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Aitutaki, Cook Islands, Oceania Cruise

    Aitutaki is an "almost atoll", located at 18°50′S 159°45′W / 18.833°S 159.75°W / -18.833; -159.75. It has a maximum elevation of approximately 123 metres with the hill known as Maunga Pu close to its northernmost point. The land area of the atoll is 18.05 km², of which the main island occupies 16.8 km² [1]. The Ootu Peninsula, protruding east from the main island in a southerly direction along the eastern rim of the reef, takes up 1.75 km² out of these 16.8 km² for the main island. [2]. For the lagoon, area figures between 50 and 74 km² are found. Satellite image measurement suggests that the larger figure also includes the reef flat, which is commonly not considered part of a lagoon. The barrier reef that forms the basis of Aitutaki is roughly the shape of an equilateral triangle with sides 12 kilometres in length. The southern edge of the triangle is almost totally below the surface of the ocean, and the eastern side is composed of a string of small islands (including Mangere, Akaiami, and Tekopua). The western side of the atoll contains many of Aitutaki's important features including a boat passage through the barrier reef allowing for anchorage close to shore at Arutanga. Towards the south of the side is a small break in the barrier reef, allowing access for small boats to the lagoon which covers most of the southern part of the triangle. Further to the north is the bulk of the main island. Its fertile volcanic soil provide tropical fruits and vegetables. Two of Aitutaki's 15 islets (motus) are also volcanic. The rest are made of coral. An airstrip is located close to the triangle's northern point. There is an area suitable for the landing of flying boats in the south eastern part of the lagoon.
    Polynesians probably first settled Aitutaki around AD 900. The first known European contact was with Captain Bligh and the crew of the "HMS Bounty" when they discovered Aitutaki on April 11, 1789, prior to the infamous mutiny. Aitutaki was the first of the Cook Islands to accept Christianity, after London Missionary Society (LMS) missionary John Williams visited in 1821. The oldest church in the country, the Cook Islands Christian Church in Arutanga, was built by Papeiha (Borabora) and Vahapata (Raiatea), two LMS teachers Williams had left behind. In 1942 New Zealand and American forces were stationed on the island, building the two-way airstrip that can be seen today. This airport, and one on the northernmost Penrhyn Island, were to be used as bases by the Allies during the World War II. The first aircraft, an American light bomber, landed on November 22, 1942. When the war ended some of the servicemen remained and married the locals. During the 1950s Aitutaki's lagoon was used as a stopover for TEAL (Tasman Empire Airways Limited) flying boats on the famous Coral Route. The islet of Akaiami was used as a resting stop for passengers, who often lay about until the aircraft was refuelled for two hours. These operations ceased in 1960, and the only reminder are the remains of the purpose-built jetty on Akaiami. The flying boat 'Aranui', which was part of this service, is now on display at the Museum of Transport and Technology in Auckland, New Zealand. Two of Aitutaki's motus (small islands), Rapota and Moturakau, were the locations of the first series of the UK reality television program Shipwrecked in 2000. More recently, in 2001, Steve Fossett passed over just south of Aitutaki in the balloon Solo Spirit during his round-the-world trip. In 2006, the island was used as the location for the tribal council in Survivor: Cook Islands. Surrounding islands were used for tribal camps and crew locations. One of the tribes was named Aitutaki (or 'Aitu') after the island. Then, not long afterwards, Shipwrecked returned again, with Shipwrecked: Battle of the Islands. This was filmed on the same islands as before.

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