Ever Thought About Moving to Paradise?

Rainbow at the Pacific Resort Aitutaki, Cook Islands

Rainbow at the Pacific Resort Aitutaki, Cook Islands

On weeks like this one, when much of outlying Los Angeles is on fire, we like to fantasize about living in a tropical place where there’s very little stress…and plenty of rain.  A place, like, say, Aitutaki in the Cook Islands.

But what would a move like this really be like?  On our recent trip, we met a few people who were making a new life for themselves on an island paradise, far from home.

Wherever we’ve traveled in the past, we’ve met people working at restaurants and hotels who’ve moved from somewhere else to start on a different path.  But in general, those places aren’t so remote that they depend on a once-a-month supply ship to bring in the outside world.

At the Pacific Resort Aitutaki, Adam and I talked to some new Aitutakians about their decisions to make this little South Pacific island a lifestyle choice. Here are two different versions of the dream:

Wendy, the resort’s newest massage therapist, is a slim, shy 25 year-old with a beautiful smile and a tough constitution.  To get to the island, she traveled farther than anyone else on the property: Hailing from Harare, Zimbabwe, she journeyed 45+ hours from Harare → Johannesburg, South Africa → Sydney, Australia → Auckland, New Zealand → Rarotonga, Cook Islands → Aitutaki.  She is the only person in her family to have ever left Africa.

Beach beside the Pacific Resort Aitutaki

Beach beside the Pacific Resort Aitutaki

She was enticed to the Pacific Resort by a dear friend from Harare who herself had only recently been hired there. They spent a happy two weeks together getting acclimated to a wholly different landscape, when her friend was all but poached by a resort on Rarotonga…an hour’s flight of about $450 NZ ($308 US) round-trip.

At this writing, single Wendy has only been on family-focused Aitutaki for two months, and is practical about her newfound loneliness. Back in Harare, where having several children by the age of 20 is the norm, her marital status and ambition had already made her the butt of jokes and snide comments; but, during a year spent working in Botswana’s Chobe National Park, she learned that she could rely on herself. She is now determined to live a comfortable life – free of poverty and limited choices – and to be happy.

Contracted to the resort for one year, she, unlike some others at work, has plenty of time to gaze across the turquoise lagoon, reflect on the future and catch up on a lot of reading.

Michael Shah is the relatively new general manager of the Pacific Resort, and its first to be not only married, but have three children in tow. The Shahs hail from Warkworth, New Zealand, just north of Auckland on the North Island.

The heart of Aitutaki's lagoon

Michael is a sunny, warm gentleman of about 40 (or 27, whichever he’d rather claim) who, after five months in Aitutaki, still finds himself occasionally dazed by the magnitude of his family’s upheaval. Awaiting construction on a new home has been one thing; the former GM’s lodgings in the resort-owned Rapae Village consisted of a studio flat, so they’re presently living in a rented home on a perilously steep hill while a larger space is built for them way down below.  (July was their target move date, but as of August, their new house was still unfinished.)

Getting his children schooled to Western standards has been another pressing issue; an Aitutaki education can be a casual affair, with little emphasis on writing and grammar. Their oldest son now attends a local school a few days a week to make friends with other kids, but all three are otherwise taught at home.

Factor in a $14 NZ ($9.60 US) kilo of yogurt, sometimes violent thunderstorms and car gas rationing that brings to mind wartime, and paradise suddenly looks like a real challenge.

On the plus side, the whole family has been warmly welcomed into the Aitutaki Maori community, and Michael has even been recruited to play netball, a huge sport across Oceania. The Shahs have found some great friends in local expats who’ve long ago made the plunge.  They’ve purchased a Wii to fill the holes left open by slow broadband connection and few channel choices. And when not playing video games, their children swim, snorkel, eat fruit straight off the trees and chase geckos and unruly piglets.

For more on their story, visit the intermittent blog that Michael’s wife keeps of their adventures: The Shahs’ Island Life.

In particular, check out the following posts:

Map of Aitutaki
On the price of things…
It finally happened


Related TWT posts
Pacific Resort Aitutaki?  Yes, Please
Cook Islands: Scenes from Aitutaki
TWT Travel Binder: Cook Islands


  1. I have these thoughts every time I visit Tahiti, and ponder what it would be like to uproot and move to paradise. But then I think it ceases to be a haven and a place of escape from everyday life.

  2. Just returned from Aitutaki and enjoyed our stay in paradise. (really it is!). Had the pleasure of meeting Michael and a few locals as well. What’s the first topic my wife and I discussed this morning? Moving to Aitutaki. Glad to have the seen the Shah Blog.

  3. We think about it often! There are many things we would have to accomplish to make it happen and it worries me that most islands don’t have the greatest Internet connections (except on resort properties) so that would be tough since my entire business is via the Internet.

    Traveling will have to do for now but one day…


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