August 20-22nd, 2018
Atiu is an atoll located in South Pacific belonging to the Cook Islands, offering spectacular seascapes with beautiful vegetation, a vast lagoon with natural pools, ample white sand beaches and intriguing caves populated by endemic wildlife.
ATIU: WHAT TO SEE - INFO - TRAVEL GUIDE
Atiu is a raised atoll, so defined because the tectonic thrust, over millions of years, has literally lifted the island from the sea, pushing it up to a height of 70 meters. The island is located less than 200 kilometers from Rarotonga, has less than 500 inhabitants, and is particularly recommended for those looking for a quiet, uncrowded and unspoilt island, still not affected by mass tourism. Atiu is small and has a more or less circular shape, with an average diameter of roughly 5 kilometers. Similarly to Niue, another South Pacific island, Atiu represents a real geological curiosity, in fact, being a raised atoll, fossil coral is found in abundance everywhere on the island, even uphill and very far away from the sea, amid a thick tropical vegetation.
What to see in Atiu:
- Atiu beaches - The best Atiu beach and also the most accessible, is located along the south-eastern coast of the island. The landscape is very picturesque, with a snow-white sand made of crushed coral, making a backdrop to natural swimming pools located in the calm waters of the lagoon.
- Atiu lagoon - A turquoise lagoon surrounds the whole island and offers large natural swimming pools with calm waters, where visitors can relax, swim and snorkel. A few tens of meters away, huge Pacific Ocean waves crash loudly along the outer coral reef of the island.
- Anataketake caves - Immersed in a dense jungle, the caves of Anataketake requires a relatively demanding trek through sharp and very rough rocks (actually, fossilized coral). However, visitors will be rewarded with one of the rarest bird in the world: the Kopeka, a swallow which uses eco-localization while flying in the darkness of the cave, while uses normal eye sight when flying outside.
- Atiu jungle - Atiu is covered by a thick tropical vegetation that includes many flowers and plants with colorful leaves. Numerous species of birds fly around and a guided tour led by an expert ornithologist is an excellent way to learn more about them.
- Daily life in Atiu - Living in a remote community that counts only a few hundred people, poses some challenges and it is interesting to understand how the inhabitants organized their life to overcome the small daily difficulties and the isolation.
How long stay in Atiu? To enjoy the island of Atiu, relax and visit all the attractions, we suggest a minimum of 3-4 days, which is not always possible due to the limited number of flights. Generally, the comment of those who stay in Atiu only a couple of nights (as usually proposed by the tour operators offering this destination) is "I wanted to stay longer".
How to get to Atiu? Atiu is connected to Rarotonga and Aitutaki a few times per week by Air Rarotonga, which uses small turboprop aircraft. The flight takes about 40 minutes.
How to get around in Atiu? There is no public transport on Atiu: the transfer from the airport to the facility where you will stay is organized by the facility itself, which also offers the possibility to rent bicycles, scooters or even cars, to let visitors move freely throughout the island. There are also outfitters offering different treks and excursions (walking alone in the jungle is not advisable, due to the sharp rocks) which can be contacted through the accommodation where you will stay.
Where to stay in Atiu? The availability of accommodation in Atiu is very limited. For our stay we chose Atiu Villas, a series of eco-sustainable bungalows that can accommodate a handful of guests, immersed in a beautiful tropical garden full of flowers and very well cared. The property is a 30-minute walk from one of Atiu's most beautiful beach.
But now let's see some photos of Atiu, at least of the places we had the opportunity to visit during our too short stay.
Atiu is linked to Rarotonga with a small turboprop aircraft provided by Air Rarotonga
a few times per week and can be booked either through the airline's website, or through the major operators offering package tours to the Cook Islands. In these photos, the plane, a 15-seater Embraer EMB-110
Bandairante, leaves from Rarotonga and lands in Atiu on a gravel runway before getting to the small terminal. The flight from Rarotonga to Atiu takes around 40 minutes.
The island of Atiu
has, at 2018, less than 500 inhabitants living in various districts (Teenui, Mapumai, Ngatiarua, Areora, Tengatangi), in charming small houses with lush gardens. The roads on Atiu
are mostly unpaved and made of crushed coral.
An interesting project aims to make Atiu free from electricity made by burning oil. Currently, most of Atiu's houses are served by electricity produced through solar panels
buffered by large batteries.
Due to the low number of visitors, the chances of finding accommodation in Atiu are quite limited. In any case, one of the best facilities where to stay in Atiu, is Atiu Villas
, a small resort with bungalows set among a spectacular tropical garden full of flowers and plants with colorful leaves. Atiu villa is located about 30 minutes walk from one of the most beautiful beaches of Atiu and offers also a small kitchen directly inside the bungalow, where guests can prepare meals (in any case, a restaurant is also available within the resort). For those who want to explore every corner of the island, bicycles, scooters and rental cars are available directly at Atiu Villas.
The beach is made of coral fragments of various size. Sometimes these fragments are fine like sands, while other times they create large slabs of conglomerate (pebbles apparently glued between them).
A few dozen meters from the beach, beyond the lagoon, the powerful waves of the Pacific Ocean crash against the outer coral reef, with a loudly thunder. In the meanwhile, visitors can swim alone in the calm waters of the lagoon.
In the rocks, even those very far away from the sea, we can see the "footprints" of fossilized corals
The beautiful Atiu lagoon
with its calm, crystalline and warm waters.
A thick and lush vegetation covering the rocks up to the beach.
The unpaved roads of Atiu
winding through the coastal vegetation, among palm trees, lot of Scaevola taccada
(sea lettuce) and capers sometimes in bloom.
In Atiu there are a large number of wild pigs wandering around, and it's allowed to hunt them.
Because of Atiu's geology
, fossils of corals can be found everywhere on the island, even uphill in the middle of the jungle. There are various guided excursions to visit Atiu's jungle and it's recommended to wear sturdy trekking shoes and long dresses, because the rocks are unstable and sharp. It's likewise advised not to go without a guide.
Some of the interesting things that can be found during an excursion in Atiu's jungle
. The walnut in the first photo contains a natural fuel and can be used as a torch (once lit, it burns slowly for about 8 minutes). Instead, the small red seeds in the second picture are called "the peanuts of the poor" because they require a great job to extract the only edible part, which is SO small.
One of the most interesting excursions in Atiu
is to Anataketake caves
, known also as Kopeka caves
. Beside the interesting geology and the intriguing landscape, this cave is famous for a bird endemic to Atiu
quite unique in the world. To get to Anataketake caves, there is a 30-minute trek through the jungle, over sharp rocks of fossilized corals, before descending in a first cave through a ladder.
The Anataketake caves
are a cave system in the heart of Atiu, with large stalactites and stalagmites. It's important not to underestimate the difficulty of this excursion, with slippery, sometimes claustrophobic passages, among sharp pieces of coral. You shouldn't go if you have any mobility problem or if you feel insecure (do not forget that getting first aid on Atiu is not so simple or fast).
Like in an Indiana Jones movie, we walk along the edge of the caves, among a very picturesque "waterfall" of aerial roots
coming from the trees on top the cave. Sometimes the roots cross the ceiling of the cave continuing to grow down to the floor, creating a sort of natural pillar. During this excursion it is a good idea to wear an insect repellent because, as in the rest of the island, there are mosquitoes
also during daytime.
Entering the Anataketake caves
completely, the light disappears and it is possible to proceed further only with the light of the torches.
And it is in the darkness of Anataketake caves that the Kopeka bird nests. This Atiu endemic bird is very unique in the world and resembles a swallow in terms of shape and size. Outside the cave, the Kopeka uses just normal eyesight, while in the darkness of the cave, the bird flies using eco-localization to avoid obstacles and to find the nest. While flying in the cave, the Kopeka bird makes a "CLAC CLAC" sound, clearly audible also by humans, which produces an echo used by the bird to get a three-dimensional map of the surrounding environment in which he is flying. Unfortunately I did not think to record the audio (I was really very busy trying to make some decent pictures in quite difficult dark conditions), but in this YouTube video made by someone else (not by me) you can clearly hear the sound of the Kopeka bird.
In the darkness of Anataketake caves there are also some big crabs.
The excursion to the caves where the Kopeka bird lives, ends by accessing through a claustrophobic and difficult passage, a natural pool where who is brave enough can swim (or you can just wait outside if you don't feel fit for this).