One Foot Island

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.

A few minutes on the beach while additional passengers staying at another resort boarded the catamaran.

A few minutes’ stop off at a resort, to board additional passengers for the day cruise. The catamaran pulls up to the waterline and conveniently drops boarding steps onto the sand.

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Our catamaran: the party barge. It sports a drop down ladder in the bow for beaches and in the stern for snorkeling.

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Tourists discover a hermit crab.

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Local kids spend at least half of every day in the water, it seems. Lucky kids!

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One of the atolls. You can see how shallow the water is. There are a few deeper areas but, for the most part, the entire lagoon is shoal. Snorkeling was fun, although the coral in places looked under stress and much of it was dead. We saw a lot of small, colorful fish, some beautiful blue starfish, sea urchins, blue- and purple-lipped clams, and a sea snake (coiled up under a rock). Also many sea slugs on the bottom.

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Dropping us off on the white sand bar. We got to explore while the crew took the catamaran to the next motu – One Foot Island.

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Ruth on the sand bar named “Heaven” by the cruise guide.

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Ruth and our new acquaintance Ellen. Ellen is a school teacher in Germany, on holiday and touring the South Pacific.

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In this photo and the previous one you can see in the background surf pounding on the coral reef that surrounds Aitutaki’s large lagoon.

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Just another beautiful view of “Heaven”…

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Wading across the shallow channel toward One Foot Island.

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Ellen and Ruth heading for lunch.

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The picnic shelter on One Foot Island

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Interior of picnic shelter. Our skipper, Kimi, in the foreground. He was the grill master. The tuna was very good. For those who don’t like tuna, there were also hotdogs.

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Buffet lunch laid out. We were all hungry, and lunch was good with ample potato salad, macaroni salad, rice, cassava, and fried bread. It reminded us of the Hawaiian Plate Lunch. Good conversation over lunch with folks from Germany and Scotland, as well.

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.

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Randy standing on coral “cement,” on the seaward side of One Foot Island. We did a little exploring after lunch.

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A stranded sea slug. Sea slugs are simple creatures. They often wash up onto the beach and, not having legs and unable to wriggle at any speed, are helplessly left behind by the tide to shrivel and die. So sad.

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The Slug Thrower (with apologies to Loren Eiseley). A few were lucky enough to be saved, today.

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Two tourist catamarans pulled up on the beach of One Foot Island. Tourists enjoying the warm blue water and the white sand beach.

Moving Velic

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.

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Another small sailboat came in yesterday and we helped row their stern line ashore. We’re both anchored off the bow with a long stern line to a coconut tree (thank you Jerry for recommending the very long floating lines for this purpose!) Galatea and Velic essentially fill up the space. Any more boats, and we’ll have to start rafting together. It’s only 2 meters deep, so only small keel boats and catamarans can get in.

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.

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This was taken on a Saturday evening, but apparently some sort of service was going on even though it wasn’t Sunday. The church was lit, showing off the lovely stained glass windows.

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.

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Some locals are protesting flights in and out of Aitutaki on Sundays, which is traditionally a day of rest on which no work is to be done. Work apparently includes flying passengers to and from Rarotonga, and the requisite taxi transports and other support activities for tourists. We saw a few yard signs like this one and some T-shirts bearing the same message.

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People traditionally bury their deceased family members on the family’s property. Sometimes this means a corner of the yard. Family property stays in the family, so there’s no possibility of leaving great-grandfather behind.

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The school bus. Most people ride motor scooters to get around. There are trucks and vans for business, of course. There is no public transit at all. But it’s a small island. Almost all traffic is motor scooter. We’ve seen a few bicycles, as well.

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A neatly kept home along the road. Like in French Polynesia, homes are often comprised of a few smaller and separate buildings rather than one large house.

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Someone’s produce garden at the roadside. Bananas in the background. We’re not sure what is growing in the foreground; if anyone recognizes this plant, let us know.

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Grass along roadsides, in public spaces and in private yards is required to be mown every three weeks at minimum. Aitutaki has mosquitoes, but no mosquito-born disease (as yet). They are determined to keep diseases off the island. By the way, there are no dogs, either. And we haven’t seen any cats. Chickens are everywhere, as usual.

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Cisterns are built of concrete here, unlike those we saw in French Polynesia, which were all heavy-duty plastic. Rain is the primary source of fresh water. Folks are concerned because it’s been weeks since any serious rain on the island. A large part of that is because this is an older island, and the volcanic mountains have eroded. Geologically younger islands like Rarotonga, Tahiti, Bora Bora have higher mountains tops around which clouds form and produce rain almost daily.

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This fishing boat is on a trailer at the edge of the marina yard. Randy took the photo, because he is intrigued with this boat. Why is it here? Why not in service? It is very unlike the local fishing skiffs and sport boats. It looks too small for much inter-island work. It looks more like a boat from Pacific Northwest.

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After lunch on every day that we’ve been here, except for Sunday, a bunch of kids come down to the waterfront and spend the rest of the afternoon playing -jumping off the dock or jetty, or boats, swimming around, calling out and laughing, and generally having a great time. We asked one of the locals why they were not in school, and he replied “Oh, this is their leisure time!” School until mid-day, and then go jump in the water. Sounds good to us!

Arrival

And going back to our arrival on Wednesday, at the end of the passage from Bora Bora:

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Approaching Aitutaki from sea.

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Getting ready to trim sails for our approach to the entrance channel through the reef.

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The view toward Arutanga and the waterfront from the boat, anchored in the channel. The CICC church is to the right; the harbor master’s offices and the public market are near center left. The small boat basin is between the coral reef in the foreground and the wharf.

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7 thoughts on “One Foot Island

  1. Really enjoying all the posts. I was thinking of you, Randy and Ruth, in the Cook Islands while I was staring at a statue of Cook in Anchorage 2 days ago. My latest adventure was to help a friend pull a trailer from Bend to Homer. Cook certainly traveled the seas!

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  2. It was in 1980 when I went to Aitutake. The Pacific Conference of Churches was having its Executive Committee meeting in Rarotonga, and they “deployed” ordained ministers from the meeting to preach in churches all over The Cook Islands on Sunday. I was lucky to be assigned to Aitutake, accompanied by a pleasant, interesting English-speaking Cook-Islander layman, a school teacher, as I recall. We flew in on a Saturday afternoon, and returned to Rarotonga on Monday. I certainly remember the ultra-bright sunshine and the pure, clear colors, and the heat. Wearing a straw hat was very important!
    I was curious about the description of Aitutaki by Randy and Ruth, so went on Goggle Earth to have a look! It then made sense to me, and the Cook Island Christian Church that I preached in must be the one in R and R’s photos! The manse, or home of the pastor was across the road from the church, and that’s where I slept and had my meals. I had not brought a coat and tie, but they told me that would be no problem, as they had one for me. When the church bell started ringing on Sunday morning, I thought that we should get over there, as I wanted to “scope out” the situation. But they said, “No, the first bell is to call the people to go to the church.” I can’t remember for sure, but I think that there were a couple of bells more before the pastor said, “Now is the time for us to walk over to the church.” The singing had already started. On the wall of the front porch of the manse was a row of pegs with coats and neckties, so we selected a set for me. I clearly remember that the coat had white salt rings under the armpits, from multiple uses by multiple preachers, but I put on the necktie and donned the coat, and we walked across the road to the church. The beautiful, rich singing, with the acoustical bounce from the glossy painted boards of the ceiling, was “heavenly!” Much better than the sermon, I can assure you!
    I was asked if there was anything in particular that I would like to do the next morning, so I told them that I’d love to go fishing with the men, even if I had to get up very early. They immediately said, “Oh, no! Never! Fishermen never take priests or women fishing, as it is very bad luck!” So there. We did take a pickup truck tour, however, but I don’t remember anything about it.
    The next day my companion and I were driven in a heavily loaded pickup truck up to the landing strip. When the plane flew in, and prepared to re-load, The Cook Island church women started dancing, and formed a line leading to where I and my companion stood, each one placing first a shell necklace, and then a freshly made plumeria lei, which took the stack of “gifts” right up to our nose and ears! Then to top it off, beautiful, finely woven “straw” hats were placed on our heads. The small plane was crowded (2×2 by about 6 or 8!) so there was no way we could take off the hats or the leis, and we had to sit still for the entire duration (at least an hour or 1 1/2!) of the trip back to Rarotonga! I recall having a stiff neck for days, and Jeff, Lynn and Denise will remember the many necklaces we had hanging on our wall in Suva, which we enjoyed ourselves, and shared with friends for years!

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    • What a wonderful story. We see it all happening here. Singing began on Saturday evening, resumed Sunday morning, and lasted until late Sunday afternoon. All the peoples of the Pacific that we have met are warm and friendly, and we find the people of Aitutaki the most outwardly happy – the most laughing in a slow, laid back and convivial lifestyle. Sunday is a day of rest and worship here on Aitutaki. We found that so refreshing. Then, after sunset on Sunday, the guys began to gather on the wharf with a beer and quiet conversation.

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  3. I wish I could hear their singing in church. Btw, we met an Australian couple in Kalaloch, WA, ranger station who had been sailing 4 1/2 years so far. They told us where they’d been – Portugal Spain, France, Italy, Croatia, Greece, etc. David helped them with land navigation to Yellowstone and Tetons. They had to be in Terra del Fuego in December. We had such a delightful visit with them. They were in their 70’s.

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  4. So glad you made it to Aitutaki. You even had lunch in the same place we did on One Foot Island. Did you ask about the potato salad ? Ours was made with Ulu or breadfruit. It just looks wonderful. Wish I could say “Scotty beam me up” and land there! Have a wonderful time.
    Going to church is a wonderful experience as much cultural as religious.

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