Small island, big surprises. Atiu, also known as Enuamanu (meaning 'land of the birds'), is 187 km from Rarotonga. Atiu is a volcanic island surrounded by a reef with high cliffs made of fossilised coral (makatea). The population is around 500 residents.
Atiu is a peaceful island community with unusual geology and a small township of brightly-coloured houses. Underground is a labyrinth of limestone caves, above ground parts of the island are formed from ancient coral reef covered with dense tropical rainforest.
There are organised tours of the caves, the coffee production, historical and cultural sites, and the birdlife. The varied range of accommodation on Atiu all offer local hospitality and charm. Operators are welcoming and they will recommend and organise tours.
Atiu's extensive cave systems are a rewarding experience with guided tours to two of the main caves: the Anatakitaki Cave and the Rimarau Burial Cave. Deep within Anatakitaki Cave are the nests of the kopeka bird, which is unique to Atiu. This swift-like bird navigates in the dark using an echo locating series of clicks. Mystery surrounds the origins of the human bones in Rimarau Burial Cave. There are many legends, including one of a famous battle, another of a cannibal feast, and yet another of revenge.
Another surprise in Atiu is the quality of art that is created there. The work includes that of internationally-acclaimed fabric artist, Andrea Eimke, painter Jeanne Humphries, and the tivaivai/tivaevae (traditional style of embroidery and applique) hand-sewn by Atiuan woman.
Missionaries established the coffee industry commercially in the early 19th century and the business has endured to this day.
Although Atiu is great for walking, a scooter or bicycle will free you up to explore more of the island. You need to bring cash with you to Atiu. There are no ATMs, so you need cash for everything.
Air Rarotonga flies between Atiu to Aitutaki up to three times per week making it possible to include both islands in your itinerary.
Birdman George, aka George Mateariki, is employed by the Takitumu Conservation Area to look after the thirty Rarotongan Flycatchers (Kakerori) transferred to Atiu from Rarotonga as part of a recovery program.
He offers to show visitors these birds and other birds of Atiu in a three-hour tour. In another tour George presents ancient trails, different types of plants and their uses, the beaches, a picnic and, of course, the birds. This tour lasts between four to five hours and includes a picnic with local food from his family's earth oven.
George worked on the recent successful project to eradicate myna birds from Atiu, which preyed on the young of the other birds.