Aitutaki & the Lagoon Resort: My Review

I wrote a thorough review of Aitutaki Lagoon and the resort where we stayed. I'm posting the definitive, canonical version of my review here. (Because TripAdvisor fails to provide a form on which it's users to edit their reviews, or the photos/captions attached to them. Perhaps I should write a review of their website. It was a clunky user-experience, involving having to copy and paste text from an automated email they sent me, and requiring me to find ways to contact them to correct issues caused by their technical and process issues.)

 

Paradise

My wife and I stayed at ALPIRS for two weeks in March 2019. Our Aitutaki adventure will forever be among the most cherished and enjoyable experiences of our shared together.
 
Welcome to Aitutaki!
 
We now appreciate why this is reputedly "the world's most beautiful lagoon." It could even be the most beautiful place in the world. Aitutaki is paradise. I doubt anything could surpass it.
 
This entire atoll is one giant shallow lagoon -- the dominant feature -- surrounded by a coral reef. Almost half of it is shallow enough to walk across. This vast coral atoll features numerous islands (motus) and sandbars along the inner edges of the outer reef, each one unique in character. Some islands/islets and sandbars comprise pure white coral sand which, on closer inspection, glistens with innumerable flecks of brightly-coloured coral and shells. Others islands, including the main island, exhibit golden yellow sand and black igneous rocks revealing the extinct volcanic geological origin of the atoll.
 
The waters of the lagoon change colour dramatically with the passage of the Sun from east to west through the southern sky and the constantly-shifting meteorological conditions, and varying depths and sand compositions at the bottom. In these warm waters we observed every hue of blue, from deepest sapphire to palest cyan, transitioning seamlessly through the rainbow to every shade of green, and also every shade of grey, from black to white. At certain times in certain places, the water literally glows with its radiant greens and blues, as if somehow illuminated brightly from beneath. It's surreal. It's unreal. Many of our photos and videos look fake, as if colour-enhanced in post-production -- yet these impossible mirages are the true, natural manifestation of Aitutaki. Often, the clouds above Aitutaki are richly coloured by the light from the waters of the lagoon or the South Pacific beyond, causing the sky to be painted in vivid blues or greens that seem impossible. Occasionally you'll see rainbows. I've never before witnessed such stunningly aesthetic visual phenomena in the natural world. But this location is different; it's Aitutaki!!!!!! A miracle of nature.
 
Aitutaki is entirely owned by local people. They are in full control of everything here. The indigenous Maori inhabitants are not subjugated by colonisation. Keep that in mind. Respect the natives, be polite to the staff and they'll reciprocate. Respect their culture. The people's status as landlords and custodians of this atoll is reflected in their confidence and pride when dealing with visitors. The fascinating internal geopolitics and social-psychology of Aitutaki are subtly evident everywhere, including the resort.
 
Everyone here speaks great English. It's apparent that, as a people and as individuals, they genuinely enjoy sharing and showing off their slice of paradise with visitors -- on a temporary basis and on their terms. You are their welcome guest. Enjoy their music, it's unique and quite special. Enjoy the plentiful tropical fruit and the seafood, all of the finest quality that you'll find anywhere in the world.
 
Bear in mind that this is a small and extremely remote atoll in the middle of the world's most expansive ocean. Imports are prohibitively expensive. They're not self-sufficient in every commodity and amenity to which you may be accustomed.
 
It's extremely hot here, maintaining a humid tropical climate all year round. Direct sunlight after about 9am will burn pale skin of European lineage in less than 15 minutes. Prepare accordingly. Passing showers and occasional thunderstorms are a part of Polynesian life, but it's almost always sunny even during the so-called wet season, with rain most likely after dark. This is not a Monsoon climate, but during their summer (our winter in the Northern Hemisphere) there is a small risk of cyclones and tropical depressions which do occur in the region -- a time of year when the tropical flowers are particularly impressive. During our two weeks in paradise, I would describe the weather as: perfect.
 
Aitutaki is a very safe, civilised place. For instance, a car hire company based in town left the keys in the ignition for us with the windows fully open across the channel from the resort.
 
The Resort
 
The location of this resort is unbeatable. The main attraction of Aitutaki is the lagoon, a miracle of nature, and this resort is definitely the best place to enjoy that. Their private island, namely Akitua, is undoubtedly the most scenic location on the entire extensive Aitutaki atoll. The views of the lagoon from the resort are limited only by the curvature of the Earth. Spectacular vistas from the south shore extend beyond the horizon across the full length of the lagoon -- literally as far as the eye can see. Nearby islands such as Angarai are within easy range of a voyage by kayak, swimming or snorkelling -- in fact, it's so shallow here that you can easily walk all but a few meters of the journey. The resort also has easy access to the mainland, and unimpeded views of it too, with its small volcanic mountain peaks, the tallest being mount Maungapu (a lookout point that's well worth a day-trip by bicycle). In Aitutaki, there is as much or as little adventure and exertion as you choose to take on. The larger garden side of the tear-drop shaped island is a lush, verdant, secluded, wild tropical jungle, featuring a path where we particularly enjoyed walking and cycling with sensational views over the reef.
 
The resort's architecture strives for an authentic island experience, which is successfully achieved -- from the impressive reception area, to each individual bungalow. The staff are professional, friendly and helpful. The whole resort is kept clean and tidy. The food is exceptionally good, and surprisingly varied given the remote setting. My sincere complements to the chefs -- wow!!! If you like fishing, they even have a "you catch it, we'll cook it" service, as does the nearest restaurant on the mainland, The Boatshed (recommended, though there's really no compelling need to dine outside the resort). The market seafood on the food menus and fruit are no less fresh. The breakfast buffet has too many options to list, but for me the favourites included home-made tropical granola and breads, boiled eggs and ham or salami, and fresh coffee and tea. Eat at the beach bar grill when you can. I practically lived on mocktails -- try their coconada, but also ask for a "fruit cocktail Tim & Ani style!" ;)
 
We sampled three different modes of accommodation in different locations, from the cheapest beachfront bungalows to the premium beachfront bungalows and the more expensive over-water bungalows. These are all high-quality rooms with an authentic island style inside. The outdoor shower is an outstanding feature, especially in the overwater bungalows where the shower area is a small private garden. The traditional woven interior walls and stylish sinks are a very nice touch. Consider changing rooms after arrival, when you've discovered your own ideal location.
 
We chose to visit outside the peak season, and were rewarded by having the place practically to ourselves. By "the place" I mean primarily the resort, but most of the time also the whole lagoon and all of its islands! We easily found not just our own private beaches to enjoy, but actually our own private islands; in fact, we had our pick of the islands, so we tried out most of them! The islands are owned by "the families" -- some of whom we met in passing -- and they're obviously content with the mutually-beneficial symbiosis they've cultivated with passing tourists.
 
Bring mosquito repellent, but I had negligible entomological encounters -- especially when in faster moving air by the sea outdoors or under a fan indoors. There were no mosquito-carried diseases prevalent or endemic on these islands for visitors to be concerned about.
 
I am confident that this is the definitive, most thorough and honest review of the resort that you will find.
 
So, What About the Bad Reviews?
 
Our experience was so overwhelmingly positive that, in my carefully considered opinion, the negative reviews of this place are simply: wrong.
 
We did our homework when selecting this destination, knew what to expect, and carefully read all reviews of the resort going back many months. The reviews are surprisingly polarised, with some writing very critical reviews, while others penned glowing reviews of their experience. How can these two extremes be reconciled/explained?
 
In studying the negative reviews, a pattern emerges in which the complaints always fall into certain categories: food (poor quality, lack of variety, etc), resort maintenance (lack of investment, lack of cleanliness, disrepair, old bikes, inadequate gym, etc), and staff attitude (unhelpful, impolite, etc), not a 5-star resort, etc, etc. Let's deal with each category systematically, though some of the criticisms are so misguided they don't even merit a response.
 
- The food is about as good as it gets, with menus incorporating fresh local ingredients, perfectly cooked to order and perfectly seasoned by cheerful hard-working chefs, and served by friendly servers. You're on an island. Fresh fish and fruit? A tropical smorgasbord breakfast? What more do you want??"When it Rome..." If you require Western cuisine, consider alternative destinations.
 
- The resort is clean, tidy and well-maintained throughout. Their intention is to create an authentic island experience. If you prefer to be surrounded by modern concrete/glass walls, there are many such resorts to choose from on other islands in the Pacific, and elsewhere. The bikes have seen better days, but do the job, and we really enjoyed using them. We had kayaks and paddleboards whenever we wanted them. Reef shoes and snorkles were available, but we brought our own wetsuits, snorkles, reef shoes, crocks, sandals, hats, underwater GoPros, etc. You're going to a location where some of the best activities on offer involve the water, so you'll get more out of it if you prepare accordingly.
 
- We met a wide selection of staff and we felt we got on very well with all of them. One lady didn't seem to warm to us as much as the rest, but she was always polite and professional. All were friendly and helpful. There is no problem with the staff, here. The secret to their job is to create a pleasant atmosphere, and they do attain that, whilst also having jobs to do. Their approach is intentionally to step back and let you feel like you have the place to yourself, and we loved feeling like we were the only ones on the island most of the time. Yet staff are always available where and when you need them.
 
On rare occasions when we did encounter a minor problem, we politely raised it at reception and invariably it was solved very promptly. (E.g. we moved into a room where the phone was faulty, and it was fixed by outside contractors the next morning. E.g. housekeeping overlooked our room once, probably thinking it was empty as many of them were, and maybe our two room moves messed up their system.)
 
The staff knew who we were, what our usual drinks and dishes were, and addressed us by name. We felt sad saying goodbye to some of the staff, and a few of them very sincerely expressed similar sentiments. It was quite an emotional farewell to our favourite friends there! On our final evening, after dinner at the beach bar and grill our favourite barman picked up the microphone to wish us a safe onward journey, then sang a beautiful Maori love-song, dedicating it to my wife (he s half Kiwi, half Maori). This absolutely made her night, which in turn made my night -- to see her light up with pride and appreciation. We slow-danced to his song. As romantic as it sounds. On our final morning the manager materialised nearby, in his measured give-you-your-space style, I think hoping we might would engage in conversation and tell him how it all went -- which we did, and had a very pleasant chat.
 
Conclusion
 
If you desire a spectacularly beautiful, peaceful, exotic, tropical destination that can also be relaxing or romantic, you could do no better than this atoll and this resort.
 
We believe our review to be informed, objective and authoritative, being seasoned travellers with considerable travel experience covering the full spectrum of the marketplace -- from some of the world's finest 5-star resorts and hotels to some of the world's cheapest motels (I'm a Brit, she's American).
 
P.S. Kia Orana, Freddy and team! We thank you for your hospitality and the wonderful Aitutaki experience you provided. Here's my review, as promised! Perhaps we'll meet again, some day, even if only in our thoughts and cherished memories. Meitaki ma'ata, my faraway friends. Kia manuia.

10 April 2019

Share the love:

Tags:


  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn
  • Facebook
  • Windows Live / Messenger
  • Xbox Live
  • RSS
  • Email