Rarotonga is the most populous island in the Cook's group of 15 with about 12,500 residents and 2500 visitors drawn to its tropical climate, palm-fringed beaches, snorkelling and vibrant culture. To get your bearings, take a ride on the public bus that runs clockwise or anti-clockwise and take in the coastal views as well as the stunning inland vistas of Mount Te Manga, often shrouded in cloud.
Set on the eastern side of the island of Rarotonga, the resort is front and centre on Muri Beach lagoon, facing the Ta'akoka Islet. A sweeping driveway leads to a green and serene place of coconut palms, with 17 "are" (villas) built in traditional Polynesian style. The open restaurant and bar area is a breezy welcoming space that opens out to an area for lounging and an infinity pool that appears to spill onto the white-sand beach and lagoon.
The beach is steps away and home to more sun-loungers as well as watersports equipment, including stand-up paddle boards and kayaks with which to explore the lagoon and the islets of Moto Tapu, Oneroa and Koromiri. Nautilus manages to feel uncrowded despite being at capacity with guests of all ages, including a number of repeat visitors, which speaks to the property's popularity. No need for shoes by day but you may want to put some on for dinner which is a marginally more formal affair.
Our garden view villa reflects the local heritage with its high roof, thatched ceiling, hard wooden floors, lamp shades with mother-of-pearl inlay and stools carved in traditional designs. The comfortable king-size bed is wrapped in mosquito nets (mosquitoes are here; malaria, is not) with vases of fresh banana leaves, flower and ferns.
While there's airconditioning, the ceiling fans make for a pleasant enough breeze. The spacious bathroom with its open rain shower, freestanding stone bath and double vanities has soap and conditioner dispensers that speak to the resort's eco credentials. Water is filtered and UV-treated so there's no need to buy the dreaded plastic bottles that have become a scourge on other holiday islands. This villa's outside area, like all others, has a saltwater plunge pool and undercover gazebo with two loungers. The ocean-side villas open directly on to the beach but even in the garden villa, the sound of the pounding ocean beyond the lagoon can be heard.
The staff are a delightful group who, without fail, take breakfast coffee orders before we're seated and are happy to modify menus to suit. The daily buffet breakfast is a colourful affair with mango, paw paw and banana, as well as the usual eggs and bacon and chocolate and banana bread straight from the tin. We quickly settle into the sunset routine of a cocktail served with a sugar cane swizzle stick or local Matutu beer, overlooking the lagoon. Local fish on a bed of squid ink risotto and vegan coconut cream risotto are among the dinner choices and the mainota, kumara and taro fries served with paprika aioli are a must-try. Cheeseburgers and pizzas are also available.
Nautilus has prime position on Muri Lagoon. It's a short walk along the beach to jumping off points for excursions including the excellent Koka glass-bottom boat lagoon cruise and to eateries including the LBV bakery for fresh pastries, cakes and salads. Tourist weddings are a favourite along this stretch of beach, just follow your ears towards Ed Sheeran's voice wafting across the water.
An elegant but relaxed place for rest and recovery and a place to return to after a day exploring Rarotonga and beyond.
Nautilus Resort Raraotonga, Ara Tapu, Ngatangiia District, Cook Islands, see nautilusresortrarotonga.com
Spacifica Travel has five-night deals in the Cook Islands staying in a two-bedroom apartment with private plunge pool at Nautilus from $4299 a family (two adults, two children). The package also includes Wi-Fi and daily breakfast. Phone 1800 800 722, see spacificatravel.com
A private resort that's also within walking distance of the island's attractions.
Unheated private pools may be less enticing for guests expecting warmer waters.
Jane Reddy travelled as a guest of Cook Islands Tourism and Jetstar.