Not your typical tourist attraction, the ruins of the never completed $80 million Sheraton Resort are a series of derelict buildings on the tiny tropical island of Rarotonga in the Cook Islands. While there are plenty of beaches to visit, hiking, watersports and other things to do on the island, we found ourselves strangely drawn to this once nearly completed masterpiece. Today the ruins tell a tale of politics, organized crime, and a curse.
Sheraton’s Cursed Derelict Buildings
One look at the dilapidated buildings and we knew we had found what was labelled on our map as “Sheraton Hotel Derelict”. The sign on the gate said, “private entry, day tours only, see the blue house.”
Cautiously, we entered the property, visually scanning each of the desolate building before we noticed a blue shack across the street. Jeff headed across the street to pay, and I began taking photos. First, the goats, as they were right in front of me, then the first of the vacant hotel rooms.
“Hey!” I barely heard the shout over the engine of his motorbike as it pulled up alongside me. A short, hefty man jumped off the bike and I quickly explained that my husband had gone to the blue house across the street.
Without acknowledging the shack, he requested $5 each, and in exchange, he would share a story filled with organized crime, politicians, tribal land, and a curse. All resulting in 40 years of deterioration of a once $80 million property that never opened.
From the best of my recollection, I will share the tale here.
It was the mid-80s when Italian contractors were hired to build the $80 million Sheraton Hotel. Rather than using local labour, they brought in 360 workers from Italy. As one can well imagine, this did not please the local people, especially the Takitumu tribe, the keepers of the land.
The Italians soon built a 250-room hotel and were ready to develop the land. Their plan was to re-route the waterfront road around the complex and add a man-made lagoon from the sea where the original road sat.
The required government consent had to come from New Zealand, as the Cook Islands were their protectorate. At that time, Winston Peters was Minister of Foreign Affairs. Rather than granting permission, he threw them all out of the country. Our guide was dramatic in his storytelling and added that Peters discovered that they were in fact, Mafia. The abandoned hotel soon became a collection of derelict buildings.
Many years later, Hilton came in and tried to finish the job, but it was too late. The land had been cursed by a local from the Takitumu tribe. Hilton lasted only six months. They needed supplies from Australia. They gave $7 million to a representative who travelled to Australia to get the materials. But they never returned. (An interesting twist, in one version of the story, we were told it was a tribal chief who absconded with the funds, but this could not be verified.)
More Images of the Derelict Buildings
Now it sits, and visitors can walk through the grounds, and even into the chambers. As we walked through the vacant rooms, we imagined this would be the ideal setting for a horror movie, or a scary sleepover, or an overnight initiation challenge.
To date, there is still no Sheraton or Hilton on Rarotonga. However, there are plenty of great Rarotonga accommodation options. Check out the options here:
Practical Information on Visiting the Sheraton Ruins
- Bring cash to pay for your entry.
- If you are offered a “tour”, take it. The story is even more interesting when told by a native.
- Wear shoes, and watch your step, there is broken glass everywhere.
- Don’t lean on balustrades, as many are missing.
- Be respectful of the belongings of a few people who seem to be living in the ruins.
More About the Derelict Buildings of the Sheraton
Want to know more, here’s the latest going on at the abandoned Sheraton resort:
- The ‘cursed’ resort of Rarotonga: Rundown beachfront property with mafia links for sale again (New Zealand Herald 2016)
- Abandoned Cook Islands Sheraton may open 30 years late (Hotel Management 2016)
- Curse of the Cook Islands – and a chance to turn derelict hotel into a tourist hotspot
(The Guardian 2017)
Other Rarotonga Activities
Rarotonga is a tropical paradise in the Cook Islands, a group of South Pacific Islands that are about halfway between New Zealand and Hawaii. Watersports, hiking, adventure, or relaxation, Rarotonga has it all. The snorkelling around the island is fantastic. Plus, there are plenty of other fun things to see and do in Rarotonga.
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Would you stop and take time to explore the derelict buildings of this cursed hotel?
Disclaimer: We worked with the Cook Islands Tourism Corporation. We received complimentary entrances, tours and sample items to assist in the writing of this review. The opinions expressed here are strictly our own.