Located in the balmy South Pacific between Fiji and French Polynesia, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more exotic destination wedding location than the Cook Islands. This set of 15 tiny islands and atolls are about as relaxed as tropical islands come. There are no chain restaurants, no stoplights and no buildings taller than a palm tree in the entire country. Interestingly, Cook Islanders are New Zealand citizens — a result of the country’s free association with its neighbour to the south — so everyone speaks English, making remote wedding planning quite simple.
Here we’ll give you all the facts you need to know about destination weddings in the Cook Islands, from the laws and customs to the best time to plan a wedding and the costs involved with doing so.
The best time to go: The Cook Islands are blessed with lovely weather year-round but high season occurs during the North American summer months when winter hits Australia and New Zealand so, conveniently, the best time to plan a destination wedding in the Cook Islands is in March when there are less travellers from the southern hemisphere and hotel rates are considerably lower.
The flight: Air New Zealand currently offers one direct flight per week from Los Angeles to the capital city of Rarotonga (roughly a ten-hour journey), which departs each Sunday evening. Return flights on Air New Zealand from Rarotonga to Los Angeles depart each Saturday evening.
The legal paperwork: Plan to arrive in the Cook Islands at least three days before your wedding ceremony to obtain a marriage license from the Ministry of Justice. You will both need to present your passports and birth certificates and fill out a form declaring your intention to marry. You’ll be required to pay a fee of $45 and have your officiant sign your form then wait up to three business days for the Ministry of Justice to issue your marriage license. If one of you is divorced, legal proof of that divorce will be required. If one of you is a widow or widower, a death certificate for the previous spouse needs to be produced. If time is tight ask your wedding coordinator to apply on your behalf before you arrive.
The local customs: For a religious ceremony choose one of the Cook Islands’ famous coral and limestone churches or marry on the beach surrounded by tropical blooms. If taffeta and lace aren’t your style opt for a handmade wedding dress from Tav’s, a traditional Cook Islands clothing store in Rarotonga where beach-ready apparel is designed, hand-dyed and hand-painted onsite. After your wedding ceremony in the Cook Islands you’ll be offered the opportunity to plant a baby coconut palm, or uto, to seal your vows. The coconut palm is considered the “tree of life” in the South Pacific and it is used for everything from food to building materials. Many couples choose to return to the Cooks on their wedding anniversaries to reflect on their love and check up on their commemorative palms.
The budget and venue: Your wedding in the Cooks can be as simple or elaborate as you choose. For roughly $1,700 CDN you can celebrate your nuptials at the intimate Little Polynesian Resort, Weddingbells top pick for a luxurious stay in Rarotonga. This price includes your officiant, transport and assistance with your marriage license application, a ceremony spot on the beach decorated with tropical flowers, a personal wedding planner, champagne, a decorative archway and photography. Additional fees apply for a catered reception. If ultra remote “I dos” are more your speed consider a wedding package with Bishop’s Cruises off Rarotonga’s sister island, Aitutaki. This family-run cruise company will transport you and your betrothed to picture-perfect One Foot Island where you can say your vows on the sand in seclusion. For roughly $3,500 CDN you’ll get boat transfers to the island, an officiant, your marriage license, flowers, a local string band, champagne, local flower girls, a tropical archway, photography and a personal wedding planner to make sure your celebration is just as you had envisioned.