Legend tells that Ru from ‘Avaiki (Ra’iatea in French Polynesia) arrived at Aitutaki by vaka (canoe). He came with four wives, four brothers and their wives, and 20 royal maidens at the Akitua motu (now the Aitutaki Lagoon Resort).
Aitutaki’s first European visitor was Captain William Bligh, who arrived on the Bounty on 11 April 1789 (17 days before the famous mutiny). In 1821 John Williams left Tahitian preachers Papeiha and Vahapata here to convert the islanders to Christianity. Charles Darwin passed by on the 1835 Beagle voyage, and in the 1850s Aitutaki become a favourite port of call for whaling ships. During WWII American soldiers arrived to build two long runways, and in the 1950s the lagoon was used as a refuelling stopover for the Tasman Empire Air Line’s (TEAL; Air New Zealand’s predecessor) luxurious ‘coral route’ across the Pacific, flown by Solent flying boats. Hollywood acting legends John Wayne and Cary Grant were just two of the celebrities who spent time on Akaiami motu while their Solent was refuelled. Most lagoon cruises stop at Akaiami where the crumbling foundations of TEAL’s absolute waterfront terminal are still visible.