Atiu is a small island with big surprises. Also known as Enuamanu (land of the birds), Atiu is only 187 kms from the main island of the Cook Islands, Rarotonga. With a population counted in the hundreds, the island is divided into five villages located around a central plateau.
Surrounding the plateau is a ring of taro water gardens and then the jungle-clad makatea (fossil coral reef). Below the cliffs of makatea and caves are many secluded, yet accessible, beaches.
Outside the plateau are nature walks through the jungle, whose main occupants are birds. Atiu is currently part in a recovery program for the Rarotongan bird, the Kakerori, and for the endangered Rimatara lorikeet called the Kura. Atiu is also home to an indigenous bird, the Kopeka, a cave dweller.
At the edge of the plateau stands Atiu Villas. Built and owned by Kura and Roger Malcolm, Atiu Villas was there at the beginning of tourism in Atiu. It all started in 1978 when the airport opened. Amongst the first passengers were The Malcolms.
Roger said that was the first time it was possible to plan a visit to Atiu, the birth island of his wife Kura. Roger, a Doctor of Physics, had met his wife Kura on Rarotonga when he was researching upper atmospheric airglow for his PhD thesis.
“Atiu was completely undeveloped then.”
In 1979, Roger gave up his public service job in Wellington, and The Malcolms sold up and moved to Atiu, taking with them a sawmill. They set about building Atiu Villas and a home on an old pineapple field.
“All made of local wood. The villas features the timber grains of the mango, pacific mahogany, coconut, Christmas nut, java plum, cedar, acacia and many other trees,” said Roger.
The plan was to build six villas, an entertainment area and a home, in five years. Now 35 years on, the villas are in good shape, but The Malcolms still haven't finished their home!
“Atiu is a destination for that unique 1% of travelers who do not want to go where many others have been before them…are curious…and are interested in experiencing local culture and seeing an island that has not moved too far into the modern world. Atiu has friendly people, pristine jungle and beaches, untouched caves, birds and a system of sharing which you can now enjoy from the comfort of Atiu Villas,” said Roger.
“Atiu Villas is conscious that visitors to Atiu enjoy all the island’s tourism assets and having open access to roaming, all for free. Sharing is an important part of our Polynesian culture. We are keeping this sharing culture intact by paying to the people of Atiu $5.00 per visitor per day that stays at Atiu Villas, in return for continuing to allow our guests unrestricted access across all the land, beaches, lakes, caves and the reefs of Atiu.
“The most popular activity for the fit and able is a visit to the Kopeka bird cave and underground candlelit swimming cave that finishes off with a visit to a Tumunu. Another popular excursion that doesn’t require fitness is with Birdman George on his jungle tour of the leeward side of the island, the lake, the flora and the birds. He ends his tour with a picnic on a beach. On Sunday, he provides a restaurant on the beach with local food cooked in his earth oven. You can also see the island on your own with a rental scooter bicycle or car.
“Visitors should stay three nights or more. There is certainly plenty to do!”
For more information visit the Atiu Villas website