Any concerns that Rarotonga has yet to come of age as a luxury travel destination evaporate around about the time my breakfast is delivered to my sprawling lagoon-side suite, walked across a wooden bridge spanning my own private Jacuzzi and pool.
Not that the Jacuzzi and pool get much of my attention, mind you, for on the back end of the suite Muri Lagoon has barely a ripple on its surface and I can actually see fish swimming around coral from where I sit sipping coffee and eating fresh pawpaw on my suite’s gigantic, sun-drenched deck.
I’m here at one of Rarotonga’s most luxurious beachside abodes – Rumours Luxury Villas & Spa Resort – the winner of the World Travel Awards’ Best Spa category, and now regarded as one of Polynesia’s best luxury properties.
Nothing is out of place here – there’s an almost (no beach in the Cook Islands belongs to anyone) private beach outside which I can walk across to drag kayaks out for a paddle to the nearby reef across the lagoon. I woke at dawn this morning too, and watched the sun rise right out of the Pacific, then swam out to the reef and marveled at the way it made Rarotonga’s lush, mountainous hinterland look gold, not green.
The last few years has seen a drastic improvement in the quality of accommodation options available on Rarotonga. While the Cook Islands’ honeymoon hot-spot Aitutaki – a further 40 minutes flight time north from Rarotonga – has for a decade or more received kudos as one of the South Pacific’s classier high-end vacation destinations, Rarotonga struggled to keep pace.
Not anymore. Where even just five or so years ago I always advised friends to book a private house on Rarotonga (luxury hotels just didn’t hit the heights), now there’s a variety of high-end accommodation options that are some of the best in the whole South Pacific.
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What’s more, on Rarotonga you won’t find a single chain hotel, nor will you be transported the moment you arrive to a private island resort by helicopter to escape the country that you came to see (as you might in Fiji).
Instead, Rarotonga’s new luxury resorts and villas are nestled in amongst the local villages of Rarotonga, allowing guests to feel like they’re part of the community.
While Rumours is perfect proof that Rarotonga has come of age for high-end travellers, just next door Te Manava Luxury Villas & Spa also occupies a hallowed piece of Muri (one of Rarotonga’s best swimming locales).
It has its own self-contained living arrangements which ensures total privacy at all times; in the evenings I barbeque freshly caught tuna and mahi-mahi right beside my own private pool. My bedroom and lounge room spill out onto a huge wooden deck with steps to the lagoon just 10 metres away. There’s never another guest in sight, every day I feel like I’m the only person staying in the entire property.
And just a kilometre away, in the heart of Muri, Rarotonga’s latest, greatest luxury resort – Nautilus Resort – opened barely a year ago. It’s a four-and-a-half-star eco-friendly beachfront boutique resort with premium suites as large as 220 square metres that wouldn’t look out of place in Bora Bora.
It comes complete with arguably the Cook Island's best seaside restaurant and bar (the best cocktails on Rarotonga are mixed here) which looks directly out on one of the four uninhabited motus (tiny islets) in Muri Lagoon, Ta’akoka.