How to make the perfect holiday town

 

 

On Rarotonga in the Cook Islands, David Whitley discovers that a decade can make a substantial difference.

Muri doesn’t quite look or feel like it did. The key lure is still the same – the most photogenic stretch of Rarotonga’s lagoon, with four little islets breaking up the not-exactly-arduous monotony of the turquoise-teal waters. But in the ten years that has passed since I was last here, Muri has changed somewhat. 

Memories can be notoriously unreliable things, but I remember Muri as struggling to even count as a village. A handful of resorts, maybe one shop?

But, coming back, things have changed. There are more resorts, some plush and some essentially beach bungalows, but none of them are massive, domineering or high rise. The Cook Islands has a law against building anything higher than a coconut tree and that has held firm here.

Most of these have a restaurant and a bar, so it’s easy to hop between them and pick what you fancy in the evening. But the crucial thing is that they’ve got outside competition. There’s a Vietnamese restaurant, a Mexican place, a burger joint, a bakery… Just enough to make sure you don’t have to faff around making reservations and have plenty of variety to choose from. This is especially the case on the days when the night markets are running – then there are dozens of food stalls to choose from.

There are a few basic shops too – some selling snacks, drinks and toiletries, others selling souvenirs. If you run out of something, in other words, it’s not going to be an almighty pain in the backside to replace. You can just amble down the road for a few minutes.

 

 

This sort of thing seems rather prosaic. No-one goes on holiday because there’s a shop selling Coke and toothpaste nearby. But it’s the sort of thing that’s tremendously irritating if it’s missing.

It’s an ingredient that goes into turning Muri into what might be the perfect holiday town. It’s about two-fifths of the way around Rarotonga in a clockwise direction, and within half an hour’s drive of anywhere else on the island. But you usually don’t need to drive, because the tours – mud buggies, bikes, boat cruises, pub crawls and more - either start from Muri or pick-up there.

There is, essentially, just enough going on to not be bored. But it’s not just a checklist of facilities that makes Muri feel perfect – it’s the vibe, too. It’s wonderfully relaxed, never too try-hard, and has enough local flavour to not feel like an isolated cocoon deliberately designed to keep tourists penned in. It’s a place to shamble around in flip-flops while Rarotongans splutter past on their mopeds, then walk into the lagoon from whichever part of the beach happens to appeal at the given moment.

The vibe is simple and laid back, but creating something like this takes long term planning and judgement. There’s a huge Goldilocks factor to creating a little holiday town you lazily fall in love with. It can’t be too big or too small, too busy or too quiet. In future, Muri may tip too far one way. But for now, it has the balance perfect – and it’s the sort of place you want to gush about to anyone who’s prepared to listen.

 

Photo credit via Cook Islands Tourism board 1 2