Atiu is unique in the Cook Islands in that its five contiguous villages are located on the dome in the centre of the raised atoll. This settled heart of the island has rich red volcanic soils where coffee and pineapples are grown, pockets of rain forest, a band of swampy land where taro flourishes and an outer ring of makatea, pinnacles of fossilised coral.
The Atiuans were the Vikings of the Cook Islands in pre-European times, however, with the conversion to Christianity of their much-feared ariki, Rongomatane, in 1823, domination of Atiu by the London Missionary Society began, along with its accompanying strictures.
The village settlements were moved by missionary decree from the lowlands near the coast to the central site they now occupy, and a church built there. Ziona Tapu, the Cook Islands Christian Church of Atiu, by the cross-roads in the centre of these villages, is one of the most imposing in the Cook Islands.
An institution distinctive to Atiu is the tumunu, which literally means the hollowed base of the coconut palm, which makes an excellent container. In an Atiuan context however, the word tumunu has a much wider connotation.
Half-way through the nineteenth century the Tahitians - who had developed close links with Atiu - taught the Atiuans how to brew an alcoholic beverage based on the fruit of the orange trees which the missionaries had introduced to the island. The highly-intoxicating brew was immediately popular with the people, but the missionaries promptly banned the drink, just as they had already banned the drinking of the traditional brew, kava. Fines were imposed on anyone brewing or consuming the orange-juice based intoxicant.
The brewing and drinking of bush-beer under clandestine conditions evolved into a ritualistic practice which survives today. There are several tumunus on Atiu, and they are still located in the 'bush', or forest surrounding the five villages.
The makatea zone of Atiu is pocked with caves, many of which were used as repositories for the bones of the deceased in the old days. These caves can be visited if permission is first obtained from the families whose land they are part of.
The cave of Anatakitaki, in the south-east of Atiu, is home to a unique bird species, a type of swift known as the kopeka.
The cave is reached after a half hour walk through the forest and makatea. A guide is essential for this excursion.
In 2007, the colourful Rimatara ‘Ura lorikeet (Vini Kuhlii) was re-introduced to the island following an absence of 200 years. Today flocks of ‘Kura (as they are known in Atiu), can be seen jaunting about the banana plantations in search of nectar, flashing their stunning colours of red, green and purple and have recently started breeding.
Atiu is somewhat of an epicentre of the fine Art of making Tivaivai, a century old embroidery and quilting technique that produces intricate patchworks of timeless beauty and considerable value. These roughly 2.50 metres by 3 metres coverlets are often used as heirlooms. Atiu is perhaps the best place in the pacific to have a Tivaivai made to order. See Atiu Fibre Arts Studio
Another distinctive and delicous product of Atiu is locally grown coffee. Roasted and packaged on the island, Atiu coffee makes an ideal memento of a visit to this interesting destination.
Atiu is easily visited via direct flights from Rarotonga every day except Sundays and from Aitutaki several times each week, these flights make it convenient to visit both Aitutaki and Atiu without backtracking via Rarotonga. If you wish to visit both Aitutaki and Atiu, check out our Aitutaki-Atiu Combo Tour.
Another exciting possibility to experience Rarotonga, Atiu and Aitutaki is with the Sketchbook Expeditions organised by internationally renowned local Artist Judith Kunzlé. More information can be found by clicking here.
Accommodation on Atiu includes Atiu Villas with its distinctive bungalows made from local timbers, small restaurant and pool, and several other guest houses and lodges, all of which provide pickup from Atiu Airport.
Atiu Weather Station - click here to see real time weather information from our weather station located at Atiu Airport.
Kura Documentary: click here to see a documentary mini series about the Kura (Red Lorikeet) relocation project.