Aitutaki’s lifeline supply of food, fuel and other necessities are delivered by sea and received at the Arutanga Port. Currently cargo ships are unloaded outside the reef with freight transferred to the port on a single self-propelled barge. Conditions in the channel are sometimes too rough or cause damage to containers and freight onboard the barge. Ships often stay in the roadstead for 2-3 days for unloading.
Aitutaki is well situated for Pacific yacht cruisers, particularly those on the Panama – Vava’u (Tonga) run to New Zealand or when circumnavigating, via Galapagos, Marquesas, Tuamotu and Tahiti / Bora Bora. An estimated 1,000 cruising yachts pass close by Aitutaki every year, but do not call, as they are unable to access the port due to the existing channel depth and draft restrictions. Passenger cruise ships are reluctant to visit Aitutaki because the channel is considered too tight for some tenders to safely and comfortably transport passengers between the ship and the port.
The entrance channel to the Arutanga Port was naturally formed by fresh water stream and later modified by the US Military during World War II. Some improvements were reportedly carried out over subsequent years although minor.
The Orongo Development Masterplan commissioned in 2011 by the CIPA and Aitutaki Island Council comprises of the following components:
The Orongo Development was estimated to cost $15.4M (2011 costs) with realizable economic development opportunities as a result. The National Infrastructure Investment Plan 2015-2025 highlights the development as an ongoing high-priority project for the Aitutaki population, and Government has provided annual budget appropriations to enable progressive steps towards achieving the long-term Orongo Development Masterplan. The recently prepared Te Papa Tau o Araura, the Aitutaki Plan (2020) reaffirms community support of land-side development, with sea-ward activities flagged as requiring further investigations and assessments prior to implementation.
Preparations are now underway to dredge the channel, a project driven by CIIC, CI Ports Authority and Island Government. The channel will be dredged to approximately 15m wide by 5 metres deep, along the 900m stretch from the channel entry point to the Port. This work is estimated to take 8 months to complete and cost $1 million (NZD). Approximately 70,000m3 of material will be removed from the channel. Options are being considered for the use of the material along the Port and surrounding areas, in addition to use on island government projects. The project is planned to commence from July/August 2021.
A summary of the project (pdf) can be viewed here.