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Cook Islands Travel Guide

Aerial View of Atiu
Aerial view of the villages
in the center of Atiu Island.

Introduction to Atiu

The original name of Atiu, third largest of the Cook Islands, was Enuamanu, meaning "land of birds." These days native birds are found mostly around the coast as the interior has been taken over by an influx of mynahs. In 2001, 10 endangered Rarotonga flycatchers (kakerori) were introduced on Atiu in an effort to save the birds from extinction.

Unlike neighboring Mauke and Mitiaro, which are flat, Atiu has a high central plateau (71 meters) surrounded by low swamps and an old raised coral reef known as a makatea. This is 20 meters high and covered with dense tropical jungle.

The red soil on Atiu's central plateau is formed from volcanic basalt rock and it's rather poor. The slopes up to the central plateau have been reforested to check erosion. Taro is the main crop and taro patches occupy the swamps along the inner edge of the makatea. Arabica coffee is grown, processed, roasted, packaged, and marketed as "Kaope Atiu."

Once fierce warriors who made cannibal raids on Mauke and Mitiaro, the islanders became Christians after missionary John Williams converted high chief Rongomatane in 1823.

Today the 650 Atiuans live peacefully in five villages on the high central plain. The villages radiate from an administrative center where the main churches, hospital, PWD workshops, stores, and government offices are all found. Only 11 people on Atiu have full-time jobs, and 1996-2001 a third of the island's people left for New Zealand. Pigs outnumber people four to one.