Aitutaki’s Most Fascinating Historical Points of Interest
Most travellers flock to the sandy shores and lagoon waters of Aitutaki to bask in its tropical beauty. However, a tiki tour around the main island and even parts of the lagoon will reveal fascinating historical sites relating to World War Two, shipwrecks, early missionaries and even Cook Islanders’ maraes (meeting grounds) that predate the European arrivals. Take a step through time with the help of this guide to the best historical sites on Aitutaki.
1. Akaiami – Landing Site of the TEAL Coral Route’s Flying Boats
Greeting passengers as they enter Aitutaki Airport is an information panel detailing the glamourous history of one of the lagoon’s islets, Akaiami. The motu (islet) was used as a refuelling stop as part of Tasman Empire Airline’s Coral Route, which operated between 1951 and 1960 and included stopovers in New Zealand, Fiji, Samoa, Aitutaki and Tahiti. Today, you can visit Akaiami via lagoon cruise or water taxi and see the concrete remains of the old wharf that was used for TEAL passengers to disembark the aircraft onto the island.
Location: Akaiami, the eastern side of the Aitutaki Lagoon. The old terminal site and wharf are now where the accommodation, Akaiami Paradise stands. Access to the islet is available with The Vaka Cruise and Kutekute Tours & Transfers. Learn about arranging a water taxi to the islet in our Aitutaki Transport Guide.
2. Amuri Airfield – WW2 Airstrip
As part of the Pacific Theatre of World War Two, Aitutaki was among six Pacific islands to be chosen as vital air links between Hawaii and Australia for the United States Army. The US stationed 850 men on Aitutaki in November 1942 but they were deployed north within a year after it became clear that the war wouldn’t spread this far south. Eventually, only 12 US military personnel remained on Aitutaki throughout the war to keep the Amuri Airfield open. The US Army originally built the two airstrips that you see at the northern end of Aitutaki today. Of course, only one is open and maintained to receive flights from Rarotonga.
Location: Information panels on Aitutaki’s WW2 history can be found at Aitutaki Airport. The disused airfield sits at the northern end of the island, just south of the golf course, while the other maintained runway runs down the Ootu Peninsula.
3. Arutanga CICC Church – The Oldest Church in the Cook Islands
Aitutaki was the first island in the Cook Islands to accept Christianity, when in 1821, John Williams left two Tahitian preachers, Papeiha and Vahapata, to convert the island. The Cook Islands Christian Church (CICC) in Arutanga was the first church built in the Cook Islands in 1828. The whitewashed limestone building was restored in 2010 and is still used for Sunday church services, welcoming visitors. Find out more about attending a local church service in the 10 Best Churches in the Cook Islands to Experience as a Visitor.
Location: Southern end of Arutanga on the west coast’s main road.
4. Marae Site – Pacific Resort Aitutaki
A border of tropical gardens and a small clearing at the Pacific Resort Aitutaki allows guests and visitors to peek at the remains of an ancient marae. A few carefully placed volcanic rocks remain at the site, while an information panel details the significance of these ancient meeting grounds to the original settlers of the Cook Islands. Most of the marae in the Cook Islands were abandoned or destroyed after the arrival of Christianity, but the lands are still considered tapu (sacred).
Location: Pacific Resort Aitutaki, take the garden paths right from the reception when facing the car park. The resort is on the main road of the west coast, just north of Amuri.
5. Marae Tokongarangi, Marae Te Poaki O Rae and Marae Arangirea
Aitutaki is home to several ancient marae, however, the rest are not as easy to find as the one listed above. Marae Tokongarangi, Marae Te Poaki O Rae and Marae Arangirea can all be found at the southern end of Aitutaki, just off the dirt roads below the villages of Nikaupara and Tautu. The volcanic rock formations of the marae are still visible, but it takes some bushwhacking and local know-how to visit these sacred sites. There are no longer any local commercial tours visiting these sites, but this page will be updated when one becomes available.
Location: Southern end of Aitutaki.
6. Site of Tautu’s Silo 1
A historical site along Aitutaki’s southern dirt roads that is easy to visit is the Silo 1 site. Silo 1 was a church built in 1888 to relieve the villagers of Tautu from crossing the island to Arutanga to worship. It is also the site of the original village of Tautu. After an epidemic broke out, however, the villagers were believed to be getting sick from the southern wetlands and its cold winds. They, therefore, relocated to the village site of Tautu where it is today. An interpretation panel is here on a well-kept large grassy area with a memorial to the church, allowing you to read the history and hardships of the church’s worshippers.
Location: Southern tip of Aitutaki, alongside the dirt road between Tautu and Nikaupara.
7. Te Poaki: Ka Ru Te Au
Situated outside of the CICC Church in Vaipae, Te Poaki (the rock) symbolises the frustrations of the warriors of Vaipae for not being able to avenge their loss of battle with Avarua (now Arutanga). They slit their arms, allowing their blood to bleed onto the rock and reluctantly accepted Christianity two years after it had arrived in Avarua.
Location: CICC Church, Vaipae.
8. Rock Anchor of Nikaupara
The painted rock on the steps of Nikaupara‘s community hall, Te Maru o Toi Hall, is not just for decoration but part of the village’s history. The rock is said to be the anchor used by one of the islands’ early seafarers.
Location: Te Maru o Toi Hall, Nikaupara.
9. Visitor’s Rock
Aitutaki’s main wharf, Arutanga Harbour, is home to a lesser-known historical site, Visitor’s Rock. It’s an age-old tradition for visitors to be welcomed to the island by standing on this rock when they arrive on the island. It’s not signposted nor is anyone standing there to welcome you (unless you’re coming off a cruise ship), so you’re just going to have to welcome yourself.
Location: Arutanga Harbour. The black flat rock is under some waterfront palm trees just to the left of the concrete wharf and before the fishing boats.
10. Wreck of Alexander
Not exactly an ancient shipwreck but the Wreck of Alexander is an awesome sight accessible for snorkelers and those on lagoon cruises. Join a lagoon cruise with Teking Lagoon Cruises or Kia Orana Cruise to stop by the now barnacle-dappled cargo ship that was built in 1903 and wrecked on the lagoon in 1951.
Location: Western side of the Aitutaki Lagoon, accessible with Teking Lagoon Cruises and Kia Orana Cruise. Find out more in the 10 Best Lagoon Cruises on Aitutaki.
More About Historical Sites in Aitutaki and the Cook Islands
Now that you know some of the fascinating historical sites on Aitutaki, how about finding more through the following guides:
- 10 Best Historical Sites in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands
- Sightseeing on Aitutaki: Top 10 Sights on Aitutaki
- 10 Best Churches in the Cook Islands to Experience as a Visitor
Finally, complete your itinerary with the 101 Best Things to Do in the Cook Islands: The Ultimate List.