While living in the Cook Islands for a couple of years, we had an excellent opportunity to get to know all the inhabited islands. Atiu, one of the volcanic islands of the southern archipelago, fascinates us with its wild, untouched rocky landscape. And it’s in this landscape that you will find the most stunning things to do on Atiu.
In general, Atiu is an amazing place for activities in its pristine, rugged landscape. Go for a walk on the reef, hike to and explore caves, relax on beaches surrounded by bizarre rocks, have a beer in rustic outdoor huts, enjoy the birdlife and lots of tropical plants, and much more.
Follow our insider tips below to make your stay on Atiu an unforgettable experience.
Let us also take you on a journey around the island in our video about Atiu.
1 Walk on the Reef to the “Three Grottos”
This is one of the greatest things to do on Atiu because you expose yourself to the most pristine nature – and no one is around you.
Atiu is one of the few islands where the reef is very close to the mainland and easy to hike at low tide. And you can experience its beautiful landscape from a different perspective.
If you walk on the reef edge, you will find yourself between bizarre rock walls and the wild Pacific Ocean.
And most of the time, you don’t see what’s behind the next bend, be it a passage to the sea, a hidden beach, or a cave.
That makes it an awesome adventure.
What we like best is a reef hike to the “Three Grottos”. These semi-open caves are located in the Makatea, open to the sea, only about 200 meters apart, and all three have a different shape. You can only reach them from the ocean side over the reef. Even if the Atiuans tell you that you can go to these places through the rainforest – no way because there is no recognizable path 😉
From Oneroa Beach, the hike takes about 30-45 minutes, depending on how well you can walk on rocks in knee-deep waters. And longer if you take breaks at the stunning little beaches along the way.
Once you’ve reached the caverns, take a dip in the crystal-clear pools overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
Are you tempted? Bring snacks and drinks, sunscreen, and non-slip shoes – and off you go. If you take your camera with you, you definitely need a wet bag to protect it from water.
2 Hiking Through Makatea to the Anatakitaki Cave
Hiking to the Anatakitaki Cave is one of those surprise events where the journey almost eclipses the destination.
The hike through the rainforest and over the razor-sharp black Makatea rocks is slow but so impressive. You walk through narrow rock tunnels and over jagged boulders embedded in the jungle’s lush green. It is so quiet and peaceful, and you only hear the sounds of nature – one of the magnificent things to do on Atiu.
What is the Makatea? The Makatea is a rim of fossilized corals that formed over millions of years and surrounds volcanic islands. This type of rock is typical of the southern Cook Islands. Makatea is hard to walk on but looks amazingly bizarr and hosts lots of unexplored caves.
The Anatakitaki Cave itself has three large halls. Each of these chambers with an opening to the lush jungle.
In the darker cave areas, you will find heaps of beautifully shimmering stalagmites and stalactites.
Some stalactites have a shape that only exists on Atiu, with a large ball at the bottom in which water collects. If you stand under it and it bursts, you have a shower for free 😉
There is also a little hidden idyllic lake in the lower cave area where you can take a dip.
Besides, a lightless part of Anatakitaki is home to the endemic Kopeka bird. This bird is unique because it is a swallow but acts like a bat and uses sonar to navigate.
Equip yourself with good walking shoes, snacks, and plenty of water throughout the tour. Bring swimwear in case you want to jump into the underground lake. For the entire hike and exploration of the fantastic Antakitaki Cave, you need half a day – and a guide.
Also, the has some more incredible caves on offer which makes cave exploring one of the superb things to do on Atiu.
- Like Vai Akaruru cave, home to subterranean pools,
- or the Nurau cave, which goes several levels deep in the Makatea and hosts underground lakes.
- And Rima Rau, a grave cave with human remains – which is a bit creepy.
3 Enjoy Secluded Beaches and Lagoon Pools
Like on the entire Cook Islands, beach hopping is also one of the excellent things to do on Atiu. Many of the beaches are nestled amongst the rocky landscape. Sometimes you have to climb or hike a bit to get there. But it’s worth it because they are so idyllic and with no people around.
This is where you will find plenty of privacy and peace. Alone in paradise with stunning white sand beaches and pristine blue lagoon pools to take a dip in the water.
We recommend starting your day at the beaches on the west coast while moving to the east coast later. So, you have sun but also shade. Bring some snacks and cool drinks.
Our favorites are all the nameless beautiful little beaches and bays hidden along the west coast and awesome Oravaru Beach (Captain Cook’s Landing) on Atiu’s eastern side.
4 Relish Pure Nature & Eco-Tour With Birdman George
Of all the Cook Islands, Atiu has the most abundant birdlife and highest number of plant species. The gardens on the island are so colorful, and there are so many fruit trees from which you can pick fruits to eat for free. Like guava, starfruit, and passion fruit.
A particular nature conservation program protects Atiu’s flora and fauna. Famous Birdman George is in charge of it, and you can take an Eco-Tour Go with him as a guide.
George knows his home island inside out, so you can experience a lot. At the end of the excursion, he cooks a traditional delicious Umu (earth oven) dish for his guests on the beach.
5 Have a Beer at a Tumunu
Simply quaint! One of the unique things to do on Atiu.
Tumunus are rustic beer huts where the locals serve home-brewed orange and banana beer.
Typically, Tumunus are located outside of the villages in the countryside, secluded in cozy plantation or forest areas. They consist of a large palm leaf roof and heaps of self-made seating like tree stumps.
Both Atiuans and visitors like to gather there. Most of the time, these beer sessions come with a passionate local music band.
Enjoy a couple of drinks – but watch out because the beer is surprisingly strong.
Where to Get All Detailed Information About Atiu
First, you’ll find more about Atiu, including a great photo gallery on our website.
But then we have tons of additional information for you on the insider tips in this post and each of the following topics in our Travel Guide of the Entire Cook Islands, including all contact details and geocodes of the described locations:
- How to get to Atiu
- Facts and Stats
- Best time to travel
- What to do in case of an emergency
- Tips where to stay, eat and drink
- Tips where to shop
- Everything about the infrastructure
- Points of interest around the island
- Top Tips
Curious to find out more?
The travel guide covers the entire Cook Island, meaning you will get all of the above-detailed information for each of the 12 inhabited islands. So that you can discover and experience even more of this fantastic island nation.
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As well as our particular article about Dengue Fever in the Cook Islands, Facts and 5 Helpful Steps if You Get Sick.