A map of Atiu. Source: Cook Islands Sun.
A map of Atiu. Source: Cook Islands Sun.


Atiu is 187km northeast of the Cook Islands capital of Rarotonga, in the southern archipelago.

Atiu is a volcanic island surrounded by barrier reef with 6m high fossilized coral cliffs called makatea.

A small uninhabited island of Takutea, a bird sanctuary, is part of Atiu.

Atiu’s area is about half that of Rarotonga. It has a swamp, marshes and a lake, Te Roto.

The fertile area is used to grow bananas, citrus fruits, pawpaws, breadfruit and coconuts.

The Atiuans were warriors and before missionaries arrived, warring with neighbors on Mauke and Mitiaro, killing and eating them.

The first recorded European to arrive at Atiu was Captain Cook. He sighted the island on March 31, 1777 and made contact with the people.

Like most islands in the southern group, Atiu has only a small lagoon.

It has beautiful sandy beaches.

The makatea islands of the southern group have caves in the fossilised coral cliffs, with stalactites and stalagmites.

The Anatakitaki Cave is inhabited by the Atiu swiftlet (Aerodramus sawtelli) which navigates in the dark using sonar.

Men can enjoy the tumunu or bush beer party, banned since the missionaries arrived, but still going strong. It is a hangover from historic kava ceremonies.

The men carved themselves a barrel from the trunk of the coconut tree and brewed the concoction in there.

Visitors are very welcome if they leave a small donation. Participants sit around the barman in the centre who serves everyone from a coconut shell – going around the full circle. One may drink or wave away the drink.

There is a table with sliced up fruit and one may help oneself. There are generally instruments strumming and everyone joins in the singing.

It is estimated that the first people arrived on the island in the early part of the 14th century.

A wharf was built in 1974 that allows ships to dock in most conditions.

In 1970 an airport was built on the plateau close to the villages. The runway however was too short. About 1984 the building of the airport near the beach was undertaken.

The airfield is served by aircraft from Aitutaki and Rarotongo, operated by Air Raro using Embraer EMB 110 Bandeirante aircraft.

Flights are 45 minutes.

In 2015, the Chinese gave the island several large machines to enable the locals to tar seal the runway.

Taro is the staple food of Atiuans. The Atiu taro is sought after by the people in Rarotonga, Aitutaki and New Zealand.

Atiu has a long history of growing coffee.

There are five villages in Atiu – visitors may not distinguish one from the other – and each village has a meeting house which is very important to them.

Most settlements are on the central hill.

The population of Atiu is about 600.

Because the island is free of black rats, it was chosen as a site for reintroduction of the endangered Kuhl’s lorikeet in 2007.

Check out the island’s accommodation at