Muri Beach Resort: Beautiful eco-friendly resort with wonderful staff in the best location

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We stayed for 10 days in Rarotonga, Cook Islands at Muri Beach Resort, a beautiful smaller island-style resort with wonderfully friendly local staff, located right on stunning Muri Beach and lagoon.

We found Muri to be the best location to stay at in Rarotonga in terms of natural beauty and closeness to amenities, food options, tours and activities.

Description of the resort: Muri Beach Resort consists of only 20 self-contained villas, so this gives it a more intimate feel. It also has a “back to nature” feel, with the tropical gardens that are maintained by gardeners daily throughout. Having your own self-contained villa set amid these tropical gardens also provides the feeling of a lovely holiday home, rather than an anonymous hotel room.

Muri Beach Resort offers two levels of service, which I felt was a great, innovative and environmentally sustainable idea. The Premium Service includes daily room service and tropical breakfast (taken next door at the 4.5 star sister Nautilus Resort that is owned by the same family as Muri Beach Resort).

The second option is a Self Service option whereby clean towels and linen are available on an exchange basis as needed from the Muri Beach Resort reception during office hours, at no charge, and top-ups of in-room guest supplies are also available on a complimentary basis (upon request). Either way, a complimentary welcome tropical breakfast is provided to all guests.

Guests are not required to do any major cleaning or to launder towels or linen with the Self Service option but cleaning products and equipment is available for the guests to use, upon request, if required. We chose this Self Service option and thought it was a brilliant way to minimize unnecessary washing of linen/towels and help keep costs down for guests.

Separation of your rubbish is encouraged into household waste and recyclable products, with recycling bins provided for the various types of recyclable waste in the resort’s refuse area behind reception.

There is a guest laundry with automatic clothes washing machine in the resort that you can use and air dryers are provided for all the villas to hang and dry clothes on the verandahs of the villas.

Plenty of well-maintained kayaks, paddles, snorkels, masks and reef shoes are also made available for guests to use anytime, free of charge, so this was fantastic too.

IMG_0324Muri Beach Resort is fully solar powered with large solar panels on the villa roofs, but you would never know this from the level of power etc within the villas. Fans worked perfectly and the villa air-conditioning is strong and can be adjusted to whatever temperature is necessary. Water pressure in the bathroom’s shower is excellent too.

There is no need to worry about the water either. Drinkable UV treated, filtered water on tap is available throughout resort.

Ultimately, all of this adds up to a resort that has adopted a number of strategies for reducing its carbon footprint/impact on the environment and is not trying to make money out of you for every little thing.

The resort has a two-storey Deluxe Beachfront Villa with balcony that directly faces Muri Beach and lagoon, as well a row of single-level attached Lagoon View Villas that lead up to the beach and lagoon. The remainder of the villas are Poolside Villas or Garden Villas.

The resort’s pool is set back a little from the beach, in the centre of the resort. The Poolside Villas encircle and look onto the pool. The Garden Villas are set within the tropical gardens that are throughout the resort, a little further away from the pool and beach. There’s a Resort Map on the Muri Beach Resort website showing villa numbers and location that makes all of this perfectly clear.

Description of our villa: I stayed with my 7 year old in one of the Lagoon View Villas that have views of the lagoon if you look left from your balcony/verandah.

Our Lagoon View Villa (Number 14) was open plan with a kitchen, dining area, bedroom (double or queen size and single bed) and separate bathroom, with a powerful shower and the surprising, pleasant addition of a Jacuzzi spa bath.

The kitchen was fully stocked with kettle, toaster, full sized fridge, microwave, gas stove, sink, as well as sufficient kitchen utensils to actually prepare food if you wanted to (decent knives, chopping board, frypan, saucepans, bottle and can openers etc), as well as supplies including tea, coffee, sugar, and an initial long life milk that could be replenished on request. The bathroom was also fully stocked with guest supplies.

Most importantly, our Lagoon View Villa was bright and spotlessly clean, with updated bathroom and kitchen fittings.

I would definitely recommend a Lagoon View Villa, for the view from the balcony/verandah, but really, because this is a small resort, all of the villas are super close to the pool and beach. Not even a minute walk.

Staff and services: Muri Beach Resort offers an airport shuttle pick up/drop off and most likely your first encounter with Muri Beach Resort staff will be Margaret, the resort’s driver and all-round top ambassador for the welcoming vibe of Cook Islanders. She really is fantastic and an absolute gem. She’s friendly, energetic, warm and super funny. We loved her immediately. From the moment she puts that ei (Cook Islands floral neck garland) on you at the airport, deals with your luggage, then bundles you into her van and whisks you away to Muri Beach Resort, with music and her cool shades on, waving at everyone she knows, and great scenery for you to take in on your way – you’ll know you’re in great hands and in a great place.

Margaret and soon after, Sane in reception too, were our touchstones for anything and everything during our stay. Sane is just lovely. She arranged and booked all our tours and activities. Our pre-departure research on Trip Adviser proved excellent in this regard, so we knew we wanted to do the following and that they were all wonderfully accessible from Muri Beach:

  • Pununganui Cultural Market on Saturday
  • Cook Islands Community Church (CICC) Sunday service
  • Muri Night Market (food market): Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday
  • Koka Lagoon Cruise
  • Raro Buggy Tour and
  • Te Vara Nui Village – Cultural Village Tour and Over Water Night Show and Buffet Dinner
  • Pa’s Cross Island Trek
  • Tik-e tours Tuk Tuk tour

Muri Beach Resort reception has the maps for Rarotonga and all the brochures for tours, activities and services like car and scooter hire.  Sane knew all about the discounts that were available with vouchers on various maps, and ensured we utilised all of these. She prepared a daily itinerary that outlined details, cost, and dropped this off to us a little later, with further tips.

We were so lucky that Muri Beach Resort provides a complimentary shuttle on Saturdays to the markets and Sunday to church with the wonderful Margaret.

Location and amenities: Being right on Muri lagoon, the kayaks, paddles, snorkels, masks and reef shoes provided free of charge by Muri Beach Resort are perfectly suited to the location and all guests seemed to really appreciate this, ourselves included. Everything was well looked after and put away well. Reef shoes really are required for swimming at Muri Beach and snorkelling around Muri lagoon because of the rocks and coral that exists.   We had our own reef shoes (they were new) otherwise the ones at the resort would have been fine, there were plenty there. Likewise for snorkel masks.

You can take the kayaks out directly from the beach in front of Muri Beach Resort to the uninhabited islet that is opposite the resort in Muri lagoon, leave the kayak there and snorkel around the islet to your hearts’ content. This is a safe and highly enjoyable experience even for smaller children because the lagoon is calm, never too deep and snorkelling around the islet there is coral, many tropical fish and even blue starfish to see.

The deeper water, waves and reef don’t start until about 200-300 metres out from Muri Beach. In the evenings, small groups took stand up paddle boards out with lights under the boards that illuminated the lagoon and that looked like a stunning experience.  We were happy enough to kayak and snorkel almost every day, right up until the gentle pink sunsets.

Walks along the long stretch of Muri Beach are wonderful in the evenings too, or any time of day, since it’s never crowded and this allows you to see and access the other resorts and their restaurants that line the beach. From Nautilus Resort/Muri Beach Resort, these include Muri Beachcomber, Sails Restaurant, Pacific Resort, and Muri Beach Club Hotel and Silver Sands Restaurant.

The two lagoon cruise companies, Koka Lagoon Cruises and Captain Tama’s Lagoon Cruizes, also anchor and leave from here on Muri Beach, so Muri is the perfect location to be able to walk along the beach to access them.

Muri is a wonderful choice for food options too. Muri village has all that you could want. For breakfast, there’s LBV café and New Zealand. Then there’s world famous burger joint Vili’s, that is No 1 on Trip Adviser, and really is fabulous. And of course, the wonderful Muri Night Market is not to be missed for dinner. Held on Sundays, Tuesdays, Wednesday, Thursday, locals and visitors alike come together here for a delicious night of food and music. Further afield, the waffles from the Waffle Shack at the Saturday markets are amazing.

Muri is great too because it has the convenience of ATMs and mixed businesses and hooks into the local clockwise and anti-clockwise buses going around the island. Staying in Muri is a great option if you don’t want to hire a car. Getting to all tours and activities is super easy from here.

Things we liked best and least: Nautilus Resort next door is owned by the same family as Muri Beach Resort. It’s 4.5 star luxury, right on your doorstep at Muri Beach Resort.  Breakfast can be taken at the restaurant at Nautilus Resort and best of all, the Nautilus pool can be used by guests at Muri Beach Resort.

Now the thing is, the Nautilus pool is stunning! A gorgeous infinity pool right on Muri Lagoon. It’s not to be missed and can be enjoyed all day when staying at Muri Beach Resort. We loved this pool! This ended up being the thing we liked best about our stay – being able to enjoy the gorgeous Nautilus pool.

Aqua Bar and Restaurant near the pool in Muri Beach Resort is not open all hours of the day, so this can be seen as a negative, but was fine for us since gorgeous Nautilus pool and bar next door is also available to use. And use it we did. We loved it. Simply stunning.

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Foolproof recipes for publishing success

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By Alex McDonald and Linda Daniele

 

Budding food writers should avoid tasty adjectives, warns Sydney Morning Herald food columnist Helen Greenwood.

“Adjectives that relate to taste are to be avoided because they get used so much in marketing and advertising,” says Greenwood, who co-authored The Foodies’ Guide to Sydney 2008.

Greenwood writes a weekly food column for the Herald’s Good Living section and has been penning articles about food for almost 20 years. She admits she was a serious food bore for nearly 12 of those. So, what are the adjectives that really grate?

“Tasty is one. Delicious. Also crispy, which is not a word. Don’t ever use the word yummy, not even in spoken conversation, unless you’re speaking to your child.” For New Zealand-born chef Justin North, writing about food has been a natural extension to his cooking career.

Apart from two cookbooks, including his latest, French Lessons, North wrote an opinion piece for The New York Times last year entitled, “Dining in a Drought in Australia”. “I didn’t have an instant passion for food or cooking,” admits the chef, whose Sydney eatery Bécasse was named restaurant of the year in the 2007 Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide.

“I opened my first business when I was 25 years old. Before that, I had little regard for the environment, organics and sustainability, or a true respect for produce. It was all about buying the best, wherever it came from. How much it cost didn’t matter, it was all about excellence. “When I first opened Bécasse, I couldn’t afford these luxuries. I bought all my food from local markets and farmers, because it was much cheaper. As I built relationships with these people, I started to get a better understanding of the land and the environment and the pressures our producers are under. It changed my whole philosophy on cooking and produce.”

Despite the current boom in glossy food magazines, cookbooks and newspaper supplements, Greenwood says the Herald has not been inundated with writers pitching ideas for food stories. She says: “There are a lot of people who want to be restaurant reviewers because that’s the glamour end of the food writing spectrum, or it’s perceived to be.”

Greenwood’s first food related project was editing a food supplement for a fashion magazine in the late ’80s. She thinks the idea that ex-chefs dominate the food pages is a misconception. “A food writer is a trained eater,” she says, citing Britain’s Elizabeth David as an example of a writer who was not a chef in a previous life.

The president of the Food Media Club of Australia, Stewart White, says it’s no surprise that food books dominate bestseller lists both here and abroad. He regards Phaidon, an imprint best known for its art books, as the market leader. “It’s had three of the best-selling cookbooks in publishing history,” says White, referring to The Silver Spoon, Pork & Sons and the Spanish title, 1080 Recipes.

White sees local books like Secrets of the Red Lantern, which cross over into memoir territory, becoming more ubiquitous.

Written by Pauline Nguyen, a UTS Communications graduate, with recipes by her brother Luke and her husband, chef Mark Jensen, the book interweaves the turbulent history of Nguyen’s family and recipes it has passed down through generations. The trio are joint owners of award-winning restaurant Red Lantern in Surry Hills.

Secrets of the Red Lantern

Pauline Nguyen says her main motivation for writing the book was her daughter: “Her father’s story and my story are so different and mine was a story that needed to be told. I wanted to document things for my daughter, but at the time I wasn’t sure what direction that would take.” The Nguyen family escaped Vietnam in 1977 and were forced to spend a year in a Thai refugee camp before reaching Australia, settling in Cabramatta in Sydney’s west.

Pauline Nguyen describes workaholic parents who struggled to communicate emotionally with their four children. Her father was a natural entrepreneur, working tirelessly at the family’s landmark cafe Cay Du in Cabramatta. He was also a strict and harsh disciplinarian, Pauline says. The process of writing the immensely personal family memoir was difficult at times, she says.

“I had no intention of writing a book scathing about my father. There is a lot of love and respect there. I was just looking back to try and understand why things were the way they were. So I had to look internally, as well as to the history, to find answers so I could stop holding onto all the anger and all the hate.” Luke Nguyen adds: “Until now, all the family recipes were kept secret in our heads. Dad encouraged that, but he’s retired now so we can share them.”

Luke feels the autobiographical content in Secrets of the Red Lantern has a special resonance for Vietnamese-Australians of their generation. “There are a lot of them out there who don’t have a voice,” he says. “Thankfully, we’ve done this for them.” A need to document family recipes and stories was also the driving force behind secondgeneration Spanish-Australian chef Frank Camorra’s first book, MoVida. “I’ve always wanted to do it,” he explains.

MoVida

“I was concerned family recipes would be lost otherwise. I wanted to get exact measurements, work out what Mum’s coffee-mug measurement meant.” Camorra spent his first five years in his parents’ home town of Cordoba in Andalusia. The family moved to Australia, setting in Geelong, Victoria, where he saw his father learning to marinate olives and make chorizo and black pudding. “He wanted to eat them, so he had to make them,” Camorra recalls.

“All those things he’d taken for granted in Spain, the community here worked out how to do themselves. They did it out of necessity, trading recipes and techniques.” Camorra says visits to Spain to work and travel were a necessary part of the long process of creating MoVida. “I first went back when I was 20 and, on that visit, it was the home cooking that impressed me. The second time, it was totally different because Spanish food had come of age. The general standard had improved and, while there was still not the diversity of ingredients or styles of cooking, there was a much greater appreciation for their own cuisine,” he says.

Travels in the name of food are not a new phenomenon, and Aussie pair Greg and Lucy Malouf seem to have mastered another genre mix, the cookbook/travelogue. Turquoise is their fourth offering, combining travel writing by Lucy and recipes taken care of by chef Greg. Part Turkish travel diary and part cookbook, the Malouf mix gained international acclaim, awarded best international cookbook for 2008 by the International Culinary Professionals Association. Food Media Club’s White says the importance of good design in food books should not be underestimated.

“I think Kylie Kwong is interesting,” he says. “She trained as a graphic designer. She was then at Wockpool for Neil Perry. That’s a lovely history that you can trace through her career.” Victorian café owner Guy Mirabella is another designerturned- cookbook author, whose books include his recently released Eat Ate. He was responsible for designing Stephanie Alexander’s Stephanie’s Seasons and has received numerous awards for his work. With food styling and design obviously vital to publishing success, Mirabella says some of his greatest influences have been unrelated to food.

“It can come from watching films, listening to music, paintings, other restaurants or dinners in private homes,” says Mirabella. He sees Marcella Hazan’s The Classic Italian Cookbook and “anything by Alice Waters” as the benchmarks in food publishing. As for the current take on innovative food, the latest crop of Aussie chef-writers express mixed feelings. Camorra worked for six months at a restaurant in Cordoba influenced by wizard of modern Spanish cuisine, Ferran Adria.

“It was all about innovation,” he says. “Foams, essences, savoury ice-creams and deconstructed dishes were all the rage. Learning the techniques was really eyeopening, but I don’t really enjoy it to eat. As a daily experience, it doesn’t turn me on.” North is also cautionary about innovative food for its own sake. He says: “I have been inspired by many, many great chefs and Ferran Adria is one of them. I think the key to this is some chefs, especially young chefs, get a little too carried away by what they see and read.

“They get a little blinded by all the excitement and lose track of their own philosophy and style. “The important thing to remember here is to look, learn and blend a little of these techniques to suit your own style. Draw inspiration without getting too carried away.”

 

First published in

Festival News

Issue 4, 2008

Sydney Writers’ Festival

May 2008

Cook Islands: Punanga Nui Market best buys

1. Black Pearls – this is a highly sought after item while on holiday in the Cook Islands. These pearls are harvested in the outer islands with many merchants selling all sorts of the jewellery at the Saturday markets (such as necklaces, earrings, pendants, rings, bracelets).

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2. Arts and Crafts (ukuleles pictured) – the Cook Islands are well known for their 8 stringed ukuleles and log drums. These are very popular items for visitors to take back home with them for themselves or as requested by other family members.

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3. Brunch/Lunch dishes – the Punganga Nui market has a wide array of cooked food available, some include chicken kebabs, pork bun, wraps, fries, barbecued lamb, pancakes, waffles, and the famous chicken on rice with mushroom sauce.  There are also a few vendors selling pastries and baked goods which are also extremely popular with locals and visitors alike.

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4. Fresh produce – with many types of fruit and vegetables grown locally on Rarotonga, there is plenty available at the market.  The most common available include bananas, starfruit, passionfruit (seasonal), tomatoes, lettuce, cucumbers, taro, watermelon (seasonal), and mangoes (seasonal).

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