I’ve just returned from the beautiful Cook Islands, where I discovered the ease and appeal of an island-style destination wedding in Rarotonga or Aitutaki. Only a four escape from Auckland, getting married in Rarotonga offers an unforgettable experience. Picture-perfect, and often economical, it’s straightforward alternative to getting married in New Zealand, and the means to having a summer or beach wedding all year round.
Say Kia Orana to the Beautiful Cook Islands
If you haven’t had the pleasure of a visit to Rarotonga, let me introduce you. The group of 15 nearby South Pacific islands known as the Cook Islands used to be part of New Zealand, and while self-governing since 1965, still share the same currency, making travel to the spectacular destination another step easier. Rarotonga is the largest of the 15, populated by around 8-10,000 Cook Island Maori and welcoming around 150,000 visitors per year, many being marrying and honeymooning couples. Travel is easy, Air New Zealand fly here at least once a day from Auckland.
Staying at Muri Beach Club Hotel in Rarotonga’s most idyllic aquamarine lagoon, it was all too easy to forget it was Autumn at home – the tropical South Pacific island’s appeal doesn’t fade like New Zealand’s summer.
Cook Islands Destination Wedding Planners 2016
With the sweet smell of frangipani in the air, I spoke to the hotel’s wedding planning team of experts to discover first-hand why they’ve recently been named Cook Islands Destination Wedding Planners of the year.
If ‘destination wedding’ conjures a fear of arduous international organisation, Liana and her team are the ones to talk to, as their expertise is taking all admin and stress off your hands, whether you’re organising an intimate wedding for 30 or one for up to 120.
Scroll to bottom for more beautiful wedding photos from Muri Beach Club Hotel
If your second fear is the cost, you may be as surprised as I was to find that an all inclusive wedding for 30 costs as little as $6999 NZD. This covers a beachside ceremony below a floral or bamboo archway (celebrant included), choice of the resort’s 3 reception venues (lagoon lounge, restaurant or beachside marquee), Polynesian buffet feast, three hours alcoholic beverage service, wedding cake, sound system, his and hers massage and five nights accommodation for the couple! They’ll even apply for and file your marriage licence and organise your internationally recognised marriage certificates.
Of course, you can add to this depending on how many guests you’re inviting, and the style of wedding you’d like to have, but however you do so, it works out as a very affordable option. Muri Beach Club’s wedding planners are able to organise every element of your wedding, from the coconut-lined aisle to a full photography package, fire-dancers and full Polynesian dance troupe show.
Getting Married in Rarotonga is not one-size fits all
A Cook Island Wedding doesn’t necessarily mean a barefoot ceremony on Muri Beach’s shores, as the Island is home to many churches, tropical gardens or even poolside – there’s plenty of ways to personalise your celebration in paradise.
You probably hadn’t considered being brought ashore on a vaka (waka) and then literally carried off it by a Polynesian warrior, right!? Whether a ‘Vaka and Warrior’ or dance show is for you, or you want a simple and low-key ceremony, you’re really spoiled in every way possible here.
Once married, you’ll be totally charmed by the ever-hospitable locals and the heavenly place, and absolutely won’t want to leave. Nor should you, at least before having a few extra days to explore.
You’ll be forgiven for staying put on the whitewashed shores, just venturing into the clear aqua and emerald waters to cool off every now and then to cool off, but if you tempt yourself further inland and around the island, rewards are bountiful.
Adventure seekers, I don’t have nearly enough words to describe the fun we had on Raro Buggy Tours, but if a picture paints a thousand words, you’ll get the gist from this happy couple!
Having completed the aptly named cross-Island walk just a day earlier, I’d been fascinated by the derelict buildings of what was going to become a Sheraton resort – the history of which is worth an article of its own, so I was thrilled when we took the buggys off-road and into the grounds of the hotel.
To return briefly to the cross-island walk, if you need to work off a few cocktails, this 15km hike across Rarotonga, through an intense green and tropical jungle and up to the island’s central ‘needle’ is just what the doctor ordered – just be sure that it’s not immediately after a big night (it’s hard work even without a hangover).
The following day, rewarding your efforts and book into at Te Manava spa. There’s no way better to unwind tired muscles than a massage or a day-spa package, popular with honeymooners. I didn’t take any convincing to relax into a foot scrub and full body massage at Te Manava, luxuriating in the capable hands of my Balinese therapist.
Te Manava Luxury Villas & Spa is 5-star luxury accommodation, set on Rarotonga’s stunning south-east coast, offering an exciting new choice for the discerning traveller.
Beyond walks and buggy-trips, the main way to get around the island is by hiring a scooter or car, or on one of two buses. Or so I’m told: as they only rotate the 32km circumference of island once an hour, I found the easiest way was to hitch-hike, and get to know many of the locals as I did so. Whether in the tray of a truck, the back of a scooter, or more conventionally in a car, if you’re up for sticking your thumb out on the main road, it probably won’t be long til you’re picked up by one of the chatty Cook Islanders.
Rarotonga Must Do’s
However you get around, visit one of our must-see and must-eat spots, and don’t hesitate to leave me a comment with others of your favourite Cook Island spots:
For coffee – We revisited our favourite café from our last trip to Rarotonga, and the lattes at ‘The Café’ in Avarua are still reliably good. Come for coffee, stay for lunch and browse the art gallery and surrounding shops while you’re there too.
For cocktails – The Silver Sands restaurant at Muri Beach Club Hotel sits between the hotel’s unparallelled beach and the best swimming pool we’ve found on the island. Even if you’re staying elsewere, it’s worth a visit for a cocktail (and grab the wedding planning pack!)
For local fare – Part of Raro Buggy Tours’ service is a lunch trip to The Mooring, billed as the freshest sandwiches and salads on the rock. The size doesn’t disappoint either, I recommend the ‘FOB’ (Fresh-off-the-Boat) sandwich. For dinner you can’t miss the vibrant night-markets either.
Something smarter – Rarotonga isn’t a ‘fine dining’ destination, but the food is concistently good at Sails in Muri Beach and Trader Jacks in Avarua. Both have appealing happy-hour specials.
For the competitive (or for fun) hit up one of the island’s two mini-golf courses. Blair and I returned to Coco Putt this time, grabbing a burger, a drink and contentious game for $20.
International kai –Since we last visited, food options appear to have increased ten-fold on Rarotonga, and there’s plenty of international kai (food). While old fav ‘Stefano’s’ Italian didn’t seem to be in business, La Casita and Rickshaw in Muri Beach offer quality Mexican and Vietnamese respectively.
Aitutaki – Described as one of the most beautiful lagoons in the world, nearby island Aitutaki boasts unreivalled snorkelling and diving, and a beautiful playground for kayak, SUP, kiteboarding or just sunbathing. There are fewer options on Aitutaki but still something for everyone. At the lagoon you’ll find the Boat Shed’s simple all day menu of local seafood and Asain flavours, the more casual Koru café, or the smarter Aitutaki Village Blue Lagoon Restaurant & Bar all nearby each other.
N.B. Final notes on getting married in Rarotonga!
Remember to pack: Hiking (or running) shoes for the cross-island walk, insect repellent, sunscreen, solar protector for your hair, and plenty of books and magazines… Raro has almost no wifi! While that’s the perfect excuse to tune our for a week, advise your wedding guests in advance and ensure to book accommodation and organise transfers before you arrive – you won’t find an uber awaiting at the airport!