How to Plan the Best Trip to Atiu
Serene and secluded in the south Pacific Ocean, a diverse atoll of rugged coral uplift, swampland, lush rainforest and 26 deserted beaches await. This is Atiu, the Cook Islands‘ third-most visited island, yet only 1% of the country’s visitors ever make it here per year. In this complete travel guide to Atiu, we’ll show you how you can be one of the few that experience this piece of paradise.
Nature is the main drawcard of the island, harbouring exceptionally rare birds, some of which live in caves and behave like bats! Speaking of caves, there are many to explore throughout the island’s most striking natural feature, what the locals call “makatea”, characterised by its jagged limestone and ancient coral. While some caves provide amazing swimming spots in their refreshing pools, others hold preserved skeletal remains of the island’s fierce warrior tribes. Needless to say, Atiu has a colourful history and landscape, but you’ll find ways to colour your palate too with coffee plantations and traditional “bush beer” bars inviting you to try the tastes of Atiu. Sounds like an adventure not to be missed, right?
Frequently Asked Questions About Atiu
We’re here to plan the best trip ever, so we won’t waste any time in this Atiu travel guide giving you the questions that most travellers have about visiting.
Where is Atiu Island?
Atiu is located in the Southern Group of the Cook Islands in the South Pacific. Atiu sits 214km (133 miles) northeast of the main island, Rarotonga. Learn more about the location of the Cook Islands in our complete guide, Where are the Cook Islands Located?
How Do I Get to Atiu?
Atiu is only accessible by plane from Rarotonga or Aitutaki in the Cook Islands. Infrequent and unreliable cargo boats also visit Atiu, but it’s not recommended to plan your travels around their erratic schedule. Find out more about getting to Atiu using Atiu Transport Guide: 7 Ways to Get to (& Around) Atiu.
What is Atiu Known For?
Atiu’s traditional name, “Enuamanu” means “Land of Birds” and the island is still known for harbouring a variety of tropical birds and seabirds to this day. The island was used as a sanctuary to save the endangered kakerori and its caves are a habitat for the kopeka – a bird that uses sonar to fly in the dark. Historically, Atiu was known for being home to some of the fiercest warriors in the Cook Islands, regularly invading other islands in the Cooks.
How Many People Live on Aitu?
Around 400 people live on Atiu, particularly in the five merging villages at the island’s flat-topped central plateau. The villages are in clockwise order, Mapumai, Tengatangi, Areora, Ngatiarua and Teenui.
How Do You Say “Thank You” in Atiu?
Thank you in Atiu is “meitaki”. Learn more words in Cook Islands Maori, the language of the Cook Islands and Atiu, in the 15 Words You Need to Know When Visiting the Cook Islands.
What to Do on Atiu
As an environmentally diverse island with “makatea” forming caves throughout the island, areas of swampland, dense rainforest and a surrounding reef, most of the things to do on Atiu involve exploring its natural wonders. On the other hand, Atiu is a very traditional island too, where gathering around the “tumunu” and sharing an “umu” are cultural experiences any visitor can enjoy.
The Top Experiences on Atiu
What are the must-dos? Here are some of the Atiu highlights:
- Explore Atiu’s secluded beaches
- Trek through the jungle to Anatakitaki Cave (Kopeka Cave)
- Swim in your own aquarium at the Sinkholes (Coral Garden)
- Watch rare birds, identify plants and walk historic trails on Birdman George’s Eco Tour
- Try the local bush beer at a Tumunu
- Do crafts, learn about Atiuan history and feast on an umu with Punarea Culture Tours
- See spooky skeleton remains inside the Rimu Rau Burial Cave
- Taste locally grown coffee…
… And the list continues over in our 20 Best Things to Do on Atiu or check out the 101 Best Things to Do in the Cook Islands: The Ultimate List!
Where to Stay on Atiu
This is the part of our travel guide where we usually class all of the island’s top accommodations by suitability for families, budget, luxury, etc. Awkwardly (or not so awkwardly, depending on how you look at it), Atiu only has a couple of places to stay.
What Atiu lacks in choice of accommodation, however, the accommodations make up for in extra services that you otherwise would not experience in the Cook Islands’ larger islands. That’s why Atiu’s accommodations easily make it into some of The Top 50 Resorts in the Cook Islands and 25 Best Villas in the Cook Islands.
It could be described that Atiu Villas is the closest thing to a “resort” on Atiu, but an ultra-boutique one at that. You have everything you need for an effortless stay on Atiu: a restaurant and bar, self-catering facilities in your villa, a larder in your villa to buy grocery supplies, a tour desk, bicycle, scooter and car hire and even 500Mb free WiFi a day (trust us, that’s generous in the Cook Islands)! There are also excellent corners of the property to unwind island-style, whether it’s the swimming pool or the tennis court – the only grass tennis court in the Southern Cook Islands, might we add?
Atiu Kopeka Lodge
Enjoy a more independent stay at one of the three individual holiday homes at Atiu Kopeka Lodge. Set among a tropical garden lined with natural forest, Kopeka Lodge offers a little more privacy for couples, groups and families. While the plywood lodges are a little basic (you can’t expect luxury on Aitu), they are mostly functional with a full kitchen, lounge, bathroom and bedrooms with a twin or double set-up.
Learn more about Atiu’s accommodations and what makes them great/what to bring to make them better, in Where to Stay on Atiu: The Best Atiu Accommodations.
Where to Eat on Atiu
Atiu certainly isn’t the place for dining in a different restaurant every night. In fact, the island only has two (and a half) restaurants! Dining on Atiu comes more in the form of tours and experiences, such as tropical lunches included in island tours and “umu” being the highlight of cultural experiences. All of your meals in between will have to be sorted by you using your accommodation’s self-catering facilities.
Check out our complete guide, The Food Guide to Atiu: Places to Eat & Food Tours curated especially for foodies.
The Best Cafes and Restaurants on Atiu
- Kura’s Restaurant (Atiu Villas, Areora)
- Super Brown (Areora)
- “Restaurant on the Beach” (Sundays on request with Birdman George)
See the details of our top dining recommendations in The Food Guide to Atiu: Places to Eat & Food Tours.
Things to Do on Atiu for Foodies
- Take a tour of Atiu’s coffee plantation and roastery with Atiu Island Coffee
- See a “Tuki Poi” demonstration and indulge in an umu feast with Punarea Culture Tours
- Join a tumunu bush beer session (see below) or a tumunu tour with Atiu Safari & Fishing Tours
- Fish for dinner on the reef with Andrew Matapakia or near Takutea island with Atiu Safari & Fishing Tours
- Experience an “island night” at Kura’s Restaurant
- Dine at Atiu’s intimate range of eateries…
Learn more about each activity and more in the 6 Best Foodie Experiences on Atiu.
Self-Catering on Atiu
Making your own meals on Atiu is absolutely plausible with all of the island’s accommodations having self-catering facilities. There are three convenience stores on the island selling a range of tinned goods and staple foods (basically, anything that is easy to keep), 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. Note that all shops close on a Sunday.
See a full list of grocery stores, as well as other useful services such as banks and WiFi hotspots in our guide, Information, Shops & Services on Atiu.
Those staying at Atiu Villas will find their cupboards and fridge already stocked with a variety of foods that you’ll 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.
Prices are similar to supermarkets in New Zealand but more expensive than what you might experience in Australia and the US. See typical grocery prices in The Cost of Food in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands, as well as more advice for self-catering in A Guide to Supermarkets & Food Shopping in the Cook Islands.
Budget Holidays on Atiu
Aside from the extra flight to get here, staying on Atiu is a pretty reasonable venture for budget travellers. Most tours are generously in the NZ$50 per person-realm (considering many include food and transfers), while all the rest of the attractions on Atiu are 100% free to visit. There’s nothing in the way of “backpacker” accommodation, however, so be prepared to fork out NZ$145-$250 per night depending on what season you travel.
Get more money-saving tips and advice for planning an affordable Atiu getaway in The Complete Travel Guide to Atiu on a Budget.
Things to Do on Atiu on a Budget
- Swim in a natural infinity pool at Konakonako Landing
- Or swim at the local’s swimming pool, Taunganui Harbour
- See Captain Cook’s landing site at Orovaru Beach
- See the historical Marae Vairakai
- Stand in the Centre of Atiu!
Find out more about each activity in the 10 Free Things to Do on Atiu.
Cheap Accommodation on Atiu
There are only two accommodations on Atiu, Atiu Kopeka Lodge offering (marginally) the cheapest accommodation, while Atiu Villas provides the best value for money. Accommodation ranges from NZ$145 to $250 per night. It pays to be flexible with your booking dates, as you’ll find cheaper rates in the low season. Find out more about what these stays entail in Where to Stay on Atiu: The Best Atiu Accommodations.
Family Holidays on Atiu
Atiu provides an awesome family holiday for tribes who much prefer to experience a place together than sit in a resort all week. Many of the attractions here, such as caves and beaches, are down trails over jagged “makatea”, so Atiu is better suited to adventurous families with active children, rather than toddlers and babies which can be a little trickier. Either way, Atiu is an idyllic lesson in the ways of the natural world, which you can find out more about in The Complete Travel Guide to Atiu for Families.
Family Activities on Atiu
- See fascinating birds and find funny plants on Birdman George’s Eco Tour
- Trek to three amazing caves on the Anatakitaki Caves tour
- Look for shells at Atiu’s beaches
- Enjoy a culture tour with an umu with Punarea Culture Tours
- Relax by the pool at Atiu Villas.
Learn more about each experience and more in our 5 Things to Do on Atiu with Kids.
Family Accommodation on Atiu
With no age restrictions and enough room for families to stay together, all of Atiu’s accommodations are family-friendly. If you want more facilities, like a pool, restaurant, tennis courts, etc. go for Atiu Villas. For a more independent and slightly more affordable stay, go for Kopeka Lodge. Find out more about these stays in the Where to Stay on Atiu: The Best Atiu Accommodations.
Honeymoons and Romantic Getaways to Atiu
With deserted white coral beaches sloping into crystal clear pools on the reef, Atiu is certainly a romantic backdrop for a honeymoon or couples’ getaway. If you’re seeking somewhere a little more adventurous than the holiday hotspots of Raro and Aitutaki, where intimate experiences are easy to find and tiki touring the island rarely reveals another soul on the roads, then Atiu is paradise. Intrigued? Plan the perfect romantic retreat using The Honeymoon & Romantic Getaway Guide to Atiu.
Romantic Activities on Atiu
- Have beaches all to yourselves
- Explore the beautiful limestone Anatakitaki Cave
- Take a road trip around the island by car, scooter or bike
- See the “love birds” on Birdman George’s Eco Tour
- Taste fresh coffee made with a not-so-secret island ingredient with Atiu Island Coffee.
Get more information and ideas in the 7 Most Romantic Things to Do on Atiu.
Romantic Accommodation on Atiu
Either one of Atiu’s accommodations is suitable for couples looking for a tranquil stay in paradise. In terms of what is the most “romantic”, Atiu Villas has an edge with their A-frame chalets with a deck surrounded by tropical flower gardens. On the other hand, we find Kopeka Lodge to often be a lot more quiet.
Luxury Holidays on Atiu
You won’t find much luxury on the island of Atiu. Accommodation is two to three stars at best and you largely need to rely on yourself for dining.
Atiu’s “luxury” comes in the form of its serenity. The island is much less travelled than the other Cook Islands; only 1% of the total tourists visiting the country make it to Atiu. With that, the attractions you visit and beaches to explore are often 100% all for you.
Atiu also offers a small but decent range of comprehensive guided tours in small groups or, sometimes, all to yourself. With food often included and lots of attention to detail, you often feel like part of the family by the time the experience is over. See the tours we’re talking about in the 5 Best Tours on Atiu.
But if you’re looking for five-star resorts, taxi services on a dime and fine dining restaurants, then you better stay in Rarotonga.
Adults-Only Holidays on Atiu
As you might have already guessed, Atiu is not an island of adults-only accommodations. The accommodations here welcome travellers of all ages, so there’s no guarantee that you’ll have a child-free stay while on Atiu. Saying that, each of Atiu’s accommodations only has a handful of lodges/villas, housing only around a total of 30 people at full capacity. Usually, there’s much less than that. Needless to say, overenthusiastic children will be the least of your worries on Atiu.
When it comes to exploring Atiu, touring the island independently is one of the joys of the island with deserted beaches, sinkholes and reef walks to be found. Atiu even has a bar scene, the local “tumunu”, which are bush beer huts serving up potent orange brew.
Make your getaway to Atiu your own, adults-only or not so, using the 20 Best Things to Do on Atiu along with any one of the guides linked above.
More About Atiu
That’s it for the complete travel guide to Atiu but by no means the end of our Atiu advice! Check out the following guides for more Atiu goodness:
- Atiu Transport Guide: 7 Ways to Get to (& Around) Atiu
- Information, Shops & Services on Atiu
- 5 Best Caves on Atiu
- 7 Best Beaches on Atiu
- 5 Best Tours on Atiu
Finally, for even more tips, check out The Best Cook Islands Travel Guide and 30 Tips for Travelling in the Cook Islands.