Motu Beachfront Art Villas, Ariki Adventures sea turtle safari, and the Mooring Fish Cafe, Rarotonga. Video / GoPro Hero 9
Rather than the usual beachfront and lagoon-adjacent resorts, Brett Atkinson opts for something different in the Cook Islands, at villa accommodation in Rarotonga
Where: Muri Lagoon Villa, Muri Beach, Rarotonga
What: Self-contained lagoon-side luxury a short sandy stroll from some of Rarotonga’s best eating and activities.
Location: Private, quiet, and right on Muri Lagoon’s sandy beachfront.
Style: Chic and spacious, and imbued with a relaxed Polynesian ambience.
Price: From $709 per night (rate based on a 3-night stay)
Perfect for: Couples and families seeking an independent Rarotonga resort alternative.
First impressions: In a quiet location down a sandy driveway framed by tropical foliage, the nearby beach and lagoon is virtually part of the villa’s front lawn. From the huge deck, it’s a seamless transition to a sandy glade of trees, adorned with Cape Cod-style chairs, and a third massive dining table with views across the lagoon to the coconut palm-fringed islet of Motutaakoka.
Rooms: High cathedral ceilings throughout the villa help to keep the property cool, and there’s also powerful air-conditioning in both of the bedrooms. Enlivened with colourful Pacific art and carved wooden furniture, the main bedroom features a king-size bed, while a second bedroom with two single beds is ideal for travelling families. A spacious main living area combines a fully-equipped kitchen, a large dining table, and a lounge area with comfortable sofas and a flat-screen TV showing Moana TV’s range of local and international channels. Accessible from the living area, the spacious covered deck features another large wooden table and a comfortable day bed.
Bathroom: The villa’s bathroom is relatively compact given the spaciousness of the overall property, but two outdoor showers are convenient after swimming or kayaking. Look forward to tropical-scented soaps and a scattering of fragrant frangipani flowers on arrival.
Food and drink: Self-cater in the kitchen with local produce from Saturday morning’s Punanga Nui market in Avarua, or fire up the barbecue for grilled fish – including delicious tuna steaks – from Ocean Fresh Seafood. Look forward to a welcome selection of complimentary tropical fruit, and ask co-owner Paul Lynch about his range of locally-made hot sauces to accompany the barbecue.
There’s a well-stocked supermarket in Muri for breakfast essentials, while highlights of the Muri eating and drinking scene include poolside fine dining next door to the villa at the Nautilus Resort, or coffee and a cinnamon doughnut at LBV Bakery & Cafe. The best place for an early evening drink is on the deck at the RSC (Rarotonga Sailing Club) Beachfront Bar and Brasserie – just 500m along the beach – while Charlie’s, 2km west at Titikaveka, combines cocktails and live music most nights at 6.30pm.
Held on Sundays and from Tuesday to Thursday from 5pm, the Muri night market is another local dining favourite. Rarotonga-based Island Platters can deliver excellent tapas, seafood or breakfast platters if you feel like celebrating on the deck with lagoon views.
Facilities: The villa has an onsite Vodafone Cook Islands hotspot for Wi-Fi (voucher purchase required). There’s a washing machine and private parking for a rental car or scooters.
In the neighbourhood: Cafes, restaurants and outdoor activities make the Muri area on Rarotonga’s southeast coast a good base for exploring the island. Muri-based KiteSUP offer LED-illuminated after-dark paddleboarding on Muri lagoon. Both Captain Tamas Lagoon Cruizes and Koka Lagoon Cruises offer snorkelling trips and glass-bottom boat trips to the nearby motu (islets) studding Muri’s sheltered lagoon. For some of Rarotonga’s best snorkelling, head around 3km southwest to the Tikioki Marine Reserve.
Co-owners Paul and Shona Lynch are friendly and chatty hosts, and as longtime residents of the Cook Islands, packed with information about the best ways to experience Rarotonga. Their daughter, Manine Lynch, offers photography services for weddings and other family celebrations held at the villa’s beachfront location.
Family friendly: The villa offers a paddleboard and kayaks for exploring the lagoon, and a second bedroom with two single beds is good for family stays. Swimming in the lagoon’s shallow waters is safe.
Accessibility: A brace of small steps need to be negotiated to access the villa in a wheelchair, but flow through the interior and covered deck is spacious and convenient. There is also access across the villa’s lawns to the beachfront al fresco dining and relaxing area.
Sustainability: Solar electricity and minimal use of single-use plastic packaging and containers were factors in Muri Lagoon Villa being awarded a Cook Islands Tourism sustainability award in 2018.
More: Cook Island Holiday Villas also offers four other self-contained properties around the island. The largest, Blue Lagoon Villa, near the popular swimming spot of Black Rock beach, features five bedrooms.