Cook Islands beyond Rarotonga: The 14 islands where you can truly escape

Craig Tansley
Photography By
Cook Islands Tourism Corporation

The modern world might've come to Atiu; but most days the bush telegraph still works better than the Wi-Fi.

When the signal's on the blink in town – or what constitutes town on a speck of fossilised coral this deep in the South Pacific – I ride my scooter along "the highway" (locals call it so, because it's the only real strip of bitumen on the island). I turn off and drive up a dirt track to the communications antenna, beside the paw-paw patch. Then I poke my iPhone high into the sky, angling it in every conceivable position to catch signals that usually aren't there. The Wi-Fi's not much chop, but I bet the bush telegraph's working fine: the whole island must know about the idiot tourist standing on his tippy-toes, desperate for his daily dose of Facebook.

Other than Wi-Fi, there's not much on Atiu that reminds me of 2019. When I drive all the way round its dirt coast road – dodging coconuts and coconut crab holes, and never once managing to shift out of second gear – I don't pass another vehicle. The only rush hour worth avoiding on Atiu is the queue for fresh-cooked donuts each morning at 6.30 outside the island's only bakery. The owner of the villas I'm staying at (they're the only villas on Atiu) tells me if I see another scooter parked by a beach, to move on to the next (there's 26 of them): "No one likes a crowd on Atiu," he says. But I never do.

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