The Complete Travel Guide to Atiu on a Budget© Daniel Fisher - Cook Islands Tourism
The Complete Travel Guide to Atiu on a Budget

The Complete Travel Guide to Atiu on a Budget

© Daniel Fisher – Cook Islands Tourism

The Only Budget Travel Guide to Atiu You’ll Ever Need

Leave the hustle and bustle (and expense) of a holiday on Rarotonga or Aitutaki behind. You’re in Atiu now. Here, most attractions are free to discover at your own leisure, while any guided experiences with local passionate guides are about half the price of tours in the rest of the Cook Islands. You won’t find any backpacker accommodation, however, but what you will find are hosts that will go above and beyond for an effortless stay on Atiu. You’ll be connecting with nature more than you’ll be connecting to your bank account, that’s for sure. Find out how in this guide to travelling Atiu on a budget.

5 Tips for Visiting Atiu on a Budget

Before we jump into our complete budget travel guide for Atiu, here are just a few ways you can save money on your vacation:

  1. There is very limited accommodation on Atiu, so finding a cheap place to stay is challenging. Consider travelling in the low season (JanuaryMarch) where rooms are at their cheapest (we’ve seen rooms for NZ$144 a night with Atiu Villas on, for example!) Atiu Villas also offer “early bird” booking deals on their website.
  2. Another note on accommodation, while Kopeka Lodge is usually a little cheaper than Atiu Villas, the villas tend to offer slightly more convenient services that might make it worth spending that little bit extra
  3. The good news is that convenience stores and a cheap takeaway are available on the island, so make use of your accommodation’s self-catering facilities to save money on meals rather than eating at Kura’s Restaurant every night (although, we do recommend it at least once)
  4. Most guided tours cost around NZ$50 each, some with heaps included, like a tour to multiple attractions/cultural demonstrations plus a full meal, while others are just a tour to a cave – choose the most inclusive tours for the best value! We compare them in the 5 Best Tours in Atiu. Of course, mix tours with spending time scouting out the free things to do on Aitu!
  5. There are no ATMs on Atiu, so bring enough cash. Otherwise, it’s a 5% fee to withdraw with credit cards from Atiu Villas.

For more budget tips that will help you across the Cook Islands, check out the 20 Tips to Save Money in the Cook Islands, as well as How Much Does a Trip to the Cook Islands Cost?.

The Complete Travel Guide to Atiu on a Budget©

How to Get to Atiu

Atiu lies in the Southern Group of the Cook Islands, some 214km (133 miles) northeast of Rarotonga and the Cook Islands’ international airport. The only real way to get to Atiu is via domestic flight from Rarotonga and Aitutaki.

Regular flights are available between Rarotonga and Atiu on Monday, Wednesday and Friday (and Saturdays in the high season). Flights take approximately 45 minutes. Alternatively, there are flights from Aitutaki on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Air Rarotonga also offers Aitutaki and Atiu package deals. Find out more about all of the above in Domestic Flights in the Cook Islands: Your Guide to Interisland Flights. Although we can’t give you many tips to save money on your flight to Atiu, note that it is slightly cheaper to fly from Aitutaki than from Rarotonga.

While there are cargo ships that offer cheaper passage to Atiu, no one in the Cook Islands would recommend them due to their unreliability and the near impossibility of making travel plans around their non-existent schedule… See the Cook Islands Cargo Ship Guide for more information on the subject.

How to Get Around Atiu

With a 19km (12-mile) coastal road and inland roads crossing the island, Atiu is easy to navigate by car, scooter and even bicycle. There are a couple of rental options on the island, as well as accommodations and tour operators who offer transfers. Find out more about transport in our Atiu Transport Guide: 7 Ways to Get to (& Around) Atiu.

The Complete Travel Guide to Atiu on a Budget© Daniel Fisher - Cook Islands Tourism

Free Activities on Atiu

The joys of Atiu are simply exploring! Take the coastal road and see where all of the sea tracks take you. Atiu is packed with gorgeous and blissfully secluded beaches, historical “marae” (Maori meeting grounds) and natural wonders such as sinkholes and caves. The attractions that you can visit without a guide, and therefore for free, are as follows…

The Best Places to Swim

A short walk from the roadside at the northwest end of Atiu, Konakonako Landing is a small pool that, when the tide is low, becomes your own private infinity pool!

When the barges aren’t going in and out to unload supplies from the infrequent cargo ships, the 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.

Finally, Taungaroro and Tumai Beaches, only approximately 400m (437 yards) apart, are Atiu’s most popular beaches. Go at high tide for swimming or visit anytime to just enjoy the serenity of these blissful beaches.

Free Historical Sites

While some ancient marae are only accessible with a guide, Marae Vairakai is at the end of a short walking trail north of Kopeka Lodge. Here, you’ll find around 47 deliberately placed slabs surrounding the area, some of which have mysterious projections cut into the rock.

For a dab of colonial history, stop by Orovaru Beach, which was the landing site of British explorer, Captain James Cook, on April 3 1777. It’s also a scenic spot to bring a picnic.

Free Natural Attractions

At low tide, experience the crystal clear waters and Atiu from an interesting perspective on a reef walk to The Three GrottosOneroa 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!

At low tide (again), 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“.

Sunday Church

On a Sunday, don’t miss the free cultural experience of an Atiuan church service. The Zione CICC Church, the largest 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 a 9am service. Discover more churches worth visiting in the 10 Best Churches in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands to Experience as a Visitor.

The Complete Travel Guide to Atiu on a Budget© Daniel Fisher - Cook Islands Tourism

Cheap Activities on Atiu

Atiu certainly doesn’t have that sense of exploiting tourists with most tours on the island being around a very reasonable NZ$50 per person. Joining one of the foodie experiences, like a tumunu bush beer session or a coffee tour, won’t set you far back either!

Guided Eco Tours

One of the best-value guided tours on Atiu is with Birdman George. Walk historic trails, visit historically significant sites and immerse yourself in the ecology of Atiu and its magnificent birdlife. George will point out kakerori and colourful kura that he looks after in this island sanctuary. You’ll also learn about the local flora and fauna and the medicinal uses of Atiuan plants. The tour concludes at a picturesque beach where George will serve either an umu on a Sunday or a tropical spread on other days. The tour lasts approximately four to five hours and costs approximately NZ$50-$60 each.

Coffee and Tumunu Tours

A true cultural experience that unofficially welcomes you into the Atiu club, tumunu are shabby little 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 served home-brewed orange or banana beer (or “bush beer”), and some sessions are even accompanied by music played by a local string band. Be warned, the tumunu bush beer is strong stuff! Have around NZ$20 each to give to your guide or to contribute to the brew if you visit independently. Tumunu are listed in The Food Guide to Atiu: Places to Eat & Food Tours.

Who would have thought that this tiny South Pacific island was the best place to go for a cuppa! Join Mata Arai from Atiu Island Coffee whose delightful coffee tour allows you to learn about the coffee bean growing process. The tour also includes a taste of the good stuff along with yummy pikelets and coconut cream! Note that a minimum of two people are needed for the tour to go ahead and the tour is approximately NZ$25-$35 per person.

Cave Tours

There are a number of interesting caves across Atiu, from Anatakitaki with its rare indigenous kopeka to the skeletal remains in the Rima Rau Cave. Due to most caves being on private land and are difficult to find without local knowledge, they are only really accessible through guided tours. It is typically NZ$50 each for cave tours, which can be organised through your accommodation provider or the Atiu Tourist Information Centre (Main Road, Teenui – between Vodafone and the BCI Bank). Learn more about the caves of the island in the 7 Best Caves on Atiu.

Tennis at Atiu Villas

The only grass tennis courts in the Southern Cook Islands, the tennis court at Atiu Villas is an excellent place to get competitive with your travel companions. Hiring some rackets from the accommodation won’t set you back too much.

More Cheap Things to Do on Atiu

As we’ve said, most of the things to do on Atiu are relatively cheap! Check out our 20 Best Things to Do on Atiu for more affordable ideas, including the occasional island nights at Kura’s Restaurant, cultural tours with Punarea Culture Tours and more.

The Complete Travel Guide to Atiu on a Budget© David Kirkland - Cook Islands Tourism

Budget Dining on Atiu

Eating on Atiu won’t send you too far over budget with self-catering being the way that visitors deal with most meals. Combine that with the fact that many tours have food included and there is a cheap takeaway on the island, and you’re laughing! The island’s one evening restaurant, Kura’s Restaurant at Atiu Villas does either set two-course meals or a buffet for around NZ$30-$40, which is well worth going to at least once – just let them know you’re coming so they can accommodate.

Cheap Takeaways

One of the cheapest options when it comes to meals on Atiu is the island takeaway, convenience store, fuel station and vehicle rental all wrapped in one, Super Brown. They serve up takeaway burgers, toasted sandwiches and fish & chips for an affordable price. Opening hours are from Monday to Saturday, 6am to 10pm.

Self-Catering on Atiu

Making your own meals on Atiu is easy thanks to all of the island’s accommodations having self-catering facilities. There are three convenience stores selling a range of tinned goods and staple foods, as well as seasonal produce from the local plantations. Due to late shipments to the island, there’s not always the variety of foods that you might expect, so it’s best to approach grocery shopping with an open mind.

Those staying at Atiu Villas will find their cupboards and fridge already stocked with a variety of foods that you’d usually find at convenience stores – they are of a similar price too. All you need to do is fill out the stock list of what you’ve used, which also displays prices.

Find out more about stores and services on Atiu in our guide, Information, Shops & Services on Atiu, as well as a guide to self-catering in A Guide to Supermarkets & Food Shopping in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands.

More About Atiu on a Budget

Now that you know how to visit Atiu on a budget, you can find anything you might have missed in the following guides:

Finally, don’t forget to open The Complete Backpacking Guide to the Cook Islands on a Budget and Cook Islands Travel Budget: How Much Does a Trip to the Cook Islands Cost? to plan more of your trip later.

About the Author

Robin C.

This article was reviewed and published by Robin, the co-founder of Cook Islands Pocket Guide. He has lived, worked and travelled across 16 different countries before settling in the South Pacific, so he knows a thing or two about planning the perfect trip in this corner of the world. Robin works and consults regularly with Cook Islands Tourism Corporation, a local government body representing the tourism industry. Robin is also the co-founder of several other South Pacific travel guides and is a regular host of webinars with the South Pacific Tourism Organisation.

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