Most of my adult life has been spent thinking “I am never getting married”. This was, in part, due to the lack of potentially fantastic suitors for this horse-mad farmgirl, and also in part because the thought of fitting a wedding into my very busy life was… well…. daunting.
I first had to get over the initial shock that my now lawfully wedded husband Daryl actually proposed to me – this was done on a super summer’s evening on the rocks overlooking Manu Bay in my hometown of Raglan. After this, the trepidation started to kick in and I had to think about the reality of not just being married, but GETTING MARRIED.
My life with horses has taken me to many corners of the world and certainly to every corner of New Zealand. The number of friends one picks up along the way can number in the hundreds, and my problem with that so many of these lovely folk would be more than keen to attend our wedding. I can see why attending our wedding would seem so attractive to people – having often overheard people say “nobody will tame that filly” – to be there to witness such a momentous occasion and see me actually finally be roped in would be a thing to see for sure.
Daryl and I toyed with the idea of an open invitation wedding where we just basically invited all and sundry from our facebook friends list. This would be a kind of wedding free-for-all where you could rock up in your horse truck or tent and enjoy a weekend in a large paddock with all of us. Daryl loved this idea, but in reality, I knew the organising would be down to me. The thought of finding enough haybales to seat 250 guests, enough pizza and paella to fill their bellies enough portaloos for the aftermath was enough to cook my over-worked brain.
Then the idea of a “Destination Wedding” came about. Initially it was paired with a fleeting thought of a Las Vegas Chapel-With-Elvis alternative. It seemed so glamorous to head off-shore to get hitched, and from what I had heard could be relatively stress free.
Now, whilst there are many great destinations to get married, if you want to keep it pretty local you can’t go past Rarotonga, the jewel of the pacific. Ask anyone that has holidayed on in the Cooks, Fiji or French Polynesia - 9 out of 10 will declare Rarotonga their destination of choice. Why? The kiwi currency, the tidiness, and above all the friendly and welcoming nature of the Cook Island people.
I am also incredibly lucky that my horse riding career is helped along by some generous sponsorship from Te Manava Luxury Resort and Spa – part of the Pacific Resort Group in the Cook Islands. My gorgeous Lusitano Ali-Baba, who is my main competition horse, is part owned by my dear friend and “fairy godmother” Erin Mortimer, who alongside her husband Warwick, are the owners of the Presidential Suite at Te Manava.
There is no better place to call home in Rarotonga than “Te Manava Suite 3”. A three-bedroom, two bathroom expanse of luxury totaling 400 sq metres with a huge private pool and fantastic entertaining areas. The beachfront is at the edge of your deck and looks out to the Muto (islands) that sit elegantly out from the famed Muri Beach. Nothing is left to chance at Te Manava with the resort managers always on call to sort any issues and make sure your stay in paradise is simply perfect. And did I mention the Spa? Te Manava is home to one of the best Spa Treatment facilities in Rarotonga, and no stay is complete without a facial or a massage from one for the lovely ladies working there.
We picked the date for our wedding about 6 months in advance – planning it with the full moon which we hoped would bring settled weather and some romantic night-time beach walks. It was simply a quick call to the Pacific Resort to check they were free for a wedding on the 12th of November and that the Villa at Te Manava was available too. Luckily the stars were aligning just nicely, and the date duly booked in.
Shortly after, into my inbox arrived the booking form from Pacific Resort. Things were getting real! But luckily for me – nothing was at all daunting.
Step 1: Choose your wedding ceremony package… Your two choices here are the Island Princess Ceremony or the Pacific Wedding Ceremony. Like most first-time brides, I’m thinking – heck you only do this once! So we went the whole hog and chose the Island Princess – who doesn’t want to be treated like a princess on their big day? This package includes a shell horn announcement by an island warrior, a ukulele serenade for the bride’s arrival, an island maiden dancer, floral archway, and best of all the bride arrived by boat - a traditional vaka being paddled by your very own buff island warrior! It is also possible to ship all your guests over to Koromiri Island just out from Muri Beach, but a larger wedding would be a bit of a logistical nightmare – particularly if it rained…
Included in either package is all the essentials of the transport to and from the Ministry of Justice for the paperwork, an internationally recognised marriage licence, and celebrant.
Step 2: Add in your number of guests… Daryl and I set the limit at 50 guests – thinking that half the people we invited would not be able to get time off work or perhaps would find the flights and overseas stay a bit too daunting. However, it did not pan out like that with everyone leaping at the chance to get out of New Zealand and escape to paradise for a week! 50 guests is considered quite a large wedding by Rarotongan tourist standards, so not every venue is able to host such a large crowd so easily. Another big bonus for choosing Pacific Resort.
Step 3… The Menu… For small ceremonies there is the possibility of an a la carte menu, but for large weddings like ours the buffet is the way to go. There are three choices of buffet – the Pacific, the BBQ and the Golden Buffet. I won’t lie to you – this was a hard choice – the food selections sounded so delicious, our mouths watering as we read through the menus on offer. After a few rounds of Paper, Scissors, Rock we had the menu sorted and all the boxes ticked.
Step 4… Photographers; Make-up, a Wedding Cake and the DJ… Again, super simple – The wedding team at Pacific Resort have a great relationship with the best cake maker on the Island – two tier Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese icing here we come! They know the best DJ’s and there is a make-up artist based just across the road that comes highly recommended. They also know the best wedding photographers and can make these bookings for you. Tick, tick, tick. Things are progressing well on the organising front.
Step 5… No more steps – just book your flights and wait for the big day to arrive!
One of the most fun things about having a destination wedding is that all of your guests are forced to relax and have a great time for the days leading up to and after the wedding day. Weddings at home are often slotted into everyone’s busy lives, and its straight back to work the next day. Not so with an island wedding.
The party started at Auckland Airport where many of the guests were flying out on the same plane, or on the very next flight. The champagne and beers were already flowing as guests from all across New Zealand met for often the first time and started to create lasting friendships.
You lose a day when flying from New Zealand, so a Saturday flight out gets you in to Rarotonga on Friday night, ready for the Saturday markets which are not to be missed! The weekend for our guests and family was spent snorkeling and fishing, swimming and lounging.
Sunday night was a really special treat as Erin and Warwick Mortimer hosted all of our guests and their families at Te Manava #3. Entertaining nearly 60 people in one villa is a breeze at the Presidential Suite – not only is there are huge kitchen for preparing food (and the Pacific Resort caterers on hand if needed) but there is a spacious private outdoor entertaining area which includes a BBQ, bar and an impressive pool. French doors open on both sides of the dining room so you can walk straight through to the beachfront decks as well, so guests have plenty of room to mix and mingle. And if that is not enough, the living room complete with big screen TV and comfy couches is also perfect for the teenagers to watch a movie whilst the adults enjoy their beverages.
Ask any of our guests and they will say that this Sunday night function was one of the highlights of their stay as they got to mix and mingle and really get to know the other wedding guests. From here on they could spot each other around the island and share more drinks and adventures in the days to follow.
My younger brother Shane is a bit of a legend on the BBQ and he brought with him from New Zealand what seemed like a tonne of delicious meat. His wife Caroline hooked us some tuna on a charter boat on Sunday morning which was served to the guests as mouth-watering Sashimi. Pacific Resort staff and the darling Erin handled the salads and desserts and a great night was had by all.
The day before the wedding is when things started to get a bit more real. Our wedding planner, the gorgeous Sunelia from Pacific Resort met us at the Barefoot Bar to discuss the formalities for the next day – these included choosing the flowers for the wonderful bouquets and button-holes, the table settings and the final cake decoration. Easy and simple – like everything in the Cook Islands!
The day before the wedding is also the only real “formality” needed with a trip into the island’s CBD for the Notice of Intended Marriage signing. Once again Pacific Resort have this well in hand with Sunelia delivering us to the Court House and making sure everything was in order and neither of us escaped.
My bridesmaids and I met with the local hair and makeup artist Jayne Munroe the day before the wedding – what a hoot she was. If you want laid back – this lady is next level – well around us at least. When one of your bridesmaids has deadlocks and the other, like me, is straight off the horse farm, maybe she just wasn’t getting any bridezilla type vibes? Anyway the “practice” hair and makeup session was short and sweet and we made the arrangements for her to meet us at Te Manava on the big day to do the job proper.
There was also a quick visit from Jane, one of the Pacific Resorts very own celebrants who is also one of the resort managers at Te Manava. I could not imagine a more friendly and beautiful person to run our big day. She discussed with us how the next day would be set out, made sure we had the vows sorted and gave us the confidence that the running of the ceremony itself would be smooth sailing.
Another great aspect of a Rarotongan wedding is you can have a stag do or hens party over there too! This is a must if you lead a busy life - you already have your friends together - the ladies can go for lunch like we did at a beautiful restaurant, swapping stories of the bride and groom and sipping cocktails. And the blokes - well there is fishing, a driving range, dune buggies for hire, or simply just a pub crawl.
The Big Day:
The wedding day was super relaxed and fun. It started with a leisurely breakfast, then a relaxing massage at the Te Manava Spa. By lunchtime my bridesmaids had arrived and it was champagne and nibbles while Jayne and her assistant Hershey came and did our hair and makeup whilst we lounged around the pool at Te Manava #3
Next the wonderful Julian and Bree Zeman from Turama Photography arrived, with Julian heading to Pacific Resort to photograph the boys getting ready and Bree staying with us girls to get those “before” shots for the album.
And then we were off! It is just a short 2 minute drive down to the Pacific Resort where the ceremony was to be held. Thankfully despite a bit of rain happening on the other side of the island, the day was clear and not too hot – perfect in fact!
The shell horn blowing in the gentle see breeze by one Island Warrior signaled my imminent arrival by vaka – being paddled by the very same buff warrior I had imagined in my dreams. I was holding my breath a little on that wee vessel as I got paddled into the shore…. I was a little worried that:
a) despite looking strong the buff warrior may not be able to lift me out gracefully, or at all
b) he may take me up on my offer of one final hurrah around the back of the Motu
c) the vaka may indeed sink
However, none of these thoughts came to fruition and the guests loved it. I will not forget the “Island Princess” experience for a long time to come – highly recommended!
The Ceremony on the beach was so beautiful, the flowers and archway hand made for the day. The ukulele serenade, island dancer and coconut tree planting ceremony made things even more perfect.
Photos were taken immediately on the beach with family and friends – the most stunning backdrop for the album is right there behind you. What is great for your guests is the marque for the reception is literally 30 metres from the beachfront – a hop skip and a jump and they are already enjoying a wee tipple as Daryl and I pop into the resorts gardens for some more photos.
The marquee was well set up with enough space for our 50 guests, a beautiful head table and a sandy dance floor for later. The food was truly incredible – delicious and fresh and actually far better than I had expected or hoped for. The waiting staff were great, and the wine and beers just kept flowing.
A curfew at the resort of 10 pm was actually a blessing – after four big days on the island I am not sure how many guests could handle a 2am finish…. So as the music faded and the lights dimmed, my husband and I headed for the honeymoon suite on the beachfront – just a short walk from the reception.
The next few days were spent with our guests, with more snorkeling and swimming, eating, drinking and exploring. Some guests stayed on for longer whilst others bid the island paradise farewell and jetted back to the daily grind that is lives back home.
For Daryl and I it was not over however with a brief honeymoon in Aitutaki being the proverbial icing on the wedding cake. Once again you cannot look past the Pacific Resort Group for your stay on this tiny island some 45 mins flight from Rarotonga. The Pacific Resort Aitutaki is literally straight out of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World book. It’s 5* rating is well earned, with just 29 intimate bungalows and villas all with a beachfront view and access to the exquisite Aitutaki lagoon. It really is next level and we were both grateful and humbled to be on the guest list here for a dreamy couple of nights. The VIP treatment we received from the moment we stepped off the plane was incredible. The room service, the restaurant, the infinity pool… Spoiled beyond belief.
However, a world class resort is not all Aitutaki has on offer. The lagoon is one of the best on the planet and the snorkelling that can be had here was mind-blowing. I can recommend Teking Tours www.tekingtours.com as the number one way to navigate your way through some of what this vast lagoon has to offer. We also managed a spot of sport fishing and Daryl was rewarded with a Waho which the chef back at Pacific Resort prepared for us in a special room service meal as we watched the sun setting from our private deck. Heaven on Earth!
Both Daryl and myself would like to thank the Pacific Resort Group and the Mortimer family for allowing us to have such special memories created for our wedding.
We were also especially glad Daryl's mum and Jody's parents were prepared to make the trip over to Rarotonga to share in our special day.
When planning for your very own BIG DAY you really must make it a priority to check out: https://www.pacificresort.com/weddings/ and don’t forget Te Manava for the best Villa’s in Rarotonga https://www.temanava.com/ (remember the Presidential Suite #3 is the place to be!)
And never visit Rarotonga without a side trip to Aitutaki - treat yourself to the 5* boutique hotel that is the Pacific Resort Aitutaki https://www.pacificresort.com/aitutaki/