Living

Shacked up

Rarotonga’s Te Arerenga is the stuff our escapist dreams are made of. It even comes with its own island mum.

A collection of beachside boat shacks in Rarotonga’s Arorangi, Te Arerenga is Pouarii Tanner and her husband Sam Thomas’ bright idea brought to life. Designed by New Zealand architect Fritha Hobbs, the fales are intended to be used primarily as an artist residency, but the good news is, the rest of us can also book them via Airbnb.
“It can be hard to be an artist in New Zealand, and the more opportunities they have to travel internationally to make art the better, really,” says Pouarii. Virtually unable to keep from clicking ‘Instant Book’, we paused for a sec to find out more.

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FOR ART’S SAKE Artist owners of Homebase Collections, Leanne and Brian Culy, stayed at Te Arerenga and “loved every day. We found it stimulating yet low-key.”

FOR ART’S SAKE Artist owners of Homebase Collections, Leanne and Brian Culy, stayed at Te Arerenga and “loved every day. We found it stimulating yet low-key.”

How did Te Arerenga come about? Sam and I had the idea for Te Arerenga when we were living in Berlin. Sam is an artist and had just finished a residency in Malaysia, and I’d inherited a piece of land in Rarotonga from my father and wanted to do something meaningful with it. One idea influenced the other.
We flew to New Zealand from Germany, then headed to Rarotonga two days later to get started before we could talk ourselves out of what seemed like an impossible task.

How did the build go? Fritha is a very talented architect and had told us about a project she did in Niue, so when we had the idea to build in Raro, we got hold of her. We didn’t have a lot of money, but said we’d fly her to Raro on a research trip to see if she was interested. After staying with Sam and I at my mum’s, visiting my family marae and having meetings with us in the prickle-covered grass, she really understood what we were trying to do. We worked largely via email between the tiny island and her back in Auckland.
Using separate fales harks back to the way Pacific people lived: separate huts for sleeping, eating, cooking, the bathroom. It’s a great way to live as a village or family to share facilities, and you’re outside more, you get your feet in the sand. For us, it made sense too: we felt comforted that we could work on one fale at a time and, if it came to it, we could lock up what we’d done and come back to finish the next one when we had the time and money.
Sam’s personal project was to put in a space for artists to work in. He made the studio out of a catamaran that he came across in the local wrecking yard – he traded the guy there a box of beer and a box of chicken for it. It’s originally from New Mexico but was wrecked just off Tonga.

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WANDERING EYE “Most days we’d set off on bush walks and take photos, gathering images, fruit and leaves to paint,” continues artist and guest Leanne Culy. “I couldn’t resist collecting things and placing them around the walls in the kitchen. The space allows visitors to feel free to create.”

WANDERING EYE “Most days we’d set off on bush walks and take photos, gathering images, fruit and leaves to paint,” continues artist and guest Leanne Culy. “I couldn’t resist collecting things and placing them around the walls in the kitchen. The space allows visitors to feel free to create.”

What sort of experience does Te Arerenga offer? It’s a truly local one. We don’t cater to a typical tourist experience: no brochures, discount coupons or big blue drinks. What we can do, though, is extend the hospitality of our friends, family and neighbours to people who are interested in staying somewhere they can feel comfortable and safe, ask questions, try food and sneak off to interesting and quiet corners of the island.
Sam and I live and work in Auckland, so my mum Jane is the host. Island mums are the greatest! They know everybody, everything that’s going on and where to find anything you need, are great cooks and make you feel special. My mum’s wonderful and takes care of all the guests and artists. If you want to try food like taro, kuru [breadfruit] and uto, a marshmallowy part of the coconut, she’ll love your curiosity and source it or cook it for you.

How would you describe the surrounding area? The art in the fales reflects the view behind each one, so if you’re facing west towards the kitchen, you’re looking to the ocean and see the huge wave painting done by Sam. If you’re facing east to the bedroom, the green mountains are in the backdrop, so similar paintings are inside on the wall. It’s the best of both the ocean and the mountains at Te Arerenga – it’s beautiful.

NOT IN THE GUIDEBOOK

  • Discover Treddlecats are two-person, pedal-operated boats that make
    an inexpensive, eco-friendly way to explore Muri Lagoon in your own private vessel with dry storage and a little anchor. You can hire them from muribeachresort.com.
  • Marvel Visit Croc Tatau in Muri to see his traditional tattooing and fantastic studio. You can find out more about Croc in the short film Aka’ou: Tatatau in the Cook Islands at loadingdocs.net/akaou croctatau.wordpress.com
  • Play Right next door to Te Arerenga is the Waterline beach bar, a favourite for sunset drinks with your feet in the sand. It’s full of all kinds of photos and interesting stuff – ask the owner to pull out the record player for a great selection of blues or Bowie. waterline-restaurant.com
  • Shop The Fresh Local hut is run by artist Ani O’Neill at the Punanga Nui market every Saturday. She exhibits a selection of crocheted works in the Auckland Art Gallery and you can walk away with a crochet hibiscus hairpin or keyring, T-shirts, or one of her popular baby onesies. She also stocks art by local craftspeople and schoolkids. punanganuiculturalmarket.co.ck

Words Alice Lines
Photography Brian Culy