The coastal road up the west shore of the island runs through a beautiful shady forest. A few really huge puka trees sport low bird's-nest ferns to create a dense green cover. These leaves are used to wrap fish for cooking in the umu. Taungaroro is the nicest beach on Atiu, and one of the finest in the Cooks, with white sands descending far into the quiet blue-green lagoon, protected from ocean breakers by the surrounding reef. The cliffs of the makatea frame this scenic masterpiece.
Orovaru Beach, where Captain Cook arrived on April 3, 1777, is easily identified by a large coral rock that sits 15 meters out in the lagoon.
On the island side of the road opposite Orovaru is a stone trail once used by Cook's crew to reach the main settlement of that time around Orongo Marae, the most important marae on Atiu. Once you're on the trail it's fairly easy to follow, bending right toward the end and terminating at a pig farm on an interior road. This interesting hike offers a chance to view the vegetation on the makatea up close.
Beyond the pigs, turn right and go about 100 meters south on the road to a track on the right toward a huge Barringtonia or utu tree. Orongo Marae is just behind the tree—one of the best-preserved archaeological sites in the Cook Islands. Cut coral slabs and giant stalagmites form the walls of several rectangular structures here.
Farther north is Taunganui Harbor with a striking zigzag configuration, constructed in 1975. Barges can dock here in all weather but large ships must stand offshore. The swimming and snorkeling in the deep, clear harbor water is good, and if you're here at 1500 you may be able to buy fresh fish from returning fishermen. Below the cliffs just south of the harbor is the wreckage of the SV Edna, a two-masted Dutch sailing vessel built in 1916. One stormy night in 1990 this magnificent metal vessel was wrecked here while carrying cargo to the island from Rarotonga. Fortunately no lives were lost.
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