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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