Aitutaki casts its beautiful and restful spell over Carly Flynn, who discovers a destination better than any brochure could promote.

I've read three books in four days. Now, I know that to some people that's no huge feat, but for me, it's something I haven't achieved for many, many years.

This would not have been possible without two key things. One: Gorgeous grandparents taking over the parenting of the 3- and 4-year-old. Bless. And two: A simply to-die-for destination that encourages rest and restoration on a large scale.

The place I was able to pull off this not-seen-since-backpacking times feat was beautiful Aitutaki. This tiny island north of Rarotonga truly is paradise personified, the jewel in the Cook Islands' crown. An island destination better than any glossy brochure could ever promote. Vast white sandy beaches, a substantial lagoon, sublime food and sunshine: the most perfect paradise, to my mind, on Earth.

But hang on; I'm getting ahead of myself.


You can't get to Aitutaki without stopping over in the nation's capital, Rarotonga.

A place long held in my heart as a second home since it was my home in my teens.

It's a comfortable four-hour flight on the always impeccable Air New Zealand (even those four hours of uninterrupted food, wine and movies are a parent's dream).

We acclimatise to the tropics and the gorgeous 28C autumn heat instantly and scoot around to the Pacific Resort at Muri Beach.

Within an hour of hitting the tarmac, I've whipped my togs on, pulled out a sun lounger in front of my beachside bure, ordered a cocktail and planted my nose in the first of the aforementioned books. This place is too easy.

The lagoon is safe and calm and there are children paddling nearby while their parents are also buried in books.

As the sun sets we walk along the beach to the nearby Nautilus Resort restaurant to dine on local seafood, before hitting the hay for the kind of sleep that comes only with the knowledge there are no pre-schoolers to get up to. Bliss.

Everything is "go slow" in Raro, and it can take a while to adjust to the laid-back lifestyle, especially after racing to get here. But I'm determined to "power rest" and fit in a leisurely dip in the lagoon before our taxi back to the domestic airport the next morning.

The flight to Aitutaki is brief: 45 minutes at 4500m above the South Pacific. On take-off we look back at the majestic mainland, and after travelling north for a little over 200km, the descent into Aitutaki is even more breathtaking.

Again, the transfer to the Pacific Resort Aitutaki is within 10 minutes of arrival, and I make it my mission to bag drop and get poolside within 15.

There are no words to describe this place on paper - you have to see it to believe it. It's simply stunning. It's peaceful, warm, inviting, fragrant and lush, and despite being popular with tourists, you feel like you're one of the few there.

The resort itself has the attention to detail you expect from only the finest resorts in the world. The linen smells of fresh frangipani, there's a plate of shared dessert left in the fridge each night and an a la carte breakfast every morning, served with fresh island fruit and locally squeezed juice. I could get used to this.

Ask anyone what to do and they shake their head and say, "you've got to get out on that lagoon".

I reluctantly leave my lounger to take the local advice, hitching a ride with Slice of Heaven Charters to see the lagoon from the water. And I'm not disappointed. Within minutes of boarding we're blasting out in the sunshine to the outer lagoon, the big deep blue beneath and a vast smile on my face above.

Charter owner and operators Mike and Ine have recently given up their Kiwi lifestyle to return to the place Mike lived as a boy. I comment that it's not a bad office and Mike grins as proud as punch as he shows off his family home.

The lagoon is about 54sq km and keen fisherman Mike has spent the best part of the past three years trying to get to know every bit of it.

His charter is personalised to those on board, and he can do what the bigger boats do in a day, in three hours. Immediately we see turtles - large, shy beautiful specimens moving effortlessly next to us through the pristine waters.

Mike knows his stuff and seamlessly navigates the vast lagoon to tick off the tourist hotspots (Honeymoon Island, One Foot Island, a giant clam colony) but quickly moves us on as other charters approach. This gives us the feel of being in our own deserted paradise.

Some of the smaller atolls he takes us to are brand new - just a few years old. They start as a small piece of protruding sand, and quickly become larger and island-like as coconuts land and grow on them. There are large bird colonies that know no predators and therefore have no fear of us as we approach. They're inquisitive and friendly.

The speed of which these new islands are forming makes me wonder what this vast waterway will look like in years to come - perhaps more land than lagoon.

Mike demonstrates just how well he knows the place when we anchor at a spot literally in the middle of the ocean. It's waist height before a steep drop-off and we eagerly get in with snorkel and mask.

But what I wasn't expecting was the giant trevally, which Mike knew was there all along, to cruise right up to me, eliciting a short sharp shriek from me as it took a while to identify what exactly it was.

This was not the famous George the Trevally (world famous in Aitutaki and often written about), but a smaller (about 40kg), unnamed but equally friendly GT who hung around and played until Mike cheekily reminded us there was more than one big fish to see in this expansive lagoon.

I'm a long-time diver, but the snorkelling here was equal to any dive I've ever done, anywhere in the world. I had heard the fish life in the lagoon was stunning, but this was beyond belief.

The variety of fish, coral and sea life was incredible, vibrant and healthy. The locals are working hard to preserve the lagoon, despite pressures from some overseas sources to farm it, and it was encouraging to see the obvious results.

The thing with Aitutaki is you can do as little or as much as you like. The island is quickly gathering a reputation for kite surfing (it hosted a large international competition last year), and while we were there the Rarotonga Sailing Club was holding its school holiday regatta - dozens of children were out on the water and loving it.

We explore the island on push bike, easy enough as it's largely flat.

We visit popular restaurant The Boatshed bar and grill, a locals haunt, for a sumptuous seafood curry.

After each excursion we return to the infinity pool or beachfront with a book in hand.

The food here is delicious and fresh and on our last night we're treated to a private feast in a Bedouin-style tent on the beach.

I feel a bit of a fraud, it's a romantic spot and worthy of celebrating an engagement, honeymoon, wedding or imminent birth of a child - but we've done all that and this is a reminder to relax and celebrate what we do have.

The guilt quickly makes way for gratitude as the biggest and best seafood platter I've ever seen is laid before us. Crayfish, oysters, prawns, scallops, fresh tuna and mussels spill off the plate.

It's a sad farewell after four fabulous days, and although we're excited to return to the kids, this is the kind of place that the more you stay here, the more you want to stay.

It's a paradise that needs preserving, our little South Pacific secret, so we leave nothing, so that it's like we've never been, bar a stack of well-thumbed books for the next lucky Aitutaki visitors to enjoy.


Getting there: Air New Zealand flies direct to Rarotonga from Auckland six times a week. From there, Aitutaki is a 50-minute flight.