Te Vara Nui
Te Vara Nui Village, Muri Beach, Rarotonga, Cook Islands
Perfect place for a sundowner. Te Vara Nui Village is made up of a rock waterfall garden that leads to a big, beautiful pond with a platform in the centre, where performers come out during dinner to perform traditional Cook Island dance. As the sun sets and torches are lit, the area comes to life.
The Vibe: Exciting and stressful, depending on your personality. Saturday nights see visitors across the island flock here for the popular buffet and show. So it's bustling and busy, but everything runs like a well-oiled machine. Long tables are shared, so if you're a solo traveller you'll find yourself being seated next to other groups. I sat next to an older Swedish group who had just come from New Zealand, so the chit chat wasn't too taxing after a couple of drinks. The sound of drums are always in the background and adds to the authenticity of a Cook Island feast.
The Chat: Slow to start. It took about 15-20 minutes after being seated before our waitress took our drinks order. You'll be thirsty, too, in that heat and no water is served as you have to buy bottled water from the menu. Once our allocated waitress took each of our orders, the drinks did arrive promptly. Her knowledge of the wine list was limited but she managed to get everyone ordering something from the cocktail menu instead, so good for her.
The Menu: The cocktail list is pretty basic - four - including my Island Girl, served in a short glass - which is basically vodka and cranberry Juice, ginger ale and lime. They also offer mango daiquiris, pina coladas and something called Island Love - a milky mix of Kahlua, Baileys, Frangelico, Creme de Cacao, brandy and cream. Shaken. If you're like me and can't handle a sweet or syrupy cocktail, the Island Girl is your safest bet. Food-wise, the buffet offers everything from fresh fruit and salads to fresh ika mata (raw fish) and rukau (taro leaf and coconut cream), as well as slow-cooked lamb, chicken and even the odd frittata.
The Expectation: I'd heard great things about the performances and entertainment - and they exceeded expectations. The energy and effort put on by the dancers and drummers really gets you in the mood. For those allergic to audience participation, this may not be the place for you, but after a few drinks with a bunch of strangers you may be surprised at how your night goes.
The Reality: A fun night out with a group. There are some standard drinks but the hearty buffet fare and its delicious local inclusions is a great accompaniment to the cultural entertainment in an idyllic setting.