There are few places left in the world like Atiu, an island with just over 400 people and acres and acres of untouched rainforest and coastal bush. There are no western bars (apart from the small one at Atiu Villas), bright neon lights or busy roads. For travellers searching for an island paradise, Atiu is it.
Most overseas visitors to Atiu lament on departure that they wish they’d organised a longer stay on this unspoiled island gem, full of captivating history, scenery and friendly people.
The Anatakitaki Cave walk is the perfect offering for visitors who want an unforgettable nature experience. Reasonable fitness and covered shoes are needed for the trek through tropical forest that resembles a fantastically overgrown garden. Regarded by environmentalists as a national treasure, Anatakitaki Cave is home to the Kopeka bird, a swallow unique to Atiu, which like a bat, navigates its way in the pitch black caverns using sonar. The towering limestone caverns contain cauliflower coral, proving that the caves were once beneath the sea, as these coral formations only occur underwater. There are huge stalactites reaching to the cavern floor and massive stalagmites sparkling as though they are embedded with millions of diamonds. The magnificence of the caverns is breathtaking.
Another tour that takes you to Rimarau Burial Cave includes visits to age old marae and “walking the dramatic route taken by hundreds as they went to meet their death in ancient times.” If beaches, historic sights and panoramic scenery also appeal, opt for an island tour. It offers contrasting scenery, drives through shady roads and forest thick with ancient trees to coastal tracks and points of interest including the coral garden, sinkholes and fabulous little beaches ideal for shell collecting or leisurely lolling in the warm, pristine sea.
George Mateariki, better known as Birdman George, will take you on a tour to see the local bird-life (after all Atiu is known as the island of birds). First stop is to catch a glimpse of the endangered Kakerori bird; to see them so close is a real treat, as they were once on the brink of extinction. Then it’s on to find the cheeky little Kura (a lorikeet that has been introduced from the Rimatara, one of the Austral Islands, to ensure its survival). Along the way, George points out medicinal plants and how they are used to treat various ailments.
A fun experience is a visit to one of the legendary Atiu tumunu – ‘clubs’, where local men gather to drink homebrew and chat about island affairs, with clear rules about conduct. Often there’s a string-band for added entertainment. Visitors are always welcome to stop in, partake of a cup of the local brew and meet the locals.
“There’s money in the land,” says Mata Arai, pointing to her coffee bushes laden with ripe berries. Mata is an industrious Atiuan woman who produces the 100 percent Atiu Island Coffee using a technique she learnt from her grandmother as a child. It’s a process all done by hand. Atiu Island Coffee can be purchased from Mata’s home, in Atiu stores, or supermarkets on Rarotonga.
Atiu has the special appeal of being relatively unknown to the world at large. It is a place where visitors are still a rarity and locals will make eye contact, smile and be welcoming. The island has only one real bar and restaurant – at Atiu Villas, but meals must be arranged in advance. Rental vehicles can also be arranged at Atiu Villas, enabling you to explore this fascinating island at your own pace.
Yes - things are fairly relaxed on Atiu, making it the perfect escape from a busy world.