and Tunai Beach in the west, or Oneroa Beach and Takauroa Beach in the east. Bush beer, made of imported hops, malt, yeast and sugar is brewed on the island. The airstrip is in the north; Taunganui Harbor is in the northwest.