Tapuaetai, or One Foot Island, is one of 22 motus in Aitutaki’s lagoon. It is one of the most popular tourist sites on Aututaki and most lagoon cruises stop here. And we understand why. Yesterday (Saturday) we took a very enjoyable tour over the lagoon out to One Foot Island, learned a bit of history, and made some new friends.
We chose a tour company called Bishop’s Cruises, which offered tourist cruises around the lagoon that include snorkeling, sightseeing, and lunch.
We boarded our catamaran at a resort on the east side of the island, having been driven there in a Bishop’s Cruises van along with three other tourists from the west side. Our van driver was Antu Bishop, a gregarious fellow happy to answer our questions about Aitutaki and very proud of his island. We stopped at a resort where we were joined by more tourists, all of us boarding the aluminum catamaran pulled up at the beach. This comfortable catamaran would carry us, our gear, cruise supplies for the day (food!), and the crew on the adventure. The catamaran’s crew of four was headed by Kimi, who served as both captain and cook for lunch, and chief story teller. After beaching to pick up a few more tourists staying at a second resort, we all headed off toward the southeastern corner of the lagoon, about 7 km away. The day’s schedule included some snorkeling, exploring a white sand island, and a walk across a shallow channel to One Foot Island for a relaxed lunch and further swimming, snorkeling or napping in the shade, as one chose.
The legend behind the island’s name, according to locals, is that of a father and son and warfare between two sides of the island. The pair had been out fishing and were spied by a group of men from another village at war with their own. As the warrior canoes approached, the father and son landed their boat on Tapuaetai and fled into the brush. The father instructed his son to walk ahead and placed his own footsteps carefully on top of those left by his son, leaving tracks that seemed to be made by only one man. Deep in the brush, the father hoisted his son into a thick pandanus bush, telling him to keep silent no matter what happened. Predictably, the warriors caught the father and killed him, leaving the son alone on the motu. He eventually escaped by swimming from motu to motu, making his way back to his own village. The story goes on, following the usual revenge motif of adult son bringing down vengence and winning a beautiful bride. But the point is the name of the motu, and how it came to be called One Foot Island.
We originally booked the tour for Friday but postponed it a day in order to take advantage of an opportunity to move Velic into the small boat basin next to the commercial jetty and wharf.
The move entailed more anxiety and effort than distance. Velic was anchored stern into a strong current that flows continually through the channel. Strong trade winds blow opposite the current. So, even though sheltered in the lagoon, Velic was dancing around on both the stern and bow anchors. And dancing far too close to coral for our comfort. Any slip or drag and we would fetch up against coral.
This turned out to be a successful exercise in small boat handling. In circumstances where a boat is anchored stern-to in a very strong current, with a bow anchor out to limit swing over the small patch of sand the boat is sitting on, and very hard coral crowding all around that patch. Oh, and wind blowing against the current. We had two anchors out, bow and stern, but even with two anchors the boat was still occasionally bumping coral. We weren’t happy, and we needed to move. Randy used a warp hitched to the loaded stern anchor line and brought through a bow chock to swing the boat bow-to the current once the larger bow anchor was hoisted. Ruth was at the helm with the engine running, easing out the taut stern anchor line while Randy pulled in on the warp, now loaded to the windlass on the bow. It all went pretty smoothly, other than getting the original stern line free of a coral head; that took a bit of maneuvering under power to get the line unwrapped, Randy at the bow giving hand signals, Ruth responding at the helm. Free at last, we carefully motored around the coral outcroppings and into the clear small boat basin, where there is no current and much less wind.
About and Around Aitutaki
Aitutaki is an older island and has no high peaks such as we saw in the Marquesas and the Society Islands of French Polynesia. In a few hundred thousand years, Aitutaki will become an atoll, like the islands of the Tuamotus. As the island of Aitutaki wears down and becomes smaller, the surrounding lagoon becomes bigger. Maunga Pu is the highest point on the island, at 123 meters. Not quite high enough to form rain clouds, and getting enough rainfall is a concern for the residents. Large concrete cisterns are adjacent to every structure, collecting and storing the rainwater that does fall. We’ve experienced a few showers while anchored here, but none that last more than half an hour. Antu Bishop told us that the winter had been unusually dry and that what they need is several days of good, soaking rain to help refill their cisterns. The summer rainy season is expected to start in a couple of months; we’ll hope that Aitutaki receives ample rain in the coming season. We are able to get water for the boat from a large public cistern near the port authority building; the water has been filtered and UV-treated, and is free. Even residents pull up on their scooters with bottles and jugs to fill at one of the two taps.
Arutanga village is where you will find the oldest Cook Islands Christian Church in the Cooks. It’s located right next to the small boat basin, close enough to hear the singing on Sundays.
The Cook Islanders are a deeply religious people who take their gospel seriously. They are also pretty conservative. Dress is modest when in public; swim suits are seen only on tourists and only on the beach. On Sundays, businesses are closed and people are expected to attend church and spend the day in quiet social activities. Of course, the tourist resorts are open, even on Sundays.
And going back to our arrival on Wednesday, at the end of the passage from Bora Bora: