The remote island of Atiu is a 45 minute flight from Rarotonga in the Cook Islands. It’s remote and unspoilt, with secluded coves, underground caves, rare birds and a population of just 450. It’s a special place for intrepid travellers or eco-tourists. Communications consultant, Sarah Smith, visited Atiu for the first time and shares her top recommendations for what to do when you’re there.
The airport. Soak up the novelty of arriving on a dirt runway at a ramshackle airport. The plane’s arrival is a social occasion for the locals who greeted us with smiles and strands of fragrant frangipani ei (leis). I loved every second of the 45 minute flight from Aitutaki, flying over just one uninhabited island, with nothing but deep blue sea all around.
Birdman George. A tour with Birdman George is magic! He’s a bird whisperer and calls in rare and endangered birds from the dense canopy for viewing. Just as fascinating is his knowledge of the abundant flora and fauna and their traditional uses.
Cave tours. Swimming by flickering candlelight in an icy cold underground pool was sublime. I was on the main guided cave tour to the Anatakitaki Cave, where the native swiftlet uses sonar clicks to fly in pitch black surroundings. It was a tricky walk over upraised fossilised coral reefs and we used ladders to descend below ground. Worth every second and absolutely memorable.
Coffee and art. Jürgen Eimke, a German who’s lived in Atiu since the early 1980s, showed me around his organic coffee plantation before I visited his wife’s gallery, Atiu Fibre Arts. Juergen grows and roasts world class Arabica coffee beans to make delicious Atiu Coffee. Andrea’s an internationally acclaimed fabric artist, so have your wallet handy, as her gallery has a stunning collection of artwork for sale. I bought some of her finely woven scarves and jewellery.
Experience a 200 year old Atiu tradition and get up close with the locals. At sunset, I piled into the back of a battered ute (with the other 7 tourists on the island) to visit a tumunu – a bush beer club, set deep in the jungle. The tumunu’s where local men meet to sing and solve island problems, washed down with bush beer passed around in a coconut shell. The welcome was warm but I was fascinated by the Swiss tourist on his 15th visit to Atiu. “I can’t get enough of the place”, he said, and I knew exactly what he meant.
There’s a strong sense of history at the secluded Orovaru Beach where Captain Cook arrived in 1777. As local legend goes, he was captured there but set free the next morning. The place has a real presence and great beauty. Further up the road, there is another tiny cove, (where the reef surrounding Atiu is at its closest) is perfect for whale watching (sadly, it was the wrong time of the year). We picnicked on slices of tree ripe mango and papaya, fresh coconut juice and fresh shredded coconut. Heaven.
‘’Island Night’’ at Atiu Villas is not to be missed! An entire village of 100 people turned out to support the performers and joined in the singing and dancing, clearly enjoying themselves as much as us. The music and the dancing was electric. Pure, vibrant and filled with meaning, it was the best concert I’d been to in years.
Atiu Villas. Atiu Villas is the biggest “resort” on the island. The 6 villas are made of local native timbers and feature the polished woods of tropical trees. They’re set in a beautiful tropical garden surrounded by pineapple fields. My villa’s view was down a jungle clad valley to the ocean. I could clearly hear its roar above the morning birdsong and crowing roosters. As well as its setting, I loved the crystal clear swimming pool and the great restaurant.
Flying time to the island from Rarotonga in the Cook Islands is 45 minutes. Air Rarotonga flies from Rarotonga to Atiu on Monday and Saturday in the low season and daily, except Sunday, in the peak season. There is also a Wednesday return flight from Atiu to Aitutaki.
To find out more about Atiu and the Cook Islands visit www.feelraro.co.nz