Aitutaki Cook Islands

Swimming with Turtles in Aitutaki, Cook Islands

Cook Island Flights

There are worse places to wake up than in a beach front hut on the Pacific Island of Aitutaki. Even if you are rudely awakened by the wandering cockerels echoing the dawn chorus.

I was staying at Matriki’s Beach Huts, a tiny collection of basic huts built on stilts dug into the sand of the most pristine beach imaginable. The huts were simply furnished with a bed, mosquito net and gas stove, all you need for a Robinson Crusoe-style experience. Pure tropical island bliss.

This morning my German host, Matthias was taking me and a honeymooning Canadian couple on a sea-faring adventure to the many surrounding atolls and submerged reefs with the hope of swimming with the island’s many turtles. When we arose, Matthias was already up and about, attaching his almost sea-worthy looking boat to the back of his crumbling 4×4. The boat itself was quite long and slim with wooden boards for seats and an open air ‘cabin’ with a tiny veranda covering it. Let’s just call it ‘rustic’.

We arrived at the quaint harbor and all clambered into the boat, miraculously without incident, and zoomed out of the lagoon into open waters. Our first mission was to look for turtles. We were just out of season for them so I wasn’t very hopeful. Luck, however, was for once on our side as about two minutes in, we spotted our first turtle! It was amazing as they were absolutely massive, not the terrapins I had been expecting.

Matthias then quickly ushered us into the borrowed snorkeling gear and we all jumped overboard, racing after them to catch a glimpse of the turtles slicing through the water. Although the water was over 50 metres deep we could still make out the bottom, making it easier to seek out our first turtle paddling towards us through the gloom. Seeing the turtles in their natural habitat was definitely the best thing I have ever experienced in my life. The way they graciously glided by, unfazed by the wildly gesturing  tourists intruding their peaceful world nearly brought a tear to my eye.

The screams of ‘SHARK!’ somehow shattered this beautiful moment.

‘GET BACK TO THE BOAT’ Matthias shrieked. My body froze as I bobbed my head above the water, like a turtle taking a breath. Everyone began to manically swim for the boat, leaving a wave of foam in their midst. Clambering back on the boat, luckily with all body-parts intact, Matthias informed us that nearby divers had informed him that there were 3 tiger sharks feeding on one of the turtles nearby. Matthias doubted their story, grumbling that they just wanted us off their patch, but rather safe than sorry!

Leaving the shark-infested waters behind, we headed off to the deserted island of Maina which was simply spectacular with a picture-postcard beach fringed by exotic palms. Here we had a lunch of fresh local produce, tuna, caught by the Canadian couple, bananas, potato salad, taro, taro leaves (similar to spinach), paw paw salad and local doughnuts, all washed down with fresh coconut juice. I could definitely get used to this island-living.

Before heading back to the mainland we stopped off at more snorkeling spots where deep ravines, stacked with coral teemed with sea-life and giant clams dotted the seabed. Shooting back to dry land, I knew this would a day I wouldn’t forget in a hurry, especially if the sunburn was anything to go by! Despite taking an overly large chunk out of my budget, it was well worth it and a truly priceless experience. I would recommend the trip to absolutely anyone, just don’t forget the suncream!

Aitutaki Beach

Aitutaki Boat Trip

Aitutaki Beach