Rarotonga hosts first Kiwi wedding since travel bubble opens but some locals diversifying away from tourism

The first Kiwi wedding in Rarotonga since the travel bubble opened had the island's event industry feeling the love.

It's a major attraction for tourists and an integral part of the tourism industry which makes up 65 percent of the economy. But the pandemic has prompted the country to reassess its focus. 

The Cook Islands are where memories are made. 

One couple's memories will be forever linked with the travel bubble. COVID-19 put a stop to their first wedding plan. They had arrived at the airport only to find the border shut.

"Actually made it to checkout and then they changed the laws and we didn't quite make it," said the groom, Jethro Slimo. 

But Pacific Resort's wedding planner is glad that they instead ended up being the first tourists to get married in Rarotonga since the bubble opening.

"It's brought everything back to life and it's like we've been waiting for this, we've been ready for this and it's really exciting," said events coordinator Kate Payne. 

Since the pandemic began, the Cook Islands Government has been looking at ways to diversify from tourism. One particular focus is agritech, with loans of up to $50,000 for businesses to kickstart an idea.

At JungleFarm, their plan is for large-scale production of honey products.

"We've got a friend in New Zealand who does honey mead and he's been for years trying to push us towards that direction, so we saw an opportunity and pretty excited to do it ourselves anyway," says Tama Heather of JungleFarm.

The goal is to become less reliant on imports.

"Almost all honey products are from New Zealand and the United States and we can do that here," says Esther Heather. 

Esther left her job marketing a Cook Islands resort to pursue the family's new business producing the honey, which she says has a unique local flavour.

"We're surrounded by coconut trees up here and palm trees so there's a light honey that comes from there. A lot of the native trees that produce a really dark toffee, a really rich honey."

The travel bubble may soon bring a new hive of activity but Cook Islanders are busy making contingency plans should that stop again.