Atiu is known for its numerous limestone caves, but this one is probably unique in the world. We expected to walk, crawl through a series of caves until we would eventually see the famous Kopeka birds. Well, we were in for a big surprise!
The caves can only be accessed by crossing into the Makatea: jagged, fossilized corals covered with primary rainforest, a biosphere only found in Atiu and two neighboring islands. This 30 minute walk leading to the cave is an adventure in itself. It passes through dense rainforest intercepted with palm trees of all kinds. While marveling at the spectacular scenery, you have to watch your step, since there is no trail and the ground is made of completely irregular rock formations that can be razor sharp. There, you do not want to slip and fall down! We forgot to apply repellent so the mosquitoes had a feast while we stumbled through this undergrowth of the Makatea…
The entrance of the cave is in a deep pit, so we had to climb down a wobbly ladder and then dove into a small opening. What a surprise that after a few minutes we entered a big opening with lots of stalactites, a kind of dome that opened on one side into the tropical rain forest with the sun sneaking through the thick foliage. The view left us speechless!
As we continued our trek, we slipped through tunnels and passed into two more stunning openings also with the jungle as a dramatic backdrop. At the last one, we settled down and listened to the romantic legend behind the caves.
We then crawled deep into a cavern, the nesting place of the Kopeka bird, a small black and grey bird that makes clicking noises as part of its navigation in the dark. This cave and another one on the island are the only place in the world where these tiny creatures can be found. They never land outside the cave and only venture out to hunt insects before returning to their shelter.
The reward for this difficult walk is a dip in a chilly pool deep down in a cavern. However, when we saw the steep and slippery descent, we decided against the pleasure of cooling off.