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The farther you get from the South Pacific's international airports, the more likely you are to find an island and a way of life that have escaped relatively unscathed by the coming of Western ways -- remnants of "old" Polynesia. Although it is quickly developing as a tourist destination, this is still true of Aitutaki.

Lying 225km (140 miles) north of Rarotonga, Aitutaki is often referred to as "the Bora Bora of the Cook Islands" because it consists of a small, hilly island at the apex of a triangular barrier reef lined with skinny flat islands. This reef necklace encloses one of the South Pacific's most colorful lagoons, which appears at the end of the flight up from Rarotonga as a turquoise carpet spread on the deep blue sea. The view from the air is unforgettable.

The lagoon sides of the uninhabited, coconut-studded small islands out on the reef have some of the South Pacific's most beautiful white-sand beaches. They're perfect for a snorkel-and-picnic excursion, Aitutaki's prime attraction.

The first European to discover the lagoon was Capt. William Bligh in 1789, a few weeks before the mutinous crew of HMS Bounty set him adrift off Tonga.