Another Motu we stopped during the Lagoon Cruise is called Akaiami Island, which has an interesting aviation history. It was part of the line of defense against the Japanese in World War II and from 1951 to 1960, this vast lagoon was the stopover for the Tasman Empire Airways flying boats.
The famous “Coral Route” started in New Zealand with the final destination being Tahiti, with refueling stops on its way in Fiji, Samoa and Aitutaki. At that time it was the only air service available to both the Cook Islands and Tahiti, neither of which had an airport.
These giant four-engine planes were extremely comfortable, with luxurious cabins and gourmet food. There, they would tie up at the jetty, refuel, while the passengers and the crew swam, sunbathed and was served refreshments. Many famous travelers passed through Akaiami in the Aitutaki lagoon, like Marlon Brando and the Crown Prince of Tonga. In its sweet Polynesian way, it was one of the world’s great classical travel experiences – like a journey on the Queen Elisabeth.
A local lady whose family has land on Akaiami remembers those years. Her family would go out in a big canoe and watch the sea plane land. “We seemed so isolated, so remote, yet, for a brief instance Akaiami would be the only place in the Cook Islands where we would be so close to the outside world”.