When I travel, I am often treated to stays at luxurious, over-the-top resorts that I’d never be able to afford on my own. For the most part, I love these resorts; they’re comfortable and lavish, and I feel like a princess when I sleep under sheets with a higher thread count than my SAT score.
Though these accommodations are certainly nice, they tend to push visitors back even further from connecting with the local people. So it’s above and beyond any of these fancy schmancy accommodation experiences—in the most simplistic manner—that I’ve found the most meaningful places to stay. While traveling in the Cook Islands I stayed in one particular accommodation that was as real and authentic as they come: The Atiu Homestay Bed & Breakfast.
My experience began when I was met at the airport by Marshall Humphreys, who picked me up in his pick-up trunk and drove me to the home he shares with his wife, Jéanne. It’s a simple, single family home with four bedrooms, three of which are available to visitors who visit Atiu. Marshall and Jéanne sleep in the fourth one.
The Humphreys have three grown children, and when their kids moved out, Marshall and Jéanne turned the spare rooms into comfortable places for guests to stay, and their home became a bed and breakfast of sorts. Atiu is a small island with 450 residents, and there are only 70 guest beds on the whole island, though they’ve never all been filled at the same time. This means that, when Marshall and Jéanne have guests, they are more than just names on a roster; they are people who eat breakfast with the family and sit out on the porch in the evening, chatting with the Humphreys about the plant life and when the next boat will be delivering supplies from New Zealand.
It’s important to emphasize the homestay component of Marshall and Jéanne’s business rather than the bed & breakfast part. Guests don’t stay in custom-designed rooms with their own fireplaces or verandas, and there are two bathrooms shared by everyone. Though some people, like myself, were just staying for a single night, many guests have stayed with the Humphreys for several months as they’ve conducted research or just stepped away from a faster pace of life. Many of these people choose to self cater their own meals.
I stayed in their daughter’s room on a simple twin bed. There was a bookshelf stacked with Dan Brown books and family photos. The window was open at night, and I woke up briefly for a rain shower, then fell back asleep again before being woken up at dawn by a rooster. I laid in bed that morning, listening to the rooster, feeling the fresh breeze come through the window. I couldn’t hear traffic and honking on a highway. There were no garbage trucks rumbling down the road. Waking up at Atiu Homestay Bed & Breakfast was like waking up in comfort, surrounded by nature.
Over breakfast, Marshall and I sipped coffee harvested on Atiu and ate slices of papaya as we chatted about life in the Cook Islands. Far from the in-room breakfast delivery service of any high-end resorts, I had the chance to ask Marshall about what kinds of amenities aren’t on the island (no dentist) and if there’s anything that surprised him when he moved to the Cooks (everything is basically communal property). He told me about the many tours he runs (I got to visit the Rimarau burial caves with him) and pointed out the artwork that Jéanne creates and sells. Marshall also shared stories of some of his previous guests and told me what he needed to do to prep for a few more people coming in later that week —it was almost unseasonably busy! These are the kinds of conversations that are hard to find in five-star properties.
In a place as far removed as Atiu in the Cook Islands, I was extremely glad I got to stay at the Atiu Homestay Bed & Breakfast. Though guests to the island don’t really have a lot of accommodation options anyway, I would strongly recommend they consider staying at Atiu Homestay Bed & Breakfast. Having the opportunity to stay in someone’s home was, by far, one of the highlights of my trip.
My trip to the Cook Islands was paid for by the Cook Islands Tourism Board, but all opinions are my own.