Curse of the Cook Islands and a chance to turn derelict hotel into a tourist hotspot

On a disintegrating site on Rarotonga, every attempt to build a inn has neglected. Now its the make-up of a China-backed group to try to beat the hex

Half-submerged by a jungle and occupied by kine, chickens and goats, it is one of the more odd tourist attractions on the South Pacific island of Rarotonga: the “cursed” Sheraton hotel complex, a long-abandoned comfort resort that has lain dilapidated for a one-quarter of a century.

The crumbling, graffiti-covered constructs are overgrown with creepers. The only human visitors to the 70 -acre site in Vaimaanga compensate a small reward to explore what has become known as the most difficult white elephant in the South Pacific.

The Italian-backed hotel project, which started on the late 1980 s, was designed to revolutionise tourism in the remote Cook Islands by providing the insignificant society with its first five-star resort. But the house of cards crumbled at the 11 th hour, with the project 80% complete, amid allegations of mafia connection and fund laundering. The Cook Islands government was left with a obligation of $120 m and was nearly bankrupted.

In the years since, reproduced attempts to finish development projects have foundered, but now a brand-new great efforts to repair the buildings is under way, and could have an all the more important impact on the minuscule Pacific state than the original programs were expected to.

Map of Rarotonga

New Zealand property developer Tim Tepaki claims to have hundreds of millions of dollars in Chinese backing. He hopes to rebuild the complex and swerve the Pacific backwater into a favourite end for sightseers from China.

Until now tourism in the Cooks- a commonwealth of fifteen islands sown across an expanse the size of India- has relied mainly on visitors from Australia and New Zealand, who tend to focus on the capital city Rarotonga and the atoll of Aitutaki, a 50 -minute flight north.

But China’s influence in the strategically important Pacific region is thriving- in the past 10 years it has signalled its interest in the Cook Islands by building a new courtroom live, police headquarters, sports arena and local schools. Now the focus could be about to was changed to tourism.

However, Tepaki faces an uphill contend, and not only because of distrusts about Chinese influence in the country. His previous is making an effort to recovery the inn in the early 2000 s stalled and was eventually aimed by the financial slam. He is not alone in having realise his efforts miscarry. Numerous regionals belief the distressed history of the website has a significant role to play.

In pre-colonial times, it was the incident of cruel battles between competitive tribes, and ancient spirits are said to patrol the neighbourhood. It is also the subject of a bitter ownership dispute that dates back more than a century and gave rise to the curse that is still said to hang over the area.

Exterior
Exterior of the vacated Sheraton hotel Cook Islands Photograph: Jonathan Harwood

In the early 20 th century, the district was claimed responsibility for Rarotonga’s paramount chief, Pa Ariki. Nonetheless, a rival lineage too claimed owned and thoughts came to a heading in 1911 when a European settler, William Wigmore, kill and killed the leader of that family, More Uriatua. The victim’s daughter, Metua, then residence the curse, which criticized any business on the tract to disappoint unless it was returned to its rightful owners.

Wigmore escaped prison for the killing but in the years that followed his business collapsed, as did afterward attempts to use the district to grow pineapples and citrus fruit.

In the 1980 s, Italian businessmen contacted the Cook Islands government with a plan to open a five-star used on the place. A distribute was agreed that would encounter a inn built and then managed by the Sheraton group. But the jinx was reintroduced in startling pattern in 1990 at the sod-turning service for the hotel, when Metua’s grandson, More Rua, entered the locate in the conventional dress of a high priest and restored the curse in front of hundreds of onlookers.

Before police could remove him he embed his impale on the boulder bearing the medal celebrating the start of construct creation, which shattered.

A
A mouldy bathroom at the abandoned Sheraton hotel Cook Islands Photograph: Jonathan Harwood

Three years later, with development projects almost complete, the Italian financing was unexpectedly cut off and the building contractor disappeared under. Meanwhile, the costs of the project had ballooned and the Cook Islands government, which had underwritten the strategy, was left with a statute of $120 m, sufficient to cripple the minuscule nation of 15, 000 beings. The country was forced into cost-cutting assess, which gave rise to mass redundancies and a brandish of depopulation as neighbourhoods headed to New Zealand to find work.

But the inn stood 80% terminated and still seemed an attractive proposition to investors willing to pick up the slice. The first attempt to complete it was spearheaded by a group from Japan and Hawaii but their efforts came to naught when the lead investor was arrested for tax fraud. A last-minute attempt to establish a Hilton-branded resort with a casino neglected amid declarations from neighbourhoods opposed to gambling.

Early in the 21 st century, Mark Lyon, a showy Auckland property developer living in Rarotonga, ended he would step in to finish the resort, but he more fronted relentless local foe and was eventually jailed in New Zealand for crimes involving copulation and drugs.

Goats
Goats at the abandoned Sheraton hotel Cook Islands Photograph: Jonathan Harwood

Then came Tepaki’s firstly effort to complete the recourse, which included efforts to lift the curse. His intention was scuppered by the financial slam of 2008. Most lately another hotel series, Mirage Group, tried and failed to get the project off the dirt. Now the lease, still owned by Pa Ariki, is up for grabs again and Tepaki hopes his latest contrive will finally participate development projects finished. But the curse remains in place and the current head of the More home, septuagenarian Amoa Amoa, is steadfast in refusing to raising it.

He stresses that the curse applies only to businesses and was not set to harm individual parties.” There is no reason for any business to fail apart from the curse ,” he says.” We are not opposed to the plans, but they cannot happen until the land is back with the More kinfolk .”

Local broadcaster and historian William Framhein also believes in the curse. The place, he says, is a “spiritual” place and not even the weight of Chinese approval will overcome the jinx.” It has a pretty good track record until now ,” he says.” And now, Taunga More has more expert than Confucius .”

But Tepaki has not been restrained. In the 25 years that makes have combated the feelings of Vaimaanga, the rest of Rarotonga has prospered, and 150,000 sightseers now tour the country each year.

Tepaki says backing from the Chinese-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank be guaranteed his plan’s success, and am of the view that China has offered the Cook Islands government hundreds of millions in reinforcement through the bank.

In addition to to finish the inn, Tepaki intends to build sister resorts on some of the most remote islands, which currently have very few tourists.

Read more: https :// www.theguardian.com/ world/ 2017/ dec/ 30/ cook-islands-vaimaanga-resort-murder-curse-hotels