Peter de Graaf finds a prime holiday spot on a quiet Pacific island.
On Atiu Island, a 45-minute flight from Rarotonga in the Cook Islands. The villas are tucked into a tropical garden on the edge of native bush.
Check-in experience: Is there such a thing as a bad welcome in the Cook Islands? Mags, the villas' stand-in receptionist, meets us at the island's airstrip, drapes an 'ei (that's a lei elsewhere in the Pacific) around our necks, and takes us on a 15-minute drive across the island with stops at the New Zealand Army-built harbour and the family taro fields. You can sit in the cab or on a plank in the tray of the ute (more fun but you miss the commentary). The villas' owner, Roger Malcolm, also shows up at the airstrip to greet us and give us an introductory talk on the island's geological weirdness.
The room: I've got villa one, built by Roger in the late 1970s using trees felled and milled on site. It's a mix of native timbers with a shingle roof and coconut palm trunks as pillars.
It has a large room with a double bed, a kitchenette with fridge and gas stove, bathroom, ceiling fan, a bowl of freshly picked tropical fruit, and a sheltered balcony with chairs and a picnic table. There's 24-hour power, which is not to be sniffed at on an island with just 450 residents. Hot water is hit and miss but you barely need it when the weather's this hot and steamy. And if you're looking for the air-con you've accidentally landed on the wrong island. Aitutaki is a 45-minute flight the other way.
The facilities: The pool is a few strides from my villa (useful for cooling off when the beaches are too rough for swimming) as is the island's only restaurant (Kura's Kitchen, where Roger's wife will whip up a two-course meal for $30). The self-service larder is an unusual feature — the cupboards are stocked with all sorts of tinned and packaged foods, Atiuan coffee and New Zealand wine. The idea is that you make your own breakfast and lunch and sort out the bill for what you've used later. This is useful because, apart from Kura's Kitchen, the only eatery on Atiu is Super Brown Burgers in the next village. Roger maintains a few motor scooters and bicycles for exploring the dirt roads that circle the rocky coast. Traffic is almost non-existent; in fact, you'll be lucky to see anyone.
Wi-Fi: A free and rather patchy 75MB a day. But why are you looking at your phone when you're on Atiu?
What's in the neighbourhood: Anatakitaki Cave is a short drive away followed by a half-hour walk through the bush (guide required). Inside, you'll find extraordinary limestone formations, tiny swift-like birds that use echo-location to swoop around in the dark, and an underground pool where you can take a candle-lit dip. Sleepy Areora village is a five-minute walk from the villas; and ask Roger to show you the tumunu, bush bars hidden in the forest where the locals brew their own beer from wild oranges.
Noise: None, other than the fruit doves cooing.
Anyone who wants a holiday on an island where there's rarely more than a dozen tourists at a time (you'll get a certificate if you're the only one on the island). Also good for bird spotters, cavers, and anyone who wants to experience the Pacific minus mass tourism.
Not good for: Anyone who wants to hang out at a beach bar across from a shopping mall sipping pina coladas in air-conditioned comfort. Atiu's not that kind of place.
Feel-good factor: To make sure everyone benefits from tourism, not just those directly employed at the villas, $5 from every guest night goes into a fund that is divided up at the end of the year among the island's inhabitants. Last year that worked out at $29 for every man, woman and child on Atiu.
Would I go back: Absolutely.
The Atiu Villas are on the outskirts of Atiu Island's central villages. Phone: +682 33 777.