8 Jun 2021

Episode 4: The Cursed Cook Islands Hotel (Rarotonga) | Untold Pacific History

From Untold Pacific History, 6:00 am on 8 June 2021

Series Classification: PG (Parental Guidance Recommended for Younger Viewers).

This is a story of indigenous land rights gone awry, a makutu from an aggrieved family and the failed business ventures of an infamous 'haunted hotel' in Rarotonga.

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

This is the ‘cursed’ Sheraton hotel complex in Rarotonga, a long-abandoned luxury resort that has lain derelict for a quarter of a century. The stories of Italian Mafia connections, failed government business dealings, and indigenous land rights come together in this episode of Untold Pacific History.

*We apologise for any offence caused by Pa Ariki's incorrect statement in this piece that 'the More family are all dead' in context of the historic family involved in this land dispute. We acknowledge that there are descendants of this family alive today, and that this context was unclear in Pa's statement in this video.

Pa Ariki, reigning paramount chief of Takitimu District where the Sheraton Hotel is situated

Pa Ariki, reigning paramount chief of Takitimu District where the Sheraton Hotel is situated Photo: Faanati Mamea

Iaveta Short, former Cook Island Govt MP

Iaveta Short, former Cook Island Govt MP Photo: Faanati Mamea

Mike Tavioni, Rarotonga land owner and artist

Mike Tavioni, Rarotonga land owner and artist Photo: Faanati Mamea

Mike Tavioni, Rarotonga land owner and artist

Mike Tavioni, Rarotonga land owner and artist Photo: Faanati Mamea

Mike Tavioni, Rarotonga land owner and artist

Mike Tavioni, Rarotonga land owner and artist Photo: Faanati Mamea

Ewan Smith, Cook Islands' Tourism

Ewan Smith, Cook Islands' Tourism Photo: Faanati Mamea

Iaveta Short, former Cook Island Govt MP

Iaveta Short, former Cook Island Govt MP Photo: Faanati Mamea

Sam Napa, Pa Ariki's son, shares his knowledge of the ill-fated Sheraton Hotel onsite

Sam Napa, Pa Ariki's son, shares his knowledge of the ill-fated Sheraton Hotel onsite Photo: Faanati Mamea

Positioned on prime and precious Rarotonga soil, the derelict Sheraton Hotel

Positioned on prime and precious Rarotonga soil, the derelict Sheraton Hotel Photo: Faanati Mamea

The Sheraton Hotel in its current overgrown and derelict state

The Sheraton Hotel in its current overgrown and derelict state Photo: Faanati Mamea

The Sheraton Hotel in its current overgrown and derelict state

The Sheraton Hotel in its current overgrown and derelict state Photo: Faanati Mamea

Positioned on prime and precious Rarotonga soil, the derelict Sheraton Hotel

Positioned on prime and precious Rarotonga soil, the derelict Sheraton Hotel Photo: Faanati Mamea

The Sheraton Hotel in its current overgrown and derelict state

The Sheraton Hotel in its current overgrown and derelict state Photo: Faanati Mamea

The Sheraton Hotel in its current overgrown and derelict state

The Sheraton Hotel in its current overgrown and derelict state Photo: Faanati Mamea

The Sheraton Hotel in its current overgrown and derelict state

The Sheraton Hotel in its current overgrown and derelict state Photo: Faanati Mamea

Behind the scenes: Faanati Mamea, Director of Photography

Behind the scenes: Faanati Mamea, Director of Photography Photo: TUKI LAUMEA

Behind the scenes: Faanati Mamea, Director of Photography

Behind the scenes: Faanati Mamea, Director of Photography Photo: TUKI LAUMEA

Behind the scenes: interview with Iaveta Short, former Cook Islands MP

Behind the scenes: interview with Iaveta Short, former Cook Islands MP Photo: TUKI LAUMEA

Behind the scenes: filming Iaveta Short, former Cook Islands MP

Behind the scenes: filming Iaveta Short, former Cook Islands MP Photo: TUKI LAUMEA

The Sheraton Hotel in its current overgrown and derelict state

The Sheraton Hotel in its current overgrown and derelict state Photo: Faanati Mamea

Tim Arnold, lawyer for Pa Ariki, Paramount chief of Takitimu District

Tim Arnold, lawyer for Pa Ariki, Paramount chief of Takitimu District Photo: Faanati Mamea

Tuki Laumea, Director, and Faanati Mamea. DOP

Tuki Laumea, Director, and Faanati Mamea. DOP Photo: TUKI LAUMEA

About Tikilounge Productions:

Tikilounge Productions

Tikilounge Productions Photo: Tikilounge Productions

Tikilounge Productions brings the stories of the Moana to the world and amplifies indigenous narratives by centering indigenous voices as the mainstream. The multi award winning young team of Tikilounge creatives are constantly evolving forms of Pacific storytelling, as they share their kaupapa and histories with the world.

The Untold Pacific History series is an attempt to unravel some of the histories of the Pacific region as a starting point to wider conversations around what has happened in NZ’s colonial past.

With a raft of award winning feature documentaries and a variety of Film and TV Producer credits under its belt, Tikilounge Productions is also the creator of the world's biggest online hub of Pasifika content in the portal the coconet.tv.

Additional audio provided courtesy of Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision

Additional audio provided courtesy of Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision Photo: Ngā Taonga

RNZ/NZ On Air Innovation Fund logos

Photo: RNZ/NZ On Air