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.

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A map of Mangaia. Source: Cook Island Sun
A map of Mangaia. Source: Cook Island Sun

Mangaia is the most southerly of the Cook Islands, and the second largest, after Rarotonga.

Geologists say the island is 18 million years old, the oldest in the Pacific.

It rises 4750m above the sea floor, with a land area of 52km2.

It has a volcanic plateau and is surrounded by a ring of fossilised coral cliffs around 60m high, called makatea.

The highest point is Rangi-motia, at 169m. The freshwater Lake Tiriara is in the south.

The population of Mangaia is 700 people.

The capital is Oneroa village, on the west coast, with half the population.

There are two more villages, Tamarua in the south and Ivirua in the northeast.

Mangaia is renowned for its shell neckbands or “eis”.

These are made from a tiny yellow snail which emerges only after rain.

The women give these away as prized gifts of friendship to visitors from other islands.

Mangaia is renowned for coconuts, an important crop even today, providing food, coconut milk, and fibre.

Before settlement by missionaries, Mangaia was ruled by warriors who fought over land and crops.

The first recorded European to arrive at Mangaia was Captain James Cook, on March 29, 1777.

Long ago, during a trip to London, Numangatini, or “King” John of Mangaia, received from Queen Victoria a Union Jack flag.

Mangaia is a good destination for those who want to relax and experience slightly cooler temperatures than on the other Cook Islands.

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Rarotonga is the main settlement in the Cook Island group, and a popular holiday destination. Picture: Robert Linsdell/flikr
Rarotonga and its lagoon islands make for a popular holiday destination. Picture: Robert Linsdell/flikr

Rarotonga is the most populous of the Cook Islands, and a popular holiday destination.

It has a large variety of resorts and accommodation, as well as restaurants and local entertainment.

The main town is Avarua, on the north coast, the capital of the Cook Islands.

Rarotonga is a volcanic island that rises 4500m from the sea floor.

The highest peak is Te Manga, at 658m.

The island is 32km around and surrounded by a lagoon, which often extends more than 100m out to the reef, then slopes steeply to deep water, an exciting place for experienced divers.

The reef fronts the shore to the island’s north, but in the south-east the lagoon is at its widest and deepest, ideal for snorkelling and watersports.

Along the south-east coast are four small coral islets within the barrier reef, Motutapu, Oneroa, Koromiri and Taakoka.

Roads allow access to the island interior, which is mostly unpopulated because of the terrain.

Large cruise ships must anchor offshore as the island’s ports are not deep.

Three-quarters of Rarotonga is encircled by an ancient inner road made of stones, Ara Metua.

There is also a short tourist railway, Rarotonga Steam Railway, with a working steam locomotive.

Rarotonga has two bus routes, clockwise and anticlockwise, with pick-up and set-down anywhere en route.

Visitors from Australia, New Zealand, US, Canada, UK and the EU can now drive rentals in the Cook Islands for up to six months using their overseas license. Otherwise, visitors who rent mopeds or cars are required to get a Cook Islands driver licence.

Rarotonga International Airport has Air Rarotonga inter-island flights, with daily flights to Aitutaki, regular flights to Atiu, Mangaia, Mauke and Mitiaro, and occasional flights to the remote northern atolls of Manihiki, Tongareva (Penrhyn) and Pukapuka.

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Aitutaki has been called the world's most beautiful island. Picture: Allie Towers Rice
Aitutaki has been called the world’s most beautiful island. Picture: Allie Towers Rice/flikr


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



Aitutaki has been described as the world’s most beautiful island.

Its remote beauty is such that it has been selected to host Survivor TV programs.

The island is north of the most populated island of the Cook group, Rarotonga.

The main village is Arutanga, on the west side. The overall population is 2000.

Aitutaki has a maximum elevation of 123m, a hill called Maunga Pu.

The land area of the atoll is 18km2.

The barrier reef forms a triangle with sides 12km long, with a lagoon area of more than 55km2.

The southern barrier reef edge is mostly below the sea.

The east side includes a string of small islands, such as Mangere, Akaiami and Tekopua.

The western side of the atoll has a boat passage through the barrier reef, allowing for anchorage close to Arutanga.

The main island and two of Aitutaki’s 15 islets are volcanic. The other islands are made of coral.

Aitutaki Airport is located close to the triangle’s northern point.

There is an area suitable to land flying boats in the southeastern part of the lagoon.

Polynesians first settled Aitutaki around AD900.

The first known European contact was with Captain Bligh and the crew of the HMS Bounty when they also arrived in Aitutaki on April 11, 1789, prior to the infamous mutiny.

Aitutaki was the first of the Cook Islands to accept Christianity, after a missionary visited in 1821.

In 1942 Allied forces were stationed on the island, building the airstrip seen today.

When the war ended some servicemen stayed and married locals.

Two of Aitutaki’s motus (small islands), Rapota and Moturakau, were the locations of the first series of the UK reality television program Shipwrecked in 2000.

In 2006, the island was used for the US TV program Survivor: Cook Islands. Surrounding islands were used for tribal camps and crew locations. One of the tribes was named Aitutaki (or ‘Aitu’) after the island.

Then, not long afterwards, Shipwrecked returned again, with Shipwrecked: Battle of the Islands 2006.

Aitutaki is famous for its turquoise central lagoon, uninhabited islands and palm-fringed beaches.

It has the only over-water bungalow accommodation in the Cook Islands.

Tapuaetai (One Foot Island), a small islet in the south-east of the lagoon, is often said to be the most important attraction. It is regarded as providing the visitor with the best views of the Aitutaki lagoon.

The trip to this island is the most frequented trip available on Aitutaki.

Air Rarotonga offers daily flights and a day tour from Rarotonga.

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Tubuai is located south of Tahiti, offering a cooler climate for holidaymakers.

The Tubuai group includes Rimatara, Rurutu, Raivavae and Îles Maria, part of the Austral Islands in far southwest French Polynesia.

The Austral islands are a great art area in the South Pacific.

Artifacts include sharkskin drums, wooden bowls, fly whisks and tapa cloth.

Tubuai has a population 2200 people.

The island is ringed by a lagoon and encircling barrier reef.

A break in the northern reef enables passage for ships.

The barrier reef creates a lagoon of 85sqkm, up to 5km wide.

Because it is shallow it is usually bright turquoise or jade in colour.

Eight offshore islands surround the main island.

Tubuai has two volcanic domes, with Mt Taita’a being highest at 422m.

Seven islets (motus) are located on the reef that encircles the island.

Captain James Cook learned the island’s name when natives surrounded his ship in canoes in 1777.

The next Europeans to arrive were HMS Bounty mutineers, in 1789.

A conflict arose while the mutineers were still on the ship and islanders were killed in their canoes.

The location is now called Bloody Bay.

The climate of Tubuai is cooler than Tahiti, with temperatures averaging 20–25C. The lagoon waters typically reach 26C in summer but only drop a few degrees in winter.

The humidity is lower than Tahiti, which appeals to some prospective visitors.

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Taha’a and neighboring Raiatea are enclosed by the same coral reef in the Leeward Islands, part of the Society Islands in French Polynesia.

The two main resorts of Taha’a are both on their own islands, offering both luxury and affordable holiday accommodation.

Le Taha’a Private Island and Spa is one of the most luxurious resorts in the Tahiti region.

Located just off Taha’a in a lagoon surrounded by white sand, it has spectacular views of both Taha’a and Bora Bora.

In the middle of the lagoon is Vahine Island Private Island Resort, which has gleaming white beaches, three over-water bungalows, and six beach bungalows.

La Pirogue Hotel is on a private island in the north of Taha’a. It has nine bungalows.

Taha’a island itself is scenic, reaching a height of 590m.

It produces up to 80 per cent of French Polynesian vanilla.

It also produces pearls of exceptional quality.

The administrative centre is the settlement of Patio.

Taha’a and its small islets can be reached by boat and outrigger from Raiatea.

These parts of the Society Islands are less modernized, but the resort on Vahine Island is globally regarded as an exclusive getaway.

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Tahaa has a perfect combination of white sand and crystal clear water. Picture: Kat Kellner/flikr
Taha’a’s white sand and clear water. Picture: Kat Kellner/flikr


The spectacular profile of Raiatea. Picture: clr_flkr/flikr
The spectacular profile of Raiatea. Picture: clr_flkr/flikr
Maori dancing at Raiatea. Picture: Alessandro Caproni/flikr
Maori dancing at Raiatea. Picture: Alessandro Caproni/flikr


Ra’iātea is the second largest of the Society Islands, after Tahiti, in French Polynesia.

A traditional name for the island is Havai’i, homeland of the Māori people.

The Māori of Aotearoa regard this place as a sacred marae of their ancestors.

The main township on Ra’iātea is ‘Uturoa, the administrative centre for the Leeward Islands.

There are colleges for students from the regional islands of Bora Bora, Taha’a, Huahine and Maupiti.

The extinct Ulieta bird originated from this island, along with other unknown species, there is only one drawing of it, in the Natural History Museum London.

The islands of Ra’iātea and Taha’a are both enclosed by a single coral reef.

Ra’iātea is the largest and most populated of the Leeward Islands, with a land area of 167km2 and 12,000 inhabitants.

The first European to sight Ra’iātea was Pedro Fernandes de Queirós in 1606.

The Polynesian navigator Tupaia, who sailed with explorer James Cook, was born in Ra’iātea around 1725.

Cook visited Raiatea in 1769 and again in 1773-1774.

King Tamatoa VI was the last monarch, reigning from 1884-1888.

Ra’iātea has a small road that runs around the entire island.

Ra’iātea Airport is an airport in ‘Uturoa.

There is less tourism compared to other islands in the archipelago. There are two marinas, a four-star hotel The Hawaiki Nui, and a port for cruise ships.

The economy is mainly agricultural with exports of vanilla, pineapple and coconut. Fa’aroa Valley cultivates vanilla, and pearl farming is an important industry, while the farming of cattle, sheep and pigs has decreased.

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The pier at Kia Ora Resort on Rangiroa Atoll. Pic: Dany13/flickr
The pier at Kia Ora Resort on Rangiroa Atoll. Pic: Dany13/flickr


Rangiroa is one of the largest atolls in the world.

It is part of the Palliser group, 355km northeast of Tahiti.

Its nearest atoll is Tikehau, 12km to the west.

Rangiroa is home to about 2500 people. The chief town is Avatoru. Only two islands, at the northern end of the atoll, are permanently inhabited.

The atoll consists of 415 small islands and sandbars with a land area of 170 km². The atoll is 80km in length and from 5km to 32 km wide.

There are about 100 hundred passages through the fringing reef.

The lagoon reaches 35m deep and is so large it has its own horizon.

Rangiroa is a major diving destination because of the lagoon’s clear blue water and impressive marine fauna.

During the 1950s, the economy of Rangiroa was driven by fishing and and copra production. The building of Rangiroa Airport in 1965 allowed development of tourism.

Breeding of pearl oysters in the lagoon has produced black pearls.

These pearls vary from white to dark are the only cultured pearls with so many different natural colours.

Pearl farming is done in more than 30 atolls of French Polynesia.

Rangiroa is also known for vineyards, which are unique. The vines grow on the edge of a lagoon beside coconuts, and produce two harvests a year. The winery is in the heart of the village of Avatoru. The first vines were imported in 1992. The vineyard is Domaine Dominique Auroy.

For divers, Rangiroa has some of the best dives in the world in and around the Tiputa Pass, which lies at one end of the one main road and runs 3.5km to the Avatoru Pass.

When the tidal current is flowing inward through Tiputa Pass, about 200 sharks gather at the entrance to the Pass, at 50m deep.

The sharks can remain motionless. Large manta rays, green sea turtles and humphead wrasses can also be seen. In January, large number of stingrays gather in the Tiputa Pass, as well as hammerhead sharks that feed on them.

A notable site in the atoll is the famous Blue Lagoon, which is a smaller lagoon formed on the southwestern edge of Rangiroa. Its shallow waters accentuate the bright blue color of the water. The Pink Sands are sandbars on the southeastern portion of Rangiroa.

There are daily flight connections with Tahiti via Rangiroa Airport, located on Avatoru Island. There is a road circling Avatoru.

Explore Rangiroa and its resorts with the zoomable Google map.

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The bridge connecting the two islands. Pic: Dany13/flickr
The bridge connecting the two islands. Pic: Dany13/flickr


Huahine is twin islands in French Polynesia surrounded by a fringing coral reef and several small islets, or “motu”.

Huahine Nui (Big Huahine) is to the north and Huahine Iti (Little Huahine) to the south, separated by a channel which becomes a sandspit at low tide.

A bridge has been built connecting Huahine Nui and Huahine Iti.

In the northwest of Huahine Nui lies a 375ha brackish lake called Lac Fauna Nui, the remains of an ancient lagoon.

One of the attractions on Huahine is a bridge that crosses a stream where large freshwater eels can be fed.

An archaeological site in the north of the island has revealed remains of birds exterminated by the earliest Polynesian colonists of the island.

Air transport is via Huahine Airport on the north shore of Huahine Nui.

Explore Huahine with the map below, zoom in on the island to find the many resorts.

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Moorea is considered one of the world's most beautiful islands. Pic: Herve
Moorea is one of the world’s most scenic islands. Pic: Herve/flikr


Mountainous Mo’orea is part of the Society Islands in French Polynesia, just 17km northwest of Tahiti.

The island is considered one of the most beautiful in the world.

It has a variety of accommodation, including the over-water bungalows popular with holidaymakers.

But there are other excellent beachside stays. See them here.

Ferries go to Vai’are wharf in Mo’orea daily from the Tahitian capital Pape’ete.

Mo’orea’s Tema’e Airport has regular flights to Pape’ete International Airport and other Society Islands such as Bora Bora. Air Tahiti is the service used locally.

Mo’orea airport is located north of Vai’are Bay.

There is one road around the island marked in kilometres from one to 35. The first marker is near the airport and the 35th one is in Ha’apiti.

The island was formed by a volcano up to 2.5 million years ago, the result of a geologic hotspot that formed the Society Archipelago.

There are two small bays on the north shore, one to the west called ‘Ōpūnohu Bay and one to the east called Cook’s Bay.

Vai’are Bay is a small inlet on the east shore and a busy area, as the main village is near the bay.

The highest point on the island is Mount Tohi’e’a, near the island’s centre. It can be seen from Tahiti.

There are hiking trails in the mountains.

Because of its stunning scenery, Mo’orea is a popular destination for special occasions.

The widely travelled late naturalist Charles Darwin looked at the reef surrounding the island from one of the peaks and described it as a “picture in a frame”.

Visitors who enjoy watersports are well catered for.

Explore Moorea with our Google map, zoom in to find the resorts. Don’t forget to bookmark this page.

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