Atiu island

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 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:

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.

Embraer 110 Air Rarotonga Atiu from air
Atiu runway Atiu airport
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.
Town in Cook Islands Town in Atiu
Atiu church Areora
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.
Solar panels in Pacific islands
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.
Atiu Villas bungalow Atiu gardens
Atiu Villas Where to stay in Atiu
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.
Atiu beach Beach Atiu
Atiu beaches Beaches of Atiu
Atiu Cook Islands
Atiu island Atiu atoll
Atiu Atiu most beautiful beach
Atiu Beaches Atiu
Cliffs on Atiu Deserted beach
Along the south-eastern coast of the island, there is Atiu most beautiful beach, which allows easy access to a crystal clear lagoon and very calm waters. Behind the beach there is a steep cliff of millions years old coral. Visitors can get to this beach by bike (but there will be a long climb on coming back), by scooter, car, or even on foot if staying at Atiu Villas.
Coral beach Coral conglomerate
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).
Waves crashing on a reef
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.
Fossil coral Fossils of corals
In the rocks, even those very far away from the sea, we can see the "footprints" of fossilized corals.
Atiu lagoon Lagoon of Atiu
Swimming in Atiu Where to swim in Atiu
The beautiful Atiu lagoon with its calm, crystalline and warm waters.
Scaevola taccada
A thick and lush vegetation covering the rocks up to the beach.
Atiu roads Flower of caper
The unpaved roads of Atiu winding through the coastal vegetation, among palm trees, lot of Scaevola taccada (sea lettuce) and capers sometimes in bloom.
Wild pigs on Pacific islands
In Atiu there are a large number of wild pigs wandering around, and it's allowed to hunt them.
Atiu jungle Atiu vegetation
Trekking on Atiu Atiu trekking
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.
Walnut containing fuel Nuts of the poors
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.
Entrance to Anataketake caves
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.
Anataketake caves Anataketake cave
Anataketake Kopeka caves
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).
Aerial roots Atiu caves

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.
Kopeka bird caves Caves in Atiu
Entering the Anataketake caves completely, the light disappears and it is possible to proceed further only with the light of the torches.
Kopeka Kopeka bird
Atiu Kopeka nest

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.
Atiu excursions Natural pool in a cave
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).

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Cook Islands travel guide

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