Day 282, Year 1: A Day on the Lagoon, Aitutaki
Date: Wednesday, July 26, 2006
Weather: Mostly Overcast, Some Sun, Some Rain; Northeast Winds 10-12 Knots
Location: Aitutaki, Cook Islands

Ugly weather . . . beautiful day. The weather trough that has been sitting on top of this area for the past few days is still here. The sky is full of heavy clouds and today it drizzled and finally poured rain. We thought the pouring rain might bring nicer weather, but the clouds are still here. The nice thing about being in an absolutely gorgeous place, however, is that no matter how bad the weather, it is still beautiful. The motus around Aitutaki are picture postcard perfect and we got to visit two of them on our lagoon trip today.

By 1000, we were at the dock in town and ready to leave on a glass-bottomed boat lagoon tour. Our tour guide was Lawton Story. He was born on Rarotonga but his mother is from here. He spent almost 30 years in New Zealand and is now back on what he calls his mother’s island. In addition to the Handleys and the Stuarts, there was a honeymoon couple on the tour. A young woman, Helen, from England, and a young man, Kevin, from Germany. They currently live in India working for UNESCO (Helen) and an oil firm (Kevin). No sooner than we left the dock, we saw a sailboat entering the channel. It looked like they were going to make it in, but then we saw them at a standstill. They were grounded. Since we were going to go out right passed them on our way to the ocean to observe the reef and look for turtles, Lawton asked us if it was okay if we took the time to pull this boat in. It was fine with all of us and it really only took a few minutes. We towed them into the anchorage and then it was out of the pass. There were huge coral heads, but we didn’t get to see any turtles. Still it was beautiful.

After returning to the lagoon from the ocean, Lawton headed south in the lagoon. He pointed out the temporary “city” that is currently Survivor Marine Base. It is truly unbelievable how much they had to have shipped here in order to do this series. They have 18 boats, including the two Bombards that rescued us yesterday, and 400 people living in the housing they built of materials shipped in. In two weeks time, they will be gone and all of the infrastructure will be taken down and shipped to the next location. Lawton then took us further south in the lagoon until we reached the marine reserve. This is an area where giant clams are farmed. The native clams are not as large as the ones that are being farmed, but they are much more colorful. The farmed clams are brown, not bright blue, turquoise, and purple like the natives, but they were certainly interesting to observe through the glass-bottomed boat. We also got to see how pearls are farmed. We then moved on to an area where everyone (except me) went snorkeling and then it was on to a beautiful motu where we went ashore to explore. I found a nice spot to sit while the others walked around the island. My view was of white sand bars, sparkling turquoise waters, lots of Pandanus trees with seed pods that look like pineapples, and red-tailed tropic birds flying overhead. Wow. The view was spectacular.

When we got back on the boat, Lawton had lunch prepared for us and was truly a feast. We had fresh fish that he grilled on the boat-wahoo, mahi mahi, and tuna-fresh lettuce salad, cabbage salad, grilled eggplant, local fruit-orange wedges, papaya (called pawpaw here), mango wedges, star fruit-arrowroot and coconut bread, and on and on and on. It really was a feast. We ate as Lawton moved us to another motu. We went ashore here and got to see baby red-tailed tropic birds, as well as the adults. Lawton explained that the Polynesians who settled these islands would follow white-tailed tropic birds, but never the red-tailed as they fly home every night and always to a low island or motu with no water or food. The white-tailed tropic birds always fly to islands with high cliffs which means there would be a better chance of finding food and water.

We left the small picture-perfect motu and headed to a snorkeling area. On the way, the rain started and it did pour. But snorkeling is still great in the rain, so everyone had a great snorkel and I was able to see many of the fish through the glass-bottomed boat. The fish here are numerous and varied, and the the coral is more alive than any place we have been on this voyage, so snorkeling today was great.

It was finally time to return home, still in the rain, but just as we got to the dock, the rain stopped. Lucky for us, we thought, as we would be able to get back to Windbird without being drenched. Well, that idea lasted only as long as it took us to get to the entrance to the channel. As we entered the ocean, there were huge swells in the pass and we got soaked. But that was okay. It was a great day.

Very early tomorrow morning we will be heading back to Rarotonga. It is almost impossible to predict what kind of weather we will have. That black wall of clouds we sailed into on the way here has stayed here with us and we’re just not sure what it will be like as we exit on the way back. We’ll let you know that tomorrow night.

060725 Day 282 Cook Islands, Aitutaki–Lagoon Tour
Day 283, Year 1: A Wild Ride from Aitutaki to Rarotonga
Day 281, Year 1: Windbird Rescued by Survivor—No Joke