Atiu differs from most other South Pacific islands in that the 650 inhabitants live in five villages in the center of the island rather than along the coast. Gardening is only possible in the red volcanic soil of the interior. Surrounding this is an infertile coral ring called the makatea where pigs are kept in pens. Taro is grown in swamps around the inner edge of the makatea where the volcanic soil meets limestone.
Atiu has no lagoon and only a narrow fringing reef. Several small white sand beaches are wonderful to relax upon but swimmers must beware of the strong undertows created when wave water drains off the reef.
There's good hiking along the quiet country roads across the interior and around the coast. The vegetation is lush. Native birds are most easily seen along the coast as the interior has been taken over by mynahs. Takitaki Cave on the makatea hosts several hundred tiny birds called kopekas, a type of swiftlet.
Several archaeological remains are found around Atiu, including Orongo Marae, an old temple at an ancient village site on the makatea. Like the other islands of the Cooks, Atiu was settled by Polynesians over a thousand years ago. Prior to the arrival of Protestant missionaries in 1823, Atiu warriors were feared by inhabitants of neighbouring islands for their cannibal raids.
A handful of small guest houses are among the villages in the center of the island. The owners meet the daily flights from Rarotonga arriving at the coastal airstrip. Only small boats can enter Taunganui Harbor and oceangoing ships must anchor offshore.