Atiu- Untouched Paradise
13 January 2014
Upon boarding the 15-seater Embrodier Aircraft, I soon realized why my attempted trip to Atiu the last time I visited the Cook Islands was unsuccessful. There was actually room on this flight! With just a 45 minute flight north of Rarotonga, Atiu is a coral cay island that is gradually being pushed up out of the water, ever so slightly every day.
Similar to Rarotonga, Atiu seems to be flat around the perimeter but with mountainous and jungle-like terrain in the middle. The main attraction for Atiu is not the beaches (although the beaches are stunning) but by a beautiful clear water lagoon which makes for beautiful views and professional-like photographs with every snap of the shutter.
Atiu receives around the same amount of visitors each year as the size of the island’s total population of 500. It is easy to understand that the tourism infrastructure is not major; however, they do have a lovely 2.5 Star hotel called Atiu Villas. There is a backpackers resort called Atui Guest House and the local tour operator, Marshall, hosts his own home as a B&B along with his wife, which is quite nice. I highly recommend Marshall’s B&B.
If it were me, I would be staying at the Atiu Villas as they have a restaurant and pool which becomes a very important necessity at the end of a hot day.
The Kopeka birds and the caves they nest in are probably among the biggest attractions in Atiu. It is a half hour hike over a rugged coral pathway to reach the caves. This is the only place in the world that you will find the Kopeka birds. The Kopeka bird population of 500 (seems to be a reoccurring number for Aitu) nest and raise their young in these caves. Marshall also offers day tours into these caves, complete with educational information of these rare birds.
Another key tourist spot is the Captain’s Cook Landing (since 1777) within the Cook Islands. This is marked with a small sign hanging from a tree on a dirt pathway. Don’t blink as you could miss it. This pathway leads you to one of the three beaches on Atui. I picked up some beautiful colourful polished like shells on this beach.
There is an art gallery located on Atiu that specializes in quilted crafts and offering classes to locals and visitors. Atiu is also the coffee producer for the entire Cook Islands. Atiu Coffee can be purchased here at the Art Gallery.
Atiu is the first time I have seen such an abundance of mangoes. Atui has many large Mango trees. We also tasted the local pineapple grown on Atui. Until now, Maui had been my favourite pineapple destination, but not anymore. Atui has the sweetest pineapple I have ever tasted.
Bike, hike or scooter your way around this quiet island, but walk when you travel in the evening in Te Munu. This is a little shack (literally built from trees, coconut palms and lumber) where the men usually meet in the evenings to discuss “politics” and drink beer from a barrel. One of the ‘fellas’ each night is named the bar tender, who basically spends his whole time filling a half coconut shell and passing it around one at a time. It is custom that you at least take the first and last round… in between, it is acceptable to pass. It is also customary to pay donation to the fellas in order to help buy more sugar or barley etc to help them make more beer.
Overall, this island is great for the tourist that is looking for something a little off the beaten track, someone who wants to see the quieter side of the Cook Islands, its culture and people. Thank you to the beautiful people of Atiu who humbled all of us with your music, dances, songs and beer. It was truly an honor to visit your home.
Written by Jason (Destination Specialist)