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 Islands Information

Place: Cook Islands - Rarotonga

A Cook Who Knows How To Get Cracking

By Jane Cassie
Photos by Brent Cassie

How many dozen eggs do you think you'd have to sell to build a classy boutique hotel on the silky shores of a Cook Island? Although John Scott may not have the exact answer, he'd be a good one to ask. In 1992, Scott began the quest of constructing his dreamscape retreat, and instead of calling on bankers for backing, he let his chickens do the work. Gradually out of the sale of their well-laid treasures, his paradisiacal sanctuary was erected, and fourteen years later he opened the doors. And all due to poultry productivity!

Muri Beach Club Hotel snuggles up to the stunningly turquoise Muri lagoon, just fifteen minutes east of Avatiu, the central hub on the capital Cook Island of Rarotonga. Instead of expressing the traditional Polynesian flare, this adult-oriented gem, with its virgin white walls and sensuously smooth lines, glitters in contemporary brilliance. Powder sand brushes up to its back door, and just beyond waits the tepid South Pacific.

A profusion of hibiscus bloom under the shade of coconut palms and border the narrow roadway leading to this sanctuary. Once beyond the threshold, they're replaced by the glistening marble floors and a chic, yet discreet, reception area, where friendly staff welcomes us on arrival. Here, vibrant paintings depicting the tropics contrast vividly to the stark décor and just beyond, the secluded courtyard pool shimmers with allure.

Dhiru, a stocky fellow with a winning smile (and lots of muscle power) takes control of our luggage and whisks it quickly off to our room. More grins come from Uta, another employee who makes sure everything is running smoothly after we settle in. Although unpretentious, the service is impeccable, right from the get go. In other words, it's typical Cook Island hospitality.

Thirty one superbly appointed rooms also pay homage to the minimalist décor, where maple-style furnishings, chrome, and polished silver fuse in the glow of light-drenched trawled walls. Some are cocooned beneath wavering palms and lush flourishing gardens, a few have a bird's eye view of the glistening pool, and others, like ours, overlook the sensational beachfront.

Our spa-style bath, boasting a glass enclosed shower is roomy enough for two, and oversized thirsty white towels from the heated towel bar provide a warm embrace. As well as meeting our everyday toiletry needs, we're pampered with peppermint scented soaps, lotions and hair products. We emerge, feeling energized and smelling delicious! For the weight conscious, there's even a scale subtly tucked beneath the vanity. This, I clearly avoid.

As well as nightly DVDs, we make use of the well-stocked mini bar, and when the stars come out each night, so does a great turn down service, complete with home baked coconut cookies. Yum!

But the real perk comes when we push back the linen-light curtains that drape our picture window. This is what we've come for. It's what we've been dreaming about. Although we had previously assumed the digitals on the promotional brochure had been doctored up, with reality now before us, we know they were the real McCoy. Beyond our chalk white beach front, Muri Lagoon shimmers with every imaginable shade of blue, from blazing azure and teal, to the most vibrant turquoise. Bordering the far side is an uninhabited Robinson Crusoe-style motus (isle) just waiting to be explored, and in the distance, the fish-riddled reef edges the Pacific abyss.

We quickly ditch our city duds, for some skimpier gear, slather up our alabaster bodies with SPF 50, and make a bee line for the aquatic wonder. Kayaks, and snorkel gear are included with our stay, and make a great combo as we go in search for what swims in the shallows.

Although Muri lagoon is predator-protected, there are lots of sea-loving creatures to check out. Shards of sunlight pierce the tranquil surface, silhouetting the colourful swarm within our visual field; angelfish the size of saucers, rainbow-scaled parrotfish, zillions of skittering minnows and lots of dazzling coral displays. It's a surreal intermingling, and as we float buoyantly in the bathwater warm swells, we feel at one with the Pacific and free from any worldly cares.

We discover that the entire Cook Island of Rarotonga has that special hypnotic effect and figure it's likely due to its superlative location. Although geographically mapped between Fiji and Tahiti, it appears to be just a speck on the vast sapphire Pacific, and is idyllically distanced from any bustling metropolis. In spite of it being the capital queen bee of the fifteen isle archipelago, it's far from being a big wig. There are no high rise complexes, no big box businesses, no Starbucks and no McDonalds. There's next to no crime, the pace is laid back, and the locals are unbelievably friendly. They wave, smile and greet us with the Maori welcome absolutely everywhere we go. From the moment we step off the plane, where Jake Numanga plunks his blister provoking ukulele tunes, to Avarua's Saturday market where vendors sell everything from hand-sewn Tivaevae quilts to carvings of the proudly endowed God, Tangaroa. "Kia Orana, Kia Orana!" It's a grand Cook Island hello, and is always accompanied by a full-faced grin. The iconic intro is so popular in fact, it's even embossed on the yellow and green license plates that we follow while circumventing this tropical gem.

The main road hugs up to lush vegetation that drapes the island's volcanic interior and offers sensational vistas while we parallel the palm fringed shore. Although our little red Suzuki Swift is stiff competition to mighty mopeds, it gets us everywhere we want to go, as long as we stay on the left hand side. The circular drive is all of 32 killometers and by the end of the first lap, we're feeling like pros.

During our stay we take in everything from cultural shows and an island night to hikes and safari tours that bisect Raro's lush carpeted core. As well as being a paradisiacal escape, it's a destination with deep roots and historical treasures. And as far as South Pacific fantasies go, it just doesn't get any better!

Classical jazz mellifluously filters over the chic Point Restaurant at Muri Beach Club Hotel where full service meals are accompanied by languid lagoon views. Every evening, the beautifully executed menu showcases gourmet pacific cuisine. And every morning it's replaced by a less formal continental breakfast buffet that would appease any discerning dieter. Fresh picked papaya, pineapple, mango and banana compliment oven fresh croissants, home baked muffins and melt in your mouth danishes. Although the spread is complimentary with each night's stay, there's also the option to order hot delicacies from an ala carte menu, and yes, you guessed it, eggs are definitely included!

How to get there:
Air New Zealand

Cook Islands Tourism Corporation

Where To Stay
Muri Beach Club Hotel

Jane is president of BC Association Of Travel Writers She and her husband, Brent, freelance for a number of publications

Visit Jane Cassie's Website