It’s not until it arrives that I realise it’s been absent. Blissfully. The ambient noise ever present in inner city life momentarily shocks the island’s serenity when three utes start reversing all at once. And then the wind gently carries that raucous intrusion out into the vast Pacific
Ocean and the natural state of calm resumes.
I ’ m visiting the tiny Cook Island of Atiu, pronounced Ah- tee- you, with a bunch of very well travelled professionals from London, Los Angeles, Munich, Sydney and Auckland. Despite, or because of, the lack of urban trappings on this island of just 500 inhabitants, we all just love this haven from the everyday.
Atiu is one of the few places left on our planet that is pretty much the same slice of paradise as it’s always been. ( You can get internet if you really must. But forget the mobile phone.)
Atiu is a little sister to glamorous Aitutaki and lovely Rarotonga. This coral island is not such a looker, but Atiu’s got personality in spades. I’m infatuated from the moment we disembark our 16- seater Air Rarotonga plane into an open air ‘ arrivals lounge’ and the high wattage energy of smiling, excited locals greeting us or seeing off loved ones. And you gotta love the way the Air Raro boys load up the ute to get the bags off and on the plane. Or the sign that respectfully
requests you hand in any AK47s before boarding.
Over the next few days we adventure via majestic beaches, rainforest as tangled as jungle, coral plateaux and limestone caves. Bring sturdy shoes and a reasonable degree of fitness to go coral hopping deep into the lush hinterland and down into the Anatakitaki Cave with Marshall Humphries to find shimmering stalagmites and the teensy Kopeka bird, a clever little swallow unique to Atiu, that navigates into pitch black caverns like a bat.
On another tour, I meet an amazing man named Birdman George, humble, informative without ever being dull and worthy. Passionate about conserving his home, this guy’s expertise in bringing species back from the brink of extinction has been recognised by the World Wide Fund for Nature.
You know what else Atiu’s also got to please a city slicker like me? Acres of high quality Arabica coffee plantations. And an amazingly sophisticated gallery called Atiu Fibre Arts Studio, where world class textile artist Andrea Eimke exhibits her exquisite work ( 35 of Andrea’s pieces featured in Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum’s Love Lace exhibition). We have a coffee tasting here at the end of a connoisseurs tour with Andrea’s husband, Juergen Manske, having learnt why the beans are so good customers have standing orders from as far away as Sacramento, USA.
But don’t expect a café. There is one friendly little western style bar at Aitu Villas. Stay in one of the six villas here and you’ll find coffee in what is hands- down the best stocked ‘ mini bar’ I’ve ever seen, see pic. They also host a wonderful cultural night of Cook Islands song and dance.
I’ve saved my best tip for last. While there’s only one bar in the sense we know it, there are no
less than nine of Atiu’s
legendary tumunu or homebrew clubs that date back to missionary times ( when they banned kava drinking the locals turned to homebrew). This is a must- do Atiu experience that all visitors are encouraged to participate in. It is best to go with a local who can explain the protocol and rituals of this drinking ceremony ( take some cash along to contribute to the brew’s costs too).
The tumunu is the name for both the simple, grass roofed and opensided shack that is the ‘ bar’ and the barrel carved from the trunk of the coconut tree in which the fruit flavoured beers are brewed ( these
days it’s more likely the barrel will be a plastic bucket). You sit down in a circle around the barman seated at the barrel holding a small cup carved a from coconut shell. Everyone drinks from this single cup. The barman dips the cup into the barrel and presents it one by one to those gathered in the circle. Look him in the eye and, if you decide to accept the drink, down it in one gulp. Round and round the cup goes. More convivial and convivial the night gets. Until the barman taps the barrel and signals it’s time for a prayer to close the session and bid goodbye to some very happy campers.