The Lost Resort

Posted by Lisa Pagotto

A concrete eyesore, strangled by unforgiving, choking vines and a suffocating cloak of weeds. It's impossible not to see the sad blot as you circle Rarotonga's  ring road. Abandoned except for a few bleating goats and bony cows. Lonely as the ocean breeze whistles through its empty hallways like a mournful song. Graffiti adds bursts of colour to the bleak concrete shell. The dotted palms sway as if encouraging you to explore... to find out the sad secret as to why this desolate resort is left in ruins.

Sheraton Rarotonga
Sheraton Rarotonga

We knew we shouldn't go in, but my fascination for exploring the unknown had got the better of me. We knew it could be dangerous - we didn't know who was in there, (did gangs or homeless islanders inhabit the incomplete resort rooms?) rumours said yes. How sound was the building shell? We had read the grounds were cursed but weren't sure if we believed in that stuff. But if it wasn't cursed, why was this eerie resort left abandoned like this since the 1980's? How come it simply hadn't been knocked down so the land could be re-developed?

Hallways of Sheraton Rarotonga
The eerie hallways of the Sheraton, Rarotonga

Knee height grass scratched at our bare legs as we edged our way from the dusty 'car park' to the right wing of the hotel. The rooms we walked passed had no windows. Exposed to the elements. Bathrooms were tiled but looted. Porcelain basins were taken or smashed if they were unable to be removed, even so much as powerpoint covers had been jimmied off walls. The only remaining items were immovable sunken bath tubs. I stepped cautiously into several ground floor rooms and was surprised. Rooms were bare, yet almost complete, with card swipe locks installed on every door, wires hanging from the ceiling and air con already installed. Yet out of these 200 hundred or so rooms, not one head had rested on a pillow let alone soaked in the oversized tubs. So what happened to this place?

Looted room
Looted room

To the locals, this land is known as Vaimaanga. The land itself is said to be cursed due to a battle of ownership dating back to 1911 with a bitter argument resulting in More Uriatua being shot dead by William John Wigmore. At the project’s official launch, Metua More’s grandson, More Rua turned up dressed as a high priest in warlike regalia, intoning the resurrection of his grandmother’s curse. He ended by slamming his spear into a rock onto which a plaque had just been unveiled by the Prime Minister, marking the beginning of the Sheraton project. When the rock split to ground level, the locals saw it as a sign that the resort was still cursed and doomed.

Whats left of the rooms
What's left of the rooms

When the resort was to commence construction in the 1980's, the Cook Islands Government had signed a deal with an Italian bank after being unable to obtain the required amount of foreign investment to begin development. The Government acted as guarantors for the NZ$52 million loan and agreed to an Italian company’s bid to build Rarotonga’s first luxury 5-star 200-suite hotel and golf course. Sheraton signed up to manage the property and work began on its construction in 1990.

Resort entrance
Abandoned resort entrance

As the money slowly disappeared into a mafia black hole, the project was abandoned when it was 90% complete due to lack of funds. The Hilton did come in for one short moment in time to try and resurrect the property, but that too was over before it began. Since then, there have many proposals from potential investors to resurrect the apocalyptic resort. Some signed off and agreed on but yet, no action has been taken. All potential opportunities seem to just simply fall by the way side.

Million dollar ocean views gone to waste
Million dollar ocean views gone to waste

As we explored this concrete and weed jungle, we become more intrigued. What would have been the hotel reception looms up ahead. Rusted drum barrels are discarded throughout the property, pools of brackish water make the scene even more uninviting. I imagine smiling travellers arriving and being presented with a fresh lei over their heads and a chilled welcome drink in hand. Nope, nothing like this even came close to occurring here. Just a broken hotel and broken dreams for the Cook Islanders who had a glimmer of hope of secure jobs and tourism income to assist in the countries economy.

An unwelcoming reception
An unwelcoming reception

The pool, located in the centre of the resort was completely overgrown. It was a true swamp. The wading pool, hidden beneath a sea of thirsty vines. The small pool house which should have been filled with fresh towels, snorkels and fins stands solemnly, the roof heavy with overpowering branches.

Despite the heat, the pool was far from inviting
Despite the heat, the pool was far from inviting

A rusting shell of an old bus has nestled itself into the overgrown surrounds, adding to the eerie vibe of this resort. As we explored deeper into the resort, we passed skinny cows and nervous goats. Then we heard a hum in the distance. Almost like a chainsaw or was that my imagination? Shouting bellowed over the insistent hum as we saw a large islander on a small bike come racing towards us yelling for us to get out and leave. He was not security, simply an angry local villager who lived over the road in a palm frond beach hut. We respect his words and leave as he circles us still yelling in his booming voice.

The stripped out shell of the rusty bus
The stripped out shell of the rusty bus

Looking for more unique accommodation? Check out the Crooked Compass Travel App.

What the resort should have looked like
What the resort should have looked like