If I had a dollar for every time a visitor to the Cook Islands has asked me what the story is behind the old Sheraton Hotel complex, I’d be a wealthy man and maybe have a castle in Poland.
After having lived on Rarotonga on and off
for 10 years or more, I’m back for a short visit – and I’m still asked the question
practically every day.
About 15 years ago I wrote a feature story
for Cook Islands News relating the whole sorry tale. It was later picked up by
the New Zealand Herald and other newspapers, who changed a few paragraphs and
claimed it as their own. However, the story can’t have been as memorable as I’d
hoped, as when people find out I’ve been lucky enough to be associated with the
Cook Islands for more than 22 years, the questions keep coming. That’s
especially the case now that the site has been substantially cleared, and some
of the buildings renovated.
The site has always been shrouded in
secrecy to one degree or another. At one stage it seemed destined to remain in
ruins, perhaps as a monument to burglary on a grand scale (I’m talking about
the steady disappearance of the about-to-open hotel’s furniture and fittings), and
over the years I’ve witnessed multiple failed attempts to resuscitate the
project. Meanwhile, all those old stories about a curse being put on the land,
the alleged involvement of the Italian mafia in the original project and large
sums of money disappearing, etc, etc, have become more and more exaggerated.
If the people responsible for the current
work on the building were to put up a simple information board briefly
explaining the history of the site, and what they’re aiming to achieve when
they finish the project, it would make everything much clearer.
And curious tourists might quit asking me