Articles Top Tips for Tropical Brides

Filming in the Cook Islands, we see what makes the perfect island wedding. We’ve also asked local wedding professionals to share their tips for brides planning a destination wedding.

Picking a date and time for your wedding in Rarotonga or Aitutaki

Wedding Season

  • The best time of year for a wedding in Rarotonga is between May and November; these are the ‘Winter’ months. The moderate temperatures (20-30°C), and lower humidity, make conditions more comfortable, especially if you’re not used to a tropical climate [1].
  • Temperature + Humidity = ‘Heat’: It is the combination of the amount of water vapour in the air (humidity) and the air temperature that affect how ‘hot’ you feel. In lower humidity climates, such as New Zealand, your skin is better able to regulate body temperature to keep you cool. In Rarotonga, the higher humidity means that the same air temperature feels a few degrees ‘hotter’. [2]
  • Even if you have your heart set on an outdoor ceremony, always have a ‘Plan-B’, such as marquee or alternate indoor venue.
  • Flights tend to be cheaper when you book early: six-months or more in advance; or when travel dates fall outside of the New Zealand school holidays.
  • Also check the Cook Islands events calendar for cultural and sporting events for you and your guests to enjoy (2015 is the 50th Anniversary of Self-Governance, so there are a host of extra events on offer this year).

Picking a day

You can hold your ceremony any day of the week, although a surcharge may apply for weddings on a Sunday or Public holiday.

  • Monday: As the start of the working week, things move fairly slowly in the islands. Restaurants are likely to be restocking for the week ahead.
  • Tuesday-Thursday: These days are great options for a wedding, leaving Friday and Saturday free to enjoy local attractions.
  • Friday: This is the big night on the island. If you plan a Friday wedding you can continue the party after your reception, at one of the nightclubs in town (Avarua). Bars and clubs are open into the small hours of the morning.
  • Saturday: The Saturday morning Punanga Nui markets are great for local crafts, souvenirs and produce. This is something that you'll miss if you’re having your hair and make-up done.
    Clubs and bars close at midnight on Saturday.
  • Sunday: A day of rest in the islands. Local custom is to attended church or catch up with family.
    A surcharge may apply for weddings on a Sunday.

Keep in mind that there is a legal requirement to be in the Cook Islands three working days prior to your wedding date.

Island nights Cook Islands dancing and drumming troupes perform at resorts and venues around the island most nights of the week and are a great activity to share with guests. See the local daily paper for venues and times.

Sunrise or sunset?

  • The most popular times for a wedding are when it’s cooler, either at sunrise (approx. 6:30am) or in the late afternoon (after 4pm).
  • The light near sunset is fantastic for photography and videography (5-6:30pm).
    Check Rarotonga sunrise and sunset times.
  • Sunlight hours are approx. 6:30am-6:30pm (give or take an hour). There is no ‘daylight savings’ in the Cook Islands.
  • The sun rises, and sets fairly quickly; twilight is short compared to New Zealand.
  • If youre planning a beach wedding it pays to check the predicted tides (high tide = less beach).

Dressing for the occasion

  • Beat the heat. Remember that it gets hot under the sun. Consider choosing a lighter fabric; an off-the-shoulder gown style; or fewer layers than for a New Zealand gown. For the men, avoid heavy fabrics, dark colours, and three-piece suits. Formal (long) shorts are great for outdoor beach venues.
  • Concealing ‘glow’. Dress your wedding party in a colour and fabric that wont show perspiration.
  • Stylish shade. A beach wedding is the perfect opportunity for sun-smart fashion accessories: parasols for the girls, and stylish hats for the guys.
  • Footwear you can wear: Consider bringing two types of bridal footwear. A heel for your ceremony (perhaps with a heel stopper); and a simple wedge or toe-thong for the beach photoshoot and added comfort for your reception and first dance.
  • Fantastic flowers: In addition to creating a spectacular bouquet, a fresh-cut island flower makes a great hair accessory. Place your flower so it can be seen during your ceremony: on the side that will be facing your guests and photographer when you turn to exchange vows. Guys look great with a tropical buttonhole or simple white flower neck garland (ei).
  • Seasonal flowers: Tropical flowers are seasonal, so check availability with your wedding coordinator.
Tropical flower bouquets.
Toe-thong bridal accessories.

A toe-thong is more practical than a heel for a beach photoshoot.


Health and beauty

  • Keep cosmetics cool: The last thing you want on the morning of your big day is to find that the perfect shade of nail-polish or lipstick has been affected by the heat or humidity. Check your make-up care guidelines for storage instructions, or buy make-up that has been designed for humid conditions.
  • Nail polish - less is more: It takes longer for nail polish to set, so use fewer coats (a maximum of two is recommended). Also allow for more drying-time between applications.
  • Frizz be gone. Humidity can cause abnormal frizz or unwanted curls, so be sure to pack some frizz-prevention products.
  • Opt for a casual ’do: Hairstyles that use a lot of hairspray can come unstuck in humid conditions. Opt for a loose/casual up-do and accentuate it with a fresh local flowers to match your bouquet.
  • Go pro: If you have plans for a more structured hairstyle, or have a make-up look in mind, book a local hair and makeup artist. They are used to tropical conditions and have the knowledge and products to keep you looking stunning – all day long.
  • Sooth bites and scratches: Weleda Combudoron Gel is a herbal product that is great for reducing swelling and itchiness if you get a sandfly, mosquito bite or coral scratch while exploring the island.
  • Bring sun block - and apply it: For the days leading-up to your wedding, take special care to apply sunscreen to your face, arms, neck, and upper back. When travelling around the island choose a top that is similar in cut to your gown to avoid tan-lines in photos.
  • Looking after the guys: Outdoor activities such as fishing and golf can leave the men a little red-in the-face, or feeling the effects of the heat. Suggest a hat, sunscreen, seeking shade in the middle of the day, and drinking plenty of water. (Also try to avoid sunglass tan-lines).

On the day

  • P(hamper) yourself: Arrange a breakfast or lunch hamper to enjoy while getting ready.
  • Outdoor-proof: Before putting on your dress, apply sunscreen to exposed areas: such as your shoulders and the tops of your feet. If you’re planning an off-location photoshoot, take some bug spray with you.
  • Switch off air-conditioning: Turn off air conditioning to your room half-an-hour before your ceremony. This will give you time to adjust to the (outdoor) heat and humidity, and make final adjustments to your gown and make-up.
  • Trust the professionals: Delegate tasks, and be reassured that the wedding professionals on the island bring a great deal of experience to making yours, a day to remember.
Hairstyle for tropical brides.

An up-do is cooler and will look great for the entire day.

Make sure guys cover up too.

Remind the guys to cover-up while they’re exploring the island.


Looking after your guests

  • Get them to the ‘church’ on time: In Rarotonga, the round-the-island bus service circles the island twice per hour (one bus travels clockwise, the other anti-clockwise). Figuring-out when-to-catch-which-bus will leave most guests scratching their heads; arriving too early or too late; or simply stranded. Consider chartering a bus or two from Raro Tours to collect your guests from their accommodation, and to drop them home at the end of the day.
  • Pick a great MC: Have someone on hand at your ceremony venue who will make your guests feel welcome, let them know the plan for the ceremony, make introductions and guide them to their seats in case the groom is busy with his last-minute preparations.
  • Be sun smart: Think of your guests in the hot sun... provide water bottles or drinking coconuts (nu) when they arrive at the venue, or after your ceremony. Offer them fans, or parasols; set-up market umbrellas or hire a marquee for shade. Set-up a few rows of chairs for elders and families with children. (Chairs also help keep an ‘aisle’ free for your processional.)

Bonus tip: Friends with family Cocotots hire out buggies, car seats and toys here in Rarotonga. So your guests can use their luggage allowance for the essentials – things like chocolate and coffee!

Protect guests from the sun.

Protect your guests from the elements.


Planning your reception

  • Family-friendly? Ensure your reception venue caters for all ages in your wedding party. Hire childcare so that your guests can relax.
  • Personalise your refreshments: Create personalised bride and groom cocktails for your guests.
  • Reception on a budget: A classy cocktail-style bar with canapés is a cost-effective reception option.

Before and after

  • Day activities: Activities are a great way to enjoy your Pacific-escape with your family and friends, and Rarotonga provides many options including mountain safaris, lagoon cruises, visits to a cultural centre, or exploring the beaches around the island.
  • Honeymoon escapes: From Rarotonga it’s just a short flight onto to the island of Aitutaki or Atiu.
    Also check with your travel agent for multi-island travel packages [3].

Where to start?

Paperwork: Applying for your Cook Islands marriage license

  • Three-day waiting period: You need to apply for your marriage licence at least three working days before the ceremony, not including the day of application. In special circumstances, this waiting period may be waived if you complete a written application and pay a $45 waiver fee.
  • Documentation: You will need your passports, birth certificates (or certified copies). If youve been married before you'll need, a copy of divorce papers or the death certificate of your spouse.
    All documents must be in English or be supplied with English translation.
  • Payment: Marriage License $50, Marriage Certificate $15, Apostille Certificate/Seal (if applicable) $20.
    An Apostille Certificate authenticates a document for use in another country. An Apostille Certificate is not required for New Zealand or Australian couples.

Resort, wedding planner or DIY?

Most resorts in Rarotonga offer wedding packages, and often require that you and your guests book a certain number of nights accommodation. Wedding venues (outside of the resorts) may provide a coordinator who will arrange decorations and catering.

There are also a growing number of independent wedding planners who offer personalised service and access to exclusive (private) venues.

If you’re self-planning, a popular choice is to make a research trip prior to your wedding, to visit potential ceremony and reception venues and meet with suppliers. For services such as marquee hire, a hair stylist or gourmet foods, the Cook Islands Yellow Pages is a good place to start.

More tips?

Add your tips and feedback to our Facebook page.

Childcare for the reception.

Hire childcare for the reception so that your guests can relax.

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References and further reading

Meitaki (thank-you) to the following wedding professionals for sharing their tips: Atiu Villas, The Edgewater Resort & Spa, Muri Beachcomber, Nior Photography, Pacific Bride, Palm Grove, Sea Change Villas, Tiare Films, Wedded Bliss Rarotonga, The Wedding Guys, Wedding Planner Rarotonga.

Photography credit: Tiporo Photography, Rarotonga, Aitutaki, Cook Islands.

Published by Tiare Films, 14 Dec 2010. Updated 29 Jan 2015.

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Links to Wedding and Event Planning Services in Rarotonga and Aitutaki

Cook Islands Wedding Directory wedding and event services in Rarotonga and Aitutaki 


Island Booth Raro’s photobooth 


Tiporo Photography Aitutaki wedding photographers 


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