22 Sep 2023

Cook Islands 'cursed' hotel to start receiving guests soon

4:42 pm on 22 September 2023
The abandoned Sheraton Hotel almost bankrupted the Cook Islands.

The abandoned Sheraton Hotel almost bankrupted the Cook Islands. Photo: Supplied

Vaima'anga's abandoned hotel in the south of Rarotonga in the Cook Islands is being renovated and its first guests are expected in a couple of months.

The old deserted Sheraton Hotel is on a 10-year course to be fully refurbished, but the first section - planned to be finished by the end of November - includes 41 rooms and a new swimming pool.

The original hotel almost bankrupted the Cook Islands. It has a past of failed renovation attempts, rumours of Italian Mafia involvement and is supposedly cursed.

The new finished product will have multiple swimming pools, a tennis court, restaurants, apartments to buy, guest accommodation and private beach access, with the ring road being diverted around the back of the property.

The developer Christopher Vaile said "in a fit of madness" he decided to take on the job at the request of the landowner and paramount chief Pā Ariki's lawyer.

"He probably played on my ego because he didn't think that anyone else would be silly enough to do it," Vaile said, a prominent New Zealand born businessman who has lived in Rarotonga for over five decades.

"[It's] something that had to be done, other people had tried and failed."

The original project began in the late 1980s and was going to be the first five-star resort in the Cook Islands. But it was abandoned in 1993 after being 80 percent completed.

Vaile said he watched the property "be pillaged" and "decay" slowly over the years.

He said the property can be saved, but it was never going to be a five-star resort.

"We don't plan to run it like it was originally planned. We have a different concept.

"We will sell off apartments and as well as having accommodation [for guests], we will have some restaurants here, but we won't run those ourselves.

"I have the machinery, we're doing this with our own capital, we haven't gone to the banks so I'm not beholden to anyone."

Vaile said the apartments would be available to both locals and foreigners.

The property will be self-sufficient with power going to be generated on site using a mixture of hydro, solar and diesel.

Vaile is trying to keep a low profile, which is difficult considering the building is huge and sits just off the main road. It was also a popular tourist attraction for some time.

Vaile has 24/7 security to ward visitors off and to discourage people from stealing. In the first week, eight toilets disappeared from the site.

"This place was mined for years by the locals; it was as if everyone owned it."

He said the local response to the development has been "somewhat cynical".

"There's so many people that have tried before and that's why we've kept very quiet about it.

"Proof is in the eating of the pudding."

Developer Christopher Vaile stands in front of the first section of the property that is being renovated.

Developer Christopher Vaile stands in front of the first section of the property that is being renovated. Photo: Supplied

Cursed to fail

A rumoured curse was put in place by a rival tribe condemning any business on the land to fail, but Vaile dismisses it as a "nice fairy tale".

"You can get up in the morning and say it's going to be a bad day, or you can get up in the morning and say, 'I'm going to make it a good day', It's how you approach it.

"We are optimistic. We don't plan to make a large amount of money, we want to cover our costs, and not kill ourselves in the process."

Vaile has past experience restoring old buildings.

Thirty-years ago he renovated a castle built in the 13th century in Poland and turned it into a hotel.

Before he took it on the castle had been deteriorating for over half a century.

Vaile said the project was a source of entertainment for the locals, especially when it came to clear the land mines out of the ponds.

"They were all taking bets to see whether I blow myself up."

He said the renovations was a challenging exercise and advises against others following suit if they plan to make a lot of money from doing it.