Captured by the Cooks

| VOLUME 30, ISSUE 5
The stunning lagoon at Aitutaki, famous for its breathtaking beaches and bonefish.
For most visitors, it’s impossible not to keep coming back to the Cook Islands for its great fishing, welcoming people and alluring lagoons and beaches.

The Cook Islands are known far and wide as one of the most idyllic destinations in the Pacific. Whether you’re into fishing, diving, sailing, cruising, exploring or just lazing under the palm trees, the Cooks can cater to just about any interest or activity.

Cook Islanders are known for their relaxed friendliness and welcoming nature. They regard themselves as true Polynesians, tracing their origins back to the first seafaring explorers of the vast Pacific as far back as 1500BC.

Cook Islanders have preserved their Polynesian heritage and culture and manage to blend them with Western and Christian values to create a harmonious society.

They also value their traditional cultural beliefs and there are plenty of opportunities for visitors to experience cultural displays and activities.

The name of their tropical oasis comes from famous British explorer, Captain James Cook, who arrived in 1773 and sighted five of the 15 islands that make up the group.

The Cook Islands are famous for their pristine sandy beaches, beautiful turquoise reef-fringed lagoons and stunning inland scenery.

WELCOME TO RARO

We began our Cook Island visit by arriving at the airport on Rarotonga and transferring to the The Edgewater Resort and Spa near Avarua, the main town on ‘Raro’ and also the capital of the group.

Fishing Getaways has used the Edgewater for many years for its fishing charters. According to Fishing Getaways boss, Gordon Howlett, the facility offers a warm Polynesian welcome and is located right on a white sandy beach, bordering a beautiful turquoise-blue lagoon.

“The lagoon is perfect for snorkelling and for other water activities and the resort boasts the most stunning sunsets,” said Howlett.

“Plus, it’s ideally located, being only eight minutes from the airport and just 10 minutes from Avarua, with its harbour, shops and restaurants.”

The Edgewater has a variety of rooms to suit all tastes and budgets, from garden rooms to spacious beachfront suites. For those with children, the Edgewater also offers a complimentary Coconut Kids Club, playground and themed playroom designed to keep the little ones entertained and occupied.

Because Rarotonga is almost entirely surrounded by a fringing reef, the harbour is the main safe passage for arriving and departing boats. It’s also where guests can board a charter boat for a day’s fishing on local waters. Target species include wahoo, giant trevally, mahi mahi, Spanish mackerel, yellowfin, sailfish and blue and black marlin.

The main boat used by Fishing Getaways is a 25ft Bertram, which is armed with the latest Shimano gear. Just recently, they managed to haul in a 47kg wahoo as well as several other decent-sized specimens.

Howlett says it is particularly fascinating to watch the locals employ their own traditional fishing tactics, as he witnessed on a recent visit.

FISHING COOKS-STYLE

“We were not far from the shore and watched on in amazement as a small group of locals followed some mahi mahi. They sat a little way behind the fish in a small boat and simply kept following them until the fish got tired. Then they moved in closer and speared them,” he said. “It really was quite fascinating to watch.”

Howlett said it is not unusual to hook up to marlin and other sports fish within just a few hundred metres of the Rarotonga shoreline.

Visitors can also enjoy the sight of frolicking humpback whales that are attracted to the islands’ warm waters to mate in August and September each year.

In addition to sampling all that Rarotonga has to offer, visitors can enjoy a visit to the world-famous Aitutaki lagoon, which is a 45 minute flight with Air Rarotonga out into the Pacific from Rarotonga and boasts one of the best lagoon locations on the planet.

We were met by the very welcoming Henry family, who accommodated us in a beach-front room at their Tamanu Beach Casual Luxury Resort.

The resort also boasts incredible sunsets, best enjoyed from the bar and restaurant with a refreshing drink after a great day’s fishing.

“The spectacular sunsets are one of the main reasons why we keep coming back to the resort,” said Howlett.

Depending on when you’re there, you might also get to enjoy the spectacle of a fire dance performed by a local cultural group.

LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT

Howlett explained that he fell in love with Aitutaki when he first visited more than a decade ago.

“The Cook Islands Tourism people had shown me photos of some of the fish that are caught there, including a giant bonefish, and before I knew it fishing journalist Greg Finney and I were on a plane to investigate.

“We ended up catching five good-sized bonefish in half a day, so the material was there for an article – it also made me decide to start putting together fishing packages as well.

“When Greg’s article was published, there was suddenly a lot of interest from fly fishers around the world. Aitutaki is now one of the world’s premier bonefishing destinations.

“There was a lot of netting activity continuing in the lagoon and it soon became obvious to us and the local people that the bonefishing would not be sustainable if the netting continued.

“As a result of this I had a meeting with Aitutaki’s Queen Manarangi to discuss the problem and the economic benefits of fishing tourism. We both went away from the meeting determined that the fishery should be better protected to make it more appealing for recreational anglers.”

PROTECTED

“Not long after, legislation was put in place to protect the bonefish, which have since thrived in the lagoon and continue to attract flyfishers from around the world.

“One of the best outcomes was that the people who were doing the majority of the netting are now fishing guides and are benefitting even more from guiding than netting.”

“I have since spoken to many people who have fished the lagoon and, by all accounts, it really is a fantastic place to target what are considered to be some of the biggest and most aggressive running bonefish in the world.”

When anglers aren’t casting a fly, there’s also the option to chase bigger fish on the edge of the lagoon, including GTs, tuna and other sports species.

Other activities at Aitutaki include simply laying back on the beach, a bit of kayaking, or snorkelling.

For more information on Fishing Getaways’s Cook Islands packages, either email gordon@fishinggetaways.com.au or call (03) 9434 7707.


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