What could be more memorable than combining your wedding, honeymoon and holiday all in one easy package?
A wedding can be a stressful thing. From putting together a guest list that won’t offend or exclude anyone, to sourcing a caterer that appeals to dozens of dissimilar palates, to hiring a band that will please vastly disparate age groups… it’s a tricky business. There are colours to choose, bridesmaids to dress, invitations to print, and vows to practice.
Some industry people have begun to use the term Wedding-Industrial Complex, a play on the term Military-Industrial Complex that denotes a huge, profit-driven wedding industry seeking to capitalise on every girl’s (or boy’s) childhood fantasy of the perfect wedding, with perfect decorations and a perfect menu. It’s no wonder then, that the easy, stress-free option of a tropical beach wedding is becoming increasingly more desirable.
Many couples find that planning a Cook Islands wedding entails less stress and, in most cases, less money than arranging a ceremony in their home countries. And maybe it’s because an overseas wedding necessarily condenses the guest list, or because it doubles as a honeymoon and holiday, or maybe it’s just because the island spirit compels even the most harried travellers to slow down and savour every moment. Whatever the reason, destination weddings are exploding in popularity on Rarotonga and Aitutaki.
This mirrors a larger global trend. Many a bridal magazine has published the results of reader surveys, which reveal a drastic uptick in destination weddings around the world.
“Destination weddings have always been a fun and exciting option, and never more so than over the past few years,” says a Rarotonga wedding planner. “What could be more memorable than combining your wedding, honeymoon and holiday all in one easy package? And why wouldn’t you choose the Cook Islands as your wedding destination?
“We can cater to couples through to large groups, with a variety of accommodation options to suit all budgets and tastes. It is simple and easy to get around, and best of all you are using the Kiwi dollar, so you know exactly what you are spending.”
Several couples that approached their Cook Islands nuptials differently – one used a wedding planner and another didn’t; one married on Rarotonga and another on Aitutaki – delivered an identical verdict on their wedding experience. Each said the planning was painless, the backdrops were breathtaking, and the experience had all the trappings of a fairytale.
Newlywed Amber King said hiring a wedding coordinator was the best decision she made. A wedding can be a great deal of work – there are florists, DJs, make-up artists, and hair stylists to hire. There’s a location to reserve. There are photographers and celebrants to source. There is a marriage license to procure from the Ministry of Justice.
“It saves you heaps of time, rather than having to do everything yourself,” said King, who wed Kebrasca Ratima on a sandy Rarotonga beach, one sunny afternoon last September.
Amber said her wedding was perfect. By marrying in the Cook Islands, she was able to shrink her guest list to a more manageable number. “We’ve got really large families back in New Zealand,” Amber said. “We thought, ‘If we get married in New Zealand, the wedding’s going to be massive.’ So it was good to come here and cut costs, because only the people who could really afford it came. Plus, you get to have a holiday with all your friends and family who do make it.”
“It was like a family reunion slash wedding slash holiday,” Kebrasca added. And of course, the Cook Islands backdrop lent itself to striking pictures. In fact, the photographer shooting Kebrasca and Amber’s pictures caught sight of something in the distance off the Arorangi shore. Soon, two whale flukes shifted into focus.
“The two of them were just bouncing around and we were like, ‘That’s awesome, man,’” Kebrasca said. “We thought the wedding would be amazing, but it was better than we thought. It was our perfect wedding. Better than anything I could have imagined.”
Richard Veale, who wed Michelle on an Aitutaki beach, echoed Kebrasca’s enthusiasm. “In hindsight, looking back, people say, ‘Would you do anything differently?’ ‘Would you go anywhere else?’ Definitely not,” Richard said. “This was pretty special.”
His wife Michelle’s girlhood dreams were of a tropical wedding. An internet search led her to Aitutaki, and immediately she knew it was where she wanted to be married.
“We always knew that when we would get married, it would be a very small affair on the beach,” Michelle said. “We knew we wanted to go overseas, so I did quite a bit of research to find the right spot. When I stumbled across Aitutaki, I fell in love with it, really.” Bora Bora had been a contender, but she ruled it out because there seemed to be “more red tape,” she said. “Here, it was just a very straightforward process to apply for the license and have the wedding where we wanted it.”
Michelle and Richard also chose to use a wedding coordinator. Their beach ceremony proceeded on a sunny afternoon, and Michelle walked down a sandy aisle lined with coconuts. Clad in a long white dress from Edinburgh, she wore no shoes.
“It was just so beautiful, with the sunset behind,” Richard said. “The ceremony was one of those moments you wish could’ve gone on for hours.” The reception was on the beach by torchlight, under a canopy of stars.
Michelle had always fantasized about saying her vows with sand between her toes and sun on her shoulders, but her Aitutaki wedding outdid even her daydreams. “For us, it was a fairytale,” Michelle said. “We live on the beach in Australia so we’re very used to the beach. But being on a lagoon like this is just pretty special. It’s so nice to be just looking out at the perfect water that’s clear and calm as far as the eye can see.”
Emitting a newlywed glow, Richard looked at his bride. “We’re already talking about coming back for anniversaries, if that’s any indication of our experience,” he said, smiling.
Amy Woodyard, who married Cook Islands Rugby Sevens coach Chad Tuoro on an Arorangi beach in August, said the laidback Cook Islands spirit infused her entire wedding experience – the planning, the marrying, and the partying.
“We really wanted a destination where our guests could just be chilled out,” Amy said. “Normally I think weddings are so stressful for a bride and her family, but the whole process was quite an enjoyable experience. Everyone was just so chilled, and that just changed the whole dynamic.”
The morning of the wedding, Amy and Chad’s guests went for a swim in the lagoon, and rode hired scooters to the 2:30 pm ceremony on a private beach for champagne, tapas, and a west-side sunset. “We just couldn’t have had a more special wedding,” Amy said.
Newlywed Hayley Weeks said the same about her own wedding. When she arrived in Rarotonga to teach diving, she had already arranged a marriage ceremony back in England. “After being here, we decided we loved it too much, and we thought, ‘Let’s just do the wedding here,’” Hayley said.
She was transported by canoe to a small offshore islet, where she married Tom beneath an arch of flowers.
“Everything’s on island time, so laidback,” Hayley said. “No stress at all, really chilled. It was perfect. I loved it. I wouldn’t have changed a thing.”