The Top Attractions, Tours and Activities on Atiu
If you wondered what the Cook Islands looks like without the endless line of resorts on the beach and array of lagoon cruises, then this is it. Atiu offers a much more traditional Cook Islands experience than its sisters in the south. Visitors are welcome to join locals at bush beer bars known as “tumunu” a tradition held on the island for centuries, while “umu” feasts and hands-on crafting tours are easily accessible. It’s the natural wonders, however, that are the main drawcard of Atiu. Caves formed in the “makatea” (limestone uplift) are home to some of the most unique birds in the world, not to mention the skeletal remains of “ariki” (chiefs) and warriors from centuries past… Speaking of birds, Atiu provides sanctuary for several indigenous bird species that, if you’re not already a twitcher, will certainly turn you into one.
So, make your own bucket list for the Cook Islands’ eco-paradise with this guide to the best things to do on Atiu!
1. Explore Atiu’s Secluded Beaches
You rarely get the feeling of having a whole place to yourselves quite like on Atiu. With only a handful of tourists on the island at a time (and locals finding not much use in lounging on the beach), the beaches of Atiu are secluded around 99.9999% of the time! Although there are 26 beaches found in the nooks and crannies of Atiu’s coast, some of the largest beaches and best ones to visit are Oravaru, Taungaroro and Tumai beaches along the west side of the island, and Oneroa Beach on the east side. Beaches offer very little in way of snorkelling and swimming due to the reef being so close to shore, but they still offer a serene place to explore. Check out the 7 Best Beaches on Atiu for more information about each beach and more.
Location: Check out the link above for each beach location. Otherwise, they are well signposted along the coastal road of Atiu.
2. Trek Through the Jungle to Anatakitaki Cave (Kopeka Cave)
A must-see attraction on Atiu, Anatakitaki Caves are a series of caves with awesome limestone stalactites and home to a rare and fascinating bird. Join Atiu Eco-Adventure Anatakitaki Cave Tour for a three-hour guided experience taking you through the dense rainforest to three spectacular caves. Bring your swimwear for the cave pool, sturdy shoes for scrambling over “makatea” and put on your best bird-spotting hats for seeing the kopeka, a swiftlet unique to Atiu, that uses sonar just like a bat. Your guide will tell you more about these amazing birds or check out the 20 Animals & Birds Unique to the Cook Islands. Plus, see more caves to explore in the 5 Best Caves on Atiu.
Location: East side of Atiu. Transfers are included in the tour mentioned.
3. Swim in Your Own Aquarium at the Sinkholes (Coral Garden)
At low tide, find three picturesque sinkholes west of Takauroa Beach and east of Matai Landing. When the falling tide empties through the sinkholes you’re left with all sorts of colourful fish temporarily trapped in your own natural aquarium. That’s why they also call this place the “Coral Garden“. Find more free attractions like the sinkholes in the 10 Free Things to Do on Atiu.
Location: Southeast side of Atiu, west of Takauroa Beach and east of Matai Landing.
4. Watch Rare Birds, Identify Plants and Walk Historic Trails on Birdman George’s Eco Tour
The Cook Islands Maori name for Atiu is “Enuamanu“, meaning the “land of birds” and it’s not just a gimmicky drawcard to attract tourists! See for yourself on an eco-adventure with “Birdman George”. While the tour includes walking historic trails and visiting historically significant sites, the main focus is the ecology of Atiu where George will point out kakerori and colourful kura that he looks after in this island sanctuary, as well as interesting Atiuan plants and explain their medicinal uses. At the end of the tour, you’ll arrive at a picturesque beach where George will serve either a tropical spread for a picnic lunch or an “umu” – a Polynesian style of cooking where food is slow-cooked in an underground oven – on a Sunday. See more tours like this in the 5 Best Tours in Atiu.
Location: Transfers are included.
5. Try the Local Bush Beer at a Tumunu
A true cultural experience that unofficially welcomes you into the Atiu club, tumunu are rustic beer huts located on the outskirts of Atiu’s villages, usually on the edge of a forest or plantation. You’ll be sat on a tree stump and passed around home-brewed orange beer (or “bush beer”). Some sessions are even accompanied by music played by a local string band. Either visit a tumunu independently (locations and opening hours are listed in The Food Guide to Atiu: Places to Eat & Food Tours) or join Timau from Atiu Safari & Fishing Tours for a fully guided experience with transfers and history storytelling included. Oh, and be warned, the tumunu bush beer is strong stuff!
Location: All over Atiu! Ask your accommodation or tour guides about the nearby tumunu or transfers are included with Timau. Some popular ones are Tepooni Tumunu, Aretou Tumunu and Vanilla Tumunu – see the link above for locations.
6. Do Crafts, Learn About Atiuan History and Feast on an Umu with Punarea Culture Tours
Joshua and the family from Punarea Culture Tours offers an excellent tour for immersing in the traditions of the Atiuan people! Their signature “Culture Tour” not only offers fascinating historical context and hands-on crafting demonstrations, but a significant portion of the tour is dedicated to traditional Atiuan cuisine. This isn’t the “coconut demonstration” that you’ve probably seen a thousand times across the Pacific; you’ll see how “Tuki Poi” is prepared, as well as help your host weave plates and serve up the “umu” which has been slowly cooking local meat and vegetables while you have been enjoying your tour. We also list this tour in the 6 Best Foodie Experiences on Atiu.
Location: Transfers are included.
7. See Spooky Skeleton Remains inside the Rimu Rau Burial Cave
One of Atiu’s burial caves, Rimu Rau is not only the easiest to access (although it still requires going down a tight pothole), but the easiest to find guided tours for. Here, you’ll see well preserved skeletal remains, adding to the spooky atmosphere. Although it’s not certain what caused the approximately 30 bodies to be buried in this cave, your guide will tell you the opposing legends. Note that maybe this is not the cave to visit if you’re claustrophobic…
Location: Southwest side of Atiu. Guided tours can be arranged with accommodation providers or with the Atiu Information Centre (Main Road, Teenui – between Vodafone and the BCI Bank).
8. Visit Historical Marae
Marae are gathering places of the Cook Islands Maori’s ancestors well before European missionaries arrived and convinced locals to abandon these sacred meeting grounds. Atiu has several marae where deliberately-placed rock circles still remain. The easiest one to discover on your own is Marae Vairakai on the road between Tengatangi village and Tarapaku Landing, just north of Kopeka Lodge. Other marae like Marae Orongo, Marae Te Apiripiri and Marae Te Au Tapu are on private land and harder to find, so a guide is recommended to visit these spots.
Location: Marae Vairakai – A walking trail leads from Kopeka Lodge, Areora, located off a branching road between Teenui Village and Atiu Villas. Guided tours to other marae can be arranged with accommodation providers or with the Atiu Information Centre (Main Road, Teenui – between Vodafone and the BCI Bank).
9. Bathe in the Natural Infinity Pool of Konakonako Landing
A short walk from the roadside at the northwest end of Atiu, Konakonako Landing makes for a stunning photo op. When the tide is just right (aim for low tide), a small pool is created looking like your own private infinity pool!
Location: On the roadside, approximately 750m (820 yards) west of the airstrip building.
10. Taste Locally Grown Coffee
Not only is Atiu a treat for the eyes but it’s a treat for the tongue, as the island has its own coffee industry! A popular way to experience Atiu’s coffee scene is with Mata Arai from Atiu Island Coffee who resumed her family’s arabica coffee plantation in the 1990s and has been going strong since. Her delightful coffee tour allows you to learn about the coffee bean growing process, what makes Atiu perfect for growing arabica beans and how to hand roast the beans on a tour of the Atiu Island Coffee plantation and roastery. You’ll also discover the secret ingredient that makes Atiu’s coffee unique! The tour concludes with a taste of the good stuff along with yummy pikelets and coconut cream!
Location: Mapumai, north of the Air Rarotonga office and south of Akai Bakery.
11. Swim at the Local’s Swimming Pool, Taunganui Harbour
When the barges aren’t going in and out to unload supplies from the infrequent cargo ships, the Atiu Harbour (or Taunganui Harbour) makes for a fun sheltered spot to swim and snorkel. The water’s deep enough for splash and it’s worth donning your snorkelling gear to see fish and coral.
Location: West side of Atiu. Head west to the coast when you reach the northernmost crossroads or take the western road from Teenui village all the way to the end.
12. Walk Along the Reef to The Three Grottos
At low tide, wade through crystal clear waters and get an interesting perspective of Atiu on a reef walk to The Three Grottos. Oneroa Beach provides the best access to The Three Grottos when you don’t have a guide. You’ll need to walk along the reef in knee-deep water for approximately 30 to 45 minutes – only on a calm day, though, as the waves crash over the reef where there’s a big swell. The reward is three caves opening up to the sea just 200m (219 yards) apart. Some have pools for a refreshing dip. Return the way you came, giving yourself plenty of time before high tide! See more romantic places like this in the 7 Things to Do on Atiu for Couples.
Location: Oneroa Beach, southeastern side of Atiu. Walk north from Oneroa Beach to reach The Three Grottos.
13. Try a Spot of Reef Fishing or Deep Sea Fishing
Keen anglers and newbs alike can experience Atiu’s amazing fishing scene both on land or on the water. Ask at your accommodation for reef fishing tours with Andrew Matapakia. He’ll take you out during the day to catch a variety of reef fish. Even octopus or crayfish could be on the cards. Alternatively, night fishing allows the exciting opportunity to catch flying fish!
For deep sea fishing, Timau from Atiu Safari & Fishing Tours offers fishing charters either around Atiu or around Takutea, a small island 23km (14 miles) northwest of Atiu. These fishing trips also include a tropical lunch.
Location: Ask your accommodation or the Atiu Visitor Centre (Main road, Teenui) to arrange an experience with Andrew or with Timau from Atiu Safari & Fishing Tours.
14. Join a Local Hunting Tour
When you’re not fishing for your dinner on Atiu, you’re hunting on land, which Joshua from Punarea Culture Tours is eager to show you. The three-hour traditional hunting tour takes you deep into the rainforest of Atiu (wear decent tramping shoes) where you’ll learn how to set traditional traps to catch wild pigs. With (or without) your success, the experience will conclude with an “umu” feast. The hunting experience is available all year round and is best suited to adults.
Location: Transfers are included.
15. Soak in the Views from Te Tau
The southern tip of Atiu is another worthwhile spot to pull over and check what’s down the path. Spoiler alert: it’s a magnificent view of the Atiu coastline and the Pacific Ocean! A path at Te Tau leads you down to a rugged coral field. When the swell is on, you’ll see epic waves breaking over the reef.
Location: South side of Atiu, accessible off the coastal road.
16. Kick Back at Your Garden Accommodation
One of the many endearing qualities of Atiu is the fact that your accommodation will be one of the most serene in the Cook Islands. All accommodation is based inland, nestled among tropical gardens and/or lined with native rainforest. A worthy thing to do on Atiu is to enjoy doing nothing at all! Perhaps just relaxing on your villa or lodge’s deck and listening to the call of the birds. Just remember to bring some insect repellent with you…
Location: See Atiu’s accommodations in our guide, Where to Stay on Atiu.
17. Dine (and Watch an Island Show) at Atiu’s Only Restaurant
Aside from the fish and chips takeaway at Super Brown, which, don’t get us wrong, is still a viable hunger-buster, the only real evening dine-in experience on Atiu is Kura’s Kitchen. Located on the grounds of Atiu Villas, the restaurant is open to visitors across the island, just make sure to book before 3pm. A set two-course menu or buffet is served at 7pm under the thatched restaurant and bar area adorned in flags, while the occasional “island night” is sometimes arranged. Learn more about the Cook Islands’ cultural shows in the 7 Best Island Nights in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands.
Location: Atiu Villas, on the road between the villages and Matai Landing. Atiu Villas can usually arrange transfers to their restaurant.
18. Experience the Glorious Harmonies of an Atiu Church Service
On a Sunday, don’t miss the cultural experience of an Atiuan church service. The Zione CICC Church, the largest limestone church in the Cook Islands, welcomes visitors to all of their services, but most just attend the 10am service. There’s also the picture-perfect Catholic Church just down the road with services starting at 9am. Discover more churches worth visiting in the 10 Best Churches in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands to Experience as a Visitor.
Location: Both churches can be found in the centre of the island on the main road between Teenui and Mapumai.
19. Take a Tiki Tour Around the Island by Car, Scooter or Bike
At a total area of only 27km² (17mi²), Atiu is so easy to explore! Either hire a car (the most comfortable on the dirt roads), hire a scooter (the most adventurous) or a bicycle (the most physically demanding) and explore the 19km (11.8-mile) coastal road with its array of sea tracks leading to exceptional sights. It’s a fun way to get to most of the sights we mention on this list of the best things to do on Aitu. For an easy-to-follow self-drive guide, check out A Self-Guided Day Trip Around Atiu.
Location: See where to hire vehicles in the Atiu Transport Guide: 7 Ways to Get to (& Around) Atiu.
20. Get Competitive with a Game of Tennis
Atiu has more tennis courts per head than any other island in the world! Ok, we don’t know how true the maths is there, but with around nine tennis courts for around 400 people, we’re sure we’re not far off. Join in on the racket action at the tennis court of Atiu Villas. The accommodation boasts the only grass tennis courts in the Southern Cook Islands!
Location: Atiu Villas, on the road between Matai Landing and Ngatiarua village.
More Things to Do on Atiu
That’s it for our list of the best things to do on Atiu but is by no means the end of our Atiu advice! Plan the rest of your excursion to the Cook Islands’ less-visited island using these guides:
- Where to Stay on Atiu: The Best Atiu Accommodations
- Atiu Transport Guide: 7 Ways to Get to (& Around) Atiu
- Information, Shops & Services on Atiu
Finally, don’t miss a thing off your Cook Islands bucket list by using the 101 Best Things to Do in the Cook Islands: The Ultimate List.