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.
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?
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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This category of tours involves light trekking, walking, cycling, rafting or kayaking for a few hours each day with a small amount of inclines and declines. You will require a reasonable level of fitness and good health to participate. It is important to note that due to the nature of some of our trips, they may take place in remote areas (with basic facilities) and can involve long travelling days on various modes of transport.
Suggested preparation : At least 3 months prior to departure, it is recommended that you undertake aerobic exercise (this may include jogging, cycling or fast walking) for 30 minutes, three times a week. It is also advised to walk on variable terrain and in variable weather conditions. For a cycling adventure, road cycling twice a week is recommended and for adventures which involve paddling and kayaking, it is important to gain confidence and rhythm rather than speed prior to departure.
This category of tours involve trekking, kayaking and cycling for period of 6 to 8 hours a day at a fairly consistent pace. Ideal for people looking to slightly increase the heart rate. For our moderately rated tours, you must have a good level of fitness and also be in good health. It is also important to be prepared for variable weather conditions. Altitude may also come into play. This category of tours may involve visiting remote areas where facilities can be quite basic. Accommodation may also involve camping, homestays or basic accommodation where facilities may not be considered of western standards. To enjoy this style of travel, it is suggested for travellers to have a reasonable level of fitness and health, a positive attitude, as well as a fairly active lifestyle. An open mind is also required.
Suggested preparation: At least 3 months prior to departure, it is recommended that you undertake 45mins – 1 hour of aerobic exercise, three to four times a week. Some potential exercises that could be beneficial include hill walking with a backpack on over variable terrain and weather conditions, as well as running and cycling dependent on the activity you plan on undertaking.
This category of tours involves trekking, kayaking, cycling or other adventure activities in remote areas for up to 8 to 10 hours a day. It is important to note that with the remoteness of some regions comes a variety of other challenges such as variable weather conditions, accommodation as well as facilities. You must have an excellent level of fitness and good health to be able to partake in this category of tour. You must have confidence in your own ability and be in good physical condition. Includes extended periods of endurance.
Suggested preparation: At least 3 to 4 months of strenuous exercise, four times a week. When preparing for treks it would be beneficial to participate in hill walks with a weighted day pack (approximately 5-8 kg) once a week for aerobic fitness and strengthening of leg muscles. It is also important to do this on variable terrain to prepare for challenging adventures. When preparing for cycling adventures, regular bike riding (at least 4 to 5 times a week for 1-4 hours is essential). It is also important to cycle on uneven surfaces or even participate in other aerobic exercises such as running or swimming to build up strength and stamina. Altitude may also be a factor in these tours.
This category of tour often involves extreme trekking, cycling or other extreme adventure activities. It is important to expect remote and poorly defined tracks and to be prepared for variable weather conditions for 10 to 12 hours per day (may sometimes be more depending on weather and altitude). These adventures are suitable for travellers who have prior experience in strenuous travel and activities, are extremely fit and have excellent health. It is also important to note that some of the terrain on these adventures will involve trekking in snow, at high attitude levels and may require technical equipment.
Suggested preparation: It is important to note that physical fitness should be an ongoing activity, commencing around 5-6 months prior to departure, or even before if you have no prior fitness. Exercise should focus on building maximum endurance and stamina. Four to five hard sessions of 40-60 mins per week should be completed and can include exercises such as going to the gym, running, swimming or cycling to focus on building aerobic stamina. It could also be beneficial to prepare by hiking on rough terrain, in extreme weather conditions or partake in altitude training.