With its exquisite beauty, charming people and unspoilt environment the Cook Islands has a disarmingly desirable position in the Pacific. The perfect place to inspire the soul, stir the spirit and seduce the heart. So where else would you want a wedding?
Add to this mystique the pure practicality of the fact it is but a stone’s throw from most places, it’s little wonder these islands have become the cause celebre when it comes to selecting the most idyllic spot on earth to get married. And even for those who may be further afield, the certainty of an island escape which has all the attributes any would-be bride (or groom) could wish for on their special day – crystal clear lagoons, enticing temperatures, relaxed ambience and a warm welcoming people – makes the Cooks the place of choice when it comes to saying ‘I do’.
What’s more, when it comes to planning the big day, if friends and family know well in advance they too can prepare to join in on a tropical trip of a lifetime; made even more memorable by the big day that began it all. An unforgettable memory that lasts a lifetime is bound to be yours if you choose to marry on one of the myriad islands that make up the string of jewels that are the Cook Islands.
If you wish to get married in the Cook Islands are required:
Saying ‘I do’ may sound simple, but the build up before leave many a courting couple almost comatose. Romance, passion, love and adoration may be in the mind but finding their source in a dream honeymoon destination when key words like relax and unwind have become paramount, is another matter entirely.
For those who want the dream to last, a tropical island is the answer. A place where the pace is gentle, the weather perfect, the people make you feel right at home, the possibilities of where to put your head are full of promise and the getting there is but an easy flight away.
Sound like the perfect lovers playground? It is and it’s called the Cook Islands. A magical mix of 15 idyllic havens that offer everything any honeymooner could wish for as the flawless beginning to a lifetime of bliss.
Have the years of familiarity forged your romance into the drawer of forgotten dreams? It’s time to take stock. Rekindle your love. Rediscover romance in the Cook Islands with its gentle rhythm of daily life, the allure of fresh air; palm studded beaches, pearly white beaches, sunshine and cool clear lagoons.
Recollections of the good times past can be recreated simply by catching a plane to these tropic islands and slipping into a lifestyle with no clock ticking. Slough off the worries of the world and step into a balmy warm air tinged with the scent of tiare and the sounds of island music. These magical islands are the secret of the Pacific. All 15 of them that lie midway between New Zealand and Hawaii, idyllic atolls scattered like flowers on a sensual ocean.
The selection of white sandy beaches, pristine blue lagoons, lush vegetation and a pace of life that speaks of peace is limitless. Rarotonga, the capital, with its easy access around the island (try the bus for an unrivalled scenic tour), sparkling lagoon and endless white sand beaches is also the hub of a stunning night life.
To most of us, family and friends are our top priority. However, it’s also a well known fact that these days we spend longer hours than ever before at work. Result? A priority shift. Solution? Learn from the Polynesians who know how to get life in balance. Take a trip to the place where family is the most important factor in daily life.
The Cook Islands is where you will find it. Nestled in the tranquil ocean of the Pacific, these 15 beautiful isles offer places to escape the daily grind in a stunning surround. And are populated by a people imbued with the values that hold a family tight. Each clan connected in some way to a tribal system of chiefs (Ariki) provides that sense of family pride; and the importance of maintaining these ties, title inheritance and land tenure particularly mean reunions, marriages, births and deaths are registered as strong benchmarks of the past and the future.
The extended family is an everyday part of life, grandchildren often living with grandparents, nieces and nephews with aunts and uncles, and family lineage features strongly in any Cook Island dynasty.
Situated at the very centre of the Polynesian Triangle, the 15 islands that are the Cook Islands are scattered over some 2 million square kilometres in the Pacific. Bordered to the west by Tokelau, the Samoa’s and Niue and to the East by Tahiti and French Polynesia, they lie in the Tropic of Capricorn latitude from 9-22 degrees.
Ranging from low coral atolls to the majestic mountainous terrain of islands like Rarotonga, the history of the Cook Islands is as colourful as the variety of activities to be discovered by present day adventurers.
The Great Polynesian Migration (1500BC) was where this pioneering began. Recognised as some of the greatest navigators in history, the first Polynesian ancestors were guided by the stars and their skills on their double-hulled canoes vaka’s, to land around 800AD. As legend has it, Chief Toi as part of the original migration, presided over the building of a grand coral road in Rarotonga which led through the inland swamps and is still in existence some 1000 years later.
Atiu is over eight million years old and the third largest island in the Cook Islands. This island is an ecologist’s dream and a magnet for the adventurer. A volcanic mass which has risen up out of the sea to be surrounded by a raised coral limestone reef named Makatea. Its utter peace and harmony with nature certainly belay the island’s reputation of having harboured some of the fiercest warriors of the Southern Cooks, who constantly laid siege on their smaller neighbours in Mitiaro and Mauke.
Sandy beaches on Atiu are scattered and secluded – but there are many to discover tucked like little secrets into the coast. Unspoiled and lush with dense rainforest and an unexpected central plateau, according to legend when the Polynesians landed on Atiu’s white crested shores, birds and insects were its only life.
As one of the three southern group islands known as Nga-Pu-Toru, Atiu attracts the spirited explorer. With no nightclubs, virtually no township, around 400 people and a couple of cafes and precious little traffic, this is a true island escape.
Islander GirlLife is pretty much the same as it was 25 years ago and offers a genuine insight into island living with its five small villages of Tengatangi, Areora, Ngatiarua, Mapumai and Teenui nestled in the centre. Gardens thrive on its rich soil and on certain days the soft aroma of organically grown coffee beans roasting wafts past from plantations that produce some of the best Arabica coffee in the Pacific.
However today Atiu’s special appeal is the birdlife that will leave you breathless, birds flourish in the forest that thrives on the makatea, festooned as it is with rare giant ferns and abundant foliage. The rarest bird, the Kopeka, is a tiny swiftlet that navigates its flight in pitch black, sensing its journey using its bat-like sonar power. Found nowhere else in the world it lives inside limestone caves that line the island.
Atiu is a trip for the intrepid. But for the ornithologists this island is a haven for viewing the exotic plumes of the Tavake, the White Capped Noddy, the Great Frigate and the Brown Bobby (no prizes for the naming rights on the last three!). The endangered Kakerori and the colourful Kura flit around historical sites. In fact some 11 native birds, the loudest of which is the blue kingfisher, with its calls through the still of the jungle, can be found here.
And for the intrepid, a walk through the fantastic dense tropical jungle covering the makatea leads to Anatakitaki Cave where an astonishing three caverns harbour clear cool pools of water, stalagmites, stalactites and a high natural cathedral ceiling above. The caves, which riddle the makatea coastline, were often used as burial grounds and ancient artefacts can be found deep in the chambers. The Te Ana o Raka, with its amazing 15 chambers was the home of the Rakanui family. Nurau and Vai Akaruru are deep subterranean waters which cave divers dream about with their 50m depths.
But if you think it’s only the lofty bird levels that hold appeal on this lush flatland, try a traditional rite that ends many a day for even the most diligent bird lover. Some of the Maoris found the missionary influence just a tad too much and when they were told no drinking they simply took to the bush and began their own ritual of the tumunu; a very convivial activity named after the brewing barrels which are carved out of the thickest part of the coconut palm.
It involves passing round a half coconut filled with fermented fruit juice while sitting in a circle chatting. Opened and closed with a prayer, the ceremony has clear codes of conduct. But ultimately after a couple of swigs of this lethal potion, the chat becomes somewhat indecipherable. It certainly beats pub crawling.
Itiki (caviar to the islanders), bream and prawns fill the crystal clear pools and marine life abounds around the beaches of Mitiaro. Once part of the Nga-Pu-Toru, or The Three Roots‚ along with Atiu and Mauke. Mitiaro was also once a volcano that sank to become a coral atoll, then 10,000 years ago thrust up by 20ft, making it the flattest island in the Cook Islands.
Although Mitiaro is set in 4500m of water and just over 6km wide; this did not stop the island’s coral ring dying to form a belt of the razor sharp makatea, typical of the southern group. But the sunken pools in the inevitable subterranean limestone caves that are part of this fossilised coral formation are a different and cool alternative to the lagoons that are so much a part of the Cook Island way of life.
The Itiki experience first, and foremost, is about the people of Mitiaro. It is about the history, the culture, the lifestyle and the island environment. Combine all of these and visitors to Mitiaro will have a unique and memorable experience, the Itiki experience.
In the Cook Islands the word itiki is synonymous with the island of Mitiaro and its eels, but itiki also means the bringing together or sharing of experiences or love. The open, genuine and aroa nature of the Mitiaro people will be shared in the itiki experience. These things are often missing in the world and as long as the people of Mitiaro are willing to share these with home-stay visitors you will see the itiki or bringing together of cultures and experiences.
Mitiaro Home Stay is a must to visit, and at minimal costs we provide you with inexpensive facilities and a unique lifestyle experience.
Mitiaro has probably the most beautiful of all the underground caves and pools to be found in the Cook Islands. Fed by the island’s underground water reserves, Vai Nouri, a deep clear cool lake is reputed to have healing powers and is a definite must-see. Te Pitakare, an underground freshwater cavern, is still used today for drinking water, so no bathing allowed! But along the island’s sandy coastal track, tiny coves of pretty and secluded sandy beaches welcome you for a dip in the sea and explore the fascinating reef.
The plateau-like centre is quite flat and swampy and the freshwater lakes provide a unique perspective to this beautiful little island. Rotonui (Big Lake and half the size of the island) and Toto Iti (Small Lake) between them make up a large part of Mitiaro. Startling in size for such a small island and fringed with lush greenery, the lakes harbour a teeming population of sea life – the Itiki in particular is a delicacy and, when wrapped in leaves and baked in the umu, vanishes in a flash at any umukai.
With a population of 200, the gentle warmth of the community and the pride in their island is a marque of these island people. They live in one settlement on the west coast, although if one were discussing the point, technically it is four villages, including Atai in the north to Auta, Mangarei and then Takaue in the south. The villages are tiny and with virtually no way of telling when one starts and the other ends, the government regime is in Takaue so inevitably the settlement is often referred to by this name.
The high school is in the principal village of Atai. Like most of the other inhabited Cook Islands, Mitiaro is deeply Christian and the singing in Betela, the CICC, on a Sunday is an unforgettable experience for any intrepid visitor who has managed to step onto this little island secret. Flaming orange Pumarumaru and fragrant frangipani line the crushed white coral streets of Mitiaro with superbly tended gardens lining either side. Even the shoreline reflects the pride of its people with the traditional fishing boats lined up perfectly side by side near the sea.
Inland, a rich yield of kumara, taro, corn, bananas and watermelons are testament to a gardening technique that includes neither pesticides nor fertilisers. Limes drop off the trees all year round and provide a succulent citrus finish to many a traditional dish. Inevitably, the much prized maire vines, fragrant and darkly green, grow wild in the central makatea. They are regularly collected and plaited into the long garlands which are used for chiefly ceremonies and are a mark of respect for recipients.
With less than ten cars on the island, the pace of life, languid and lovely, is something to be cherished in a world propelled by machines and money. It wasn’t always so, however.
Te Pare, an ancient fort built by the forefathers of Mitiaro was used as protection against the marauding Atiu warriors with whom there was a fierce rivalry. The walls stand up to six metres high and were built intentionally close to the coast, under the auspices of the great warrior Maaro, to provide a 360 degree visibility.
Te Pare is the only known fort in the Cook Islands and, walking over the makatea, it takes 20 minutes to reach. Anyone who has experienced this coral platform knows it has danger written all over it. Sturdy footwear is definitely required. But for keen trekkers exploring this little paradise, six kilometres at its widest point, is a blissful experience.
History plays a vital part in Aitutaki island life. And following the Maori migration, apart from a stopover from the Spanish explorers Alvaro de Mendana sighting Pukapuka in 1595 and Pedro Fernandez de Quiros sighting Rakahanga in 1606, all remained pretty quiet until 160 years later in 1773 when the infamous Captain James Cook sighted Manuae atoll and then Palmerston, Takutea, Mangaia and Atiu (a bird watchers blissful haven) in 1777.
Explorers following, however, left a somewhat less tranquil wake, the highly questionable Captain William Bligh first sighted Aitutaki, probably the most glorious of all the islands in 1789 and hot on his heels after the bloody Mutiny on the Bounty, that buccaneer Fletcher Christian sailing in Bligh’s very own vessel, sighted Rarotonga.
Fortunately Aitutaki and its stunning beauty survived this wake of bloodthirsty sailors. These days it’s recognised for its romantic aura rather than tales of swashbucklers. It’s highly sought after by honeymooners and couples seeking the most memorable wedding possible. A betrothal against a brilliant sunset on a desert island can turn from dream to reality on this magical island paradise.
Less than an hour’s flight from Rarotonga by local airline Air Rarotonga (which runs an extraordinarily efficient interisland service) lays the alluring atoll. Nicknamed Honeymoon Island – for obvious reasons – it is the archetypal tropical island. Even the most travel weary cannot fail to wonder at this Eden with its vast crystal clear lagoon, scattered with tiny motu’s of the finest white sand where sea birds and land lovers seek sanctuary.
Aitutakians believe they descended from Ru, the famous seafaring warrior who sailed from Avaiki, the legendary homeland of the early Polynesians and settled here with his four wives, and attendants of warriors and beautiful maidens of noble birth landed in a double hulled canoe. Arriving at full moon he was captivated by its reflection in the vast tranquil lagoon and named his landing point O’otu – full moon.
Legends like this abound and fascinate, emanating from visits to the marae where volcanic boulders in distinctive formation marked the sacred ceremonial grounds of their forefathers. There’s a legend that relates Maungapu, the highest hill on the very flat island used to once be the Raemaru Peak i in Rarotonga and victorious warriors carried it off after a fierce fight.
Whatever you believe, the view from here reveals a spectacular array of techni-colour fish which can be seen close up by taking a Bishop’s Cruise (an experience in itself – the Aitutakian’s aptitude for song and dance and storytelling comes to the fore with a captive audience of sightseers.) Get your passport stamped on One Foot Island – step onto the first landing for the flying boats that flew the original Coral Route, go snorkelling in the clearest waters ever seen or simply spend a few hours slipping from sand to sea. A day spent hopping from the pure white motus sprinkled around the lagoon is one of life’s great memories. And put the experience of bone fishing top of that list.
A yachters hideaway, the white sails can be seen dotted around the harbour and the wharf buzzes with local fishermen, lagoon and fishing tours coming and going. But it’s the market on a Saturday which sees high activity with locals and tourists alike. Aratunga Wharf used to be the hub of the banana business but since that collapsed Orongo Centre where they were processed has become a hive of industry with colourful sarongs, souvenirs, and the remarkable pandanus hats, mats, bags along with fresh produce of every seasonal variety.
Away from all that activity is the oldest church in the Cook Islands. Aitutaki was the first island to accept Christianity and the limestone coral rock CICC church in Arutanga (organised by the Rev John Williams cohorts Papeiha and Vahapata in 1823) is magnificent. Stunning acoustics make a moving experience of sound from the hymn singing with a superbly designed interior.
Sunday is certainly a day of rest but that doesn’t mean life comes to a halt then or on any other day. And Aitutakians are the showmen of the Cooks. The village of Vaipae, nicknamed Hollywood, comes by it honestly. The high spirited, toe tapping, hip swinging performances of the drummers and the dancers are unmissable and unbeatable. Fire dancers cause many a fluttering heart with a technique that takes years to perfect.
What is a surprise is the fact that their eternal fun loving soul has survived, for the missionaries tried hard enough to beat it out of them. When the Rev. John Williams of the London Missionary Society arrived in the Cooks in 1821 and instructed the islanders to give up dancing, drumming and all other carnal desires for the sake of religion, it looked like a takeover. Fortunately sense and those powerful Polynesian genes prevailed. And today Aitutakians are known for their charm, easy going attitude and hospitality.
And all that remains of the missionary influence is good – beautiful white churches (a lot of them), the traditional mu-mu now updated into island style must-wear (look for the label TAV, the brainchild of Elena Tavioni for the modern day version), the constant call of Kia Orana and a sense of kindness revealing a camaraderie which, whilst probably always there (despite a cannibalistic past) makes a visit to Aitutaki feel as if you have just stepped into nirvana.
The Cook Islands culture is cherished by all. Even those who come to get away from it all will discover the many occasions in everyday life allow an insight into Polynesian identity which will enrich and enlighten their experience of the Pacific.
Festivals, sports, arts, reunions, weddings, politics, parties, competitions such as Vaka Eiva, and celebrations like the Te Maeva Nui Constitution week, are vital ingredients of an island lifestyle that thrives on its heritage.
Te Maeva Nui Constitution Celebration
The Te Maeva Nui has become popular for visitors from all over the world coming in to the country to witness this spectacular event. It is normally held at the end of July right through to the first week of August. A time where Cook Islanders celebrate self-government in the Cook Islands.
The first Constitution Celebrations dance festival was held on Friday 2nd August 1968 at Taputapuatea, Avarua. It was highly acclaimed as a vital event in reviving and maintaining our maori heritage. In subsequent years, it was held at the Constitution Park which is now Te Puna Korero/Sir Geoffrey Henry National Culture Centre. In these early times the Tereora College dance teams were quite prominent in the festival.
Over the years, youth clubs became more active in the celebration’s competition. There were problems at times. For instance, in 1977 and 1978 there were no competition due to disputes over the judging the previous year. The festival was still held but not as a competition. In 1989 for the first time all the islands participated in the celebrations. The visiting teams were fully catered for with mattresses, blankets, food and so on for the first time. In 1991, there were no groups from the outer islands. Instead there was full participation from village groups and school teams in Rarotonga. In 1992, there was limited outer island participation in the Celebrations. However, in 1993 there was full participation from the outer islands and once more the greatest number of groups from Rarotonga participating in the celebrations in recent years. In 2006, a team of Cook Islanders from Auckland came over to participate in the Te Maeva Nui which increased the number of participating teams for 2006 and 2007.
Overall, the celebrations have become an annual event that all Cook Islanders look forward to. Each year’s celebrations will see a great number of activities being introduced into the programme that will make it more meaningful as a cultural celebration.
The Ministry of Cultural Development holds the National Dancer of the Year competition in the month of April. The competition started off with the juniors and intermediates sections followed by the Senior Open Section and finished off with the Golden Oldies/Expats and Visitors Sections.
Dancers ranged from the ages of 10 years old right up to 60 years of age both in the male and female categories. Te Mire Ura is an annual event run by the Ministry of Cultural Development and this year’s competition was of very high standard in all categories. Winners from the Open Senior Section in both the male and female categories went straight into the “Te Toa Akau Roa – International Dancer of the Year 2012” competition.
Cook Island dance champions from New Zealand and Australia come to the Rarotonga to compete for ultimate title – International Dance of the year.
The Cook Islands International 7s is held during the first week of November each year and includes both a men’s and women’s division. The tournament has grown to now feature 16 men’s teams and 8 women’s teams competing over three days.
The competition is also referred to as Sevens in Heaven, because of the idyllic location and the beautiful people of the Cook Islands. However do not be mistaken – the rugby is just as competitive, fierce and intense!
Attracting some of the top teams from NZ and high profile 7s players to help boost local sides it is a battle of attrition under the warm Rarotonga sun. There is also fun off the field with novelty events at Sevens in Heaven including costume competitions, dash for cash races, kicking competitions and more.
The CI International 7s is fast becoming one of the most talked about 7s events in the region.
Vaka Eiva has come from small beginnings in 2004 to become the largest international annual event in the Cook Islands and is now an established event on the international paddling calendar. We combine the spectacle of competitive paddling with more laid back fun in the sun events served up with the inimitable Cook Islands hospitality – a weeklong paddling festival with something for everyone!
Iron man events, relays, single races, six man races, men women and mixed, 500 metres to 35km, juniors to adults and even our world famous pop the ama competition – only at Vaka Eiva. Not only can you paddle in the paradise that is Rarotonga, you can now compete in the Motu to Motu Race on the beautiful island of Aitutaki – imagine paddling on the front cover of a travel brochure!
Even if you don’t paddle, a perfect week to enjoy the festival atmosphere that is island wide. Enjoy the competition, our rich and vibrant culture and our beautiful islands.The Vaka Eiva Organising Committee and all members of The Cook Islands Canoeing Association, looks forward to welcoming returning friends & meeting new ones for the 9th annual Vaka Eiva.
This competition usually takes place in Aitutaki at Motu Maina Iti in the month of June. This is the best location as the competition can be held next to the motu so the spectators are right next to the action and there is clean wind with no obstructions.
Opening and Closing ceremony mandatory for all competitors. Actual day of competition will be determined by wind conditions. The different divisions are novice course racing and open freestyle, kickers, sliders.
For more information visit our website www.cookislands.travel