Clarke Gayford: Blue heaven

The Cooks have it sorted, writes Clarke Gayford.

There are 15 major islands in the Cook Islands covering a massive part of what really can only be described as the blue continent. It’s more than 2.2 million sq km, in which sits Rarotonga, which we all know and love. But apart from this, what else is there?

One island, Aitutaki, just an hour’s flight from Raro, has increasingly been popping up on people’s radars, yet visitor numbers remain low enough to retain its magic.

And magic it is, with Lonely Planet once voting it the world’s most beautiful lagoon. It’s also one of the world’s largest ringed lagoons, and at just 7m deep, it’s a snorkeller’s paradise. Several companies take advantage of this with easily available tours that include the chance to hop off at One Foot Island, a small uninhabited islet just one foot above sea level. Here semi-tame giant trevally patrol the water’s edge while a swimming channel out-front is so clear it appears photo-shopped.

Aitutaki also has a remarkable bonefish fishery, with an amazing backstory. Now, for the uninitiated, bonefish are the world’s number-one pursuit for saltwater fly fishers. Fishing folk the world over pay big money to chase a fish so fast and tricky to catch, they have given it names such as The Grey Ghost and His Highness the Shyness. Around the world, fishers spend more money chasing bonefish than they do marlin, such is its revered status.

Accommodation options here are covered for all budgets. I was lucky enough to spend a few nights at Aitutaki Escape where we worked with owner and chef Thomas Koteka on his delicious local Parrotfish recipe, the sunset on the deck being worth the trip alone.

● Clarke Gayford hosts Fish of the Day, 5.30pm tonight on Three.

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