While the Cook Islands consists of 15 beautiful islands, two play a major role in weddings and honeymoons … Rarotonga and Aitutaki. Wedding venues abound on Rarotonga. Most will opt for a beach wedding as it's the essence of an island wedding … white sand, turquoise blue waters, deliciously scented tropical blooms … and, even if you experience a shower, it's usually very short-lived and at least it's warm rain! That said, on my visits over the years, I've found some exquisite non-beachy locations where couples could consider saying their vows. There are lush gardens and sparkling waterfalls, or take one of the lagoon vessels over to a motu for complete solitude.
Aitutaki is usually considered as a honeymoon location – it's secluded, peaceful, extremely beautiful and only a short domestic flight away from Rarotonga. One Foot Island is very popular for those who do venture over for their wedding ceremonies but, in reality, picture-perfect spots abound in the waters surrounding this little island.
A popular time of day for weddings in the Cook Islands is late afternoon. Firstly because it's cooling off at that time of day, but also because you are usually rewarded with spectacular sunsets which make for romantic photos. Picture yourself and your guests beneath a white marquee, the soft white sand or lush green grass underfoot, twinkling stars overhead, frangipani fragrance drifting on a South Sea breeze, waves gently lapping at the shoreline … a heaven for all your senses!
Have you considered a Polynesian experience for your big day, including local dishes and entertainment such as fire dancing or a ukulele or two gently strumming in the background? Catering can be as Western or Polynesian as you like at the resorts, restaurants, bars and function rooms.
There are some great photographers and videographers on the island, although many couples opt for a NZ-based professional as some are willing to travel. Flowers are usually fairly simple on the Islands, but the florists will always attempt to whip up any specific requests given enough notice. I don't advise trying to travel with your cake, although I have heard of some who have! The hotel chefs are fairly adept at creating fabulous wedding cakes and, to be honest, you may be better off with something fairly simple in the heat.
The larger hotels and resorts have in-house salons or will at least be able to point you in the direction of a recommended hair and makeup artist. Here again, many brides like to do trial runs and will opt to have their hair and makeup artist travel from NZ with them.
Many of the wedding packages on offer will include, or at least offer the choice of, a celebrant, neck or head eis, arches, a wedding cake, petals, corsage, bubbly, etc., and you will always get an option to add in more – like dancers, string musicians, island drummers and fire dancers, a DJ, hair and makeup artists and photographer. (See the Info Box for two sample packages from Crown Beach Resort.) The larger resorts and those who conduct weddings regularly, usually have an in-house wedding planner or coordinator. If not, there are two options – hire a NZ planner who is au fait with the Islands, or chat to someone like Wedded Bliss.
Accommodation is as varied as the wedding package options. Choose from a beachfront villa or a garden room. Many couples choose to stay with their bridal party and close family at one resort, with guests (and their children) at another. Be aware that many resorts cater for honeymooners and therefore have a limited age policy in regard to children – some cap it at 15 years, others at 18 – check before you book!
If you're planning to stay in the Cooks for your honeymoon, seriously consider Aitutaki for a few nights. That way, your guests can remain on Rarotonga enjoying a fabulous holiday, and you can escape for a little “us time” to celebrate your nuptials in style. I'd recommend either Aitutaki Villas or The Pacific Resort for a romantic few days.
Whichever island you choose, your wedding can be as intimate or as lavish as you like – the Cook Islanders are geared up to pamper you and your guests from the moment you arrive. Warm smiles, friendly greetings, swaying palms … it's yours for the taking.
The Legals – Cook Islands
Visitors are granted a 31-day Visitor on Arrival visa free at the airport. Couples need to register 3 working days prior to the wedding to get their marriage license – cost $15. You can apply for a license waiver, but it does cost around $50-100. Apostille Certification may be necessary – you need to check! Cost - $55; requires three days to process. You'll need to present your original birth certificates and passports. If previously married, you'll also need to present your divorce papers or death certificate. These documents must be in English or translated to English and verified. Weddings in the Cook Islands are legally binding and internationally recognised, although some countries do require additional paperwork for their citizens. Weddings are not conducted on Sundays as the Cooks is a very religious nation.
Pacific Resort - Aitutaki
Muri Beach, Rarotonga
Muri Beach, Rarotonga