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The Hidden Culture of Aitutaki Cook Islands – The Punarei Cultural Experience

by | Destinations, Honeymoons


Polka Dot Bride

Atituaki Tiki

While the Cook Islands in my memory remains a beautiful blissful country full of aqua blue waters, sandy beaches, and fresh floral hairpieces and of course, cocktails, there was one tour we did on the island of Aitutaki that I came home and raved about. Normally on trips like this, we get to experience a lot of things, but I’m not sure anything has ever moved me so deeply as the Aitutaki Punarei Cultural Tour.

We arrived to our accommodation to find a truck waiting for us, and after a short drive around Aitutaki, our leader and guide  led us to an open field and asked us to pick a leader. It was explained that we would have to be welcomed by the tribal leader. Bemused, we went along with it and elected one of our fellow tour members to be our ‘tribal leader’.

Punarei Cultural Experience

Cook Islands Cultural Tour Punarei Cultural Experience

As we drove up a hill towards the village (and the most spectacular view over the coastline I might add) we started to hear chanting and drum noises. We suddenly stopped our chatter and all together seemed to collectively know this tour would be different from the others. Our tribal leader walked up to the warrior and presented an offering, our mock initiation ceremony beginning. The warrior accepted this in peace and then, our guide instructed us to walk through, one after the other and ask permission to enter.

Cook Islands Atituaki Tours

Punarei Cultural Experience Cook islands

Cook Islands Punarei Cultural Experience

Cook Islands Cultural Experience

Punarei Aitutaki Gardens

The Punarei Cultural Experience aims to do one key thing – bring to life the lost culture of the Cook Islands. The story goes that many years ago, a combination of disease and the arrival of missionaries led to the obliteration of 3000 years of Cook Islands’ history. The village is set up as Aitutaki once was. The huts are built based on historical stories and information, the plants representations of the original flora and fauna. All kick started by a local archaeologist Ngaa, the village is as close as possible to what life on the Cook Islands once was.

Punarei Cultural Experience Atituaki

Punarei Gardens

We wander the gardens and learn of the original Cook Islands history, the story that is not told on tourist brochures, or on glossy websites – but is filled with heartache and pain.

Completely immersed in the experience, together we sit at tables and weave the covers for our lunch out of leaves. We’re set to eat traditional Cook Islands fare from an Umukai (underground) oven. We place chicken, pork, fish and pumpkin onto hot black rocks and cover them with our woven covers as well as layers of sand, woven leaves and thick heavy blankets to slowly cook our food.  Next we work to make plates for our lunch out of palm fronds.

Atituaki Cultural Tour

Atituaki Plate WeavingAtituaki Tours

Atituaki Day Trips

Punarei Cultural Experience Review

While the oven is baking our lunch, we’re taken to a Marae, a Cook Islands cultural site. It was destroyed many years ago and through the work of the Purenai Culture tour community has been restored. We learn about the placement of the rocks – each one perfectly aligned with significance to the culture.

Aitutaki Cook Islands Murae

Punarei Cultural Experience Reviews

Murai in Atituaki

The Punarei Culture tour told us a story of pain and destruction, but also one of hope. The cultural team are not revered on the island for shedding light on a part of history that has been wiped out. The artist who carved a replica of the original Aitutaki tiki (their present day tiki is Tangiroa), remains anonymous so as to protect himself, the local schools do not teach of this culture, the greater communities shying away. The Punarei Cultural Experience team’s wish is to bring this experience to tourists so that somehow, someday, the original history of the Cook Islands becomes restored. As funds become available, development continues of this cultural site.

The tour itself is not a one sided silence either, it’s a conversation. We’re welcome to ask questions, to engage and learn, to ask the questions that would be taboo, difficult to answer. The conversation flows freely, our tour guide passionate about everything to do with this forgotten history and passionate about sharing the answers.

Punarei Cultural Experience Ground Oven

Punarei Cultural Experience Lunch

Cook Islands Passionfruit

Cook Islands Food

The team has been busily preparing the rest of lunch as we return to the village – we pull off layers and layers to reveal our steaming hot meat. There are bowls and bowls of freshly prepared tropical salads of breadfruit and taro greens which are served with tropical fruit, roasted bananas – all local produce and traditional fare along with our own Ukamai meat and vegetables. Our afternoon ends in deep conversation as we continue to peel back the layers of this somewhat dark tale.

Atituaki Views

For somewhere as picture perfect as the Cook Islands, the lessons learned on the Punarei Cultural Experience could cast a dim light, but what it taught me, is that the more I travel, the more I want to discover the truth behind the pictures. Tourism is such an odd beast, displaying at times, only what a country wants you to see. This tour brings to light the unspeakable and with that, casts its visitors as ambassadors and speakers of its very important message for the Cook Islands’ people.

The Polkas traveled to the Cook Islands courtesy of Expedia & Cook Islands Tourism. Meitaki for the amazing trip and long lasting memories. Check out my other reviews from our trip : Five Hot Spots In The Cook Islands For Your Wedding, Nautilus Resort, Cook Islands and Unique Sleeps: Aitutaki Escape, Cook Islands & The Cook Islands Bucket List.

Images by The Polkas

A San Francisco Stopover

by | Destinations, Honeymoons, Location USA, Reviews


Anika Reynolds

SF views

If you and your love are planning on heading to the United States for your honeymoon, consider adding a San Francisco stopover to your itinerary. This eclectic eco city of cultural and epicurean delights, tech giants and historic architecture promises to be an exciting addition to your romantic getaway.

From Australia, San Francisco is also a great arrival or departure location, with easy connecting flights. So, newlyweds, get ready to leave your heart in San Francisco, with our roundup of sightseeing and foodie SF experiences.

Three of the best: things to do

See the city: San Francisco natives love an eco mode of transport, making two wheels the choice for many morning commuters. So, when in SF why not take a bike tour? Streets of San Francisco Bike Tours offers a variety of trips which allow you to explore San Francisco’s vibrant neighbourhoods and see major landmarks like Golden Gate Park and the iconic Victorian-style homes, the Seven Sisters. If you’re worried about the hill-factor – don’t be – the tours are tailored in distance and route to suit different abilities, so it’s ok if you’re not quite “Tour de Francisco” ready.

Golden Gate Bridge

Take a day trip: Just beyond the Golden Gate Bridge lies the charming town of Sausalito nestled on the bay. Comprising cute shops, inviting restaurants, cosy bars and romantic inns, it’s a simply gorgeous locale to spend a few hours. Browse the quaint stores (if you and your man are fans of quirky socks, stop by Soxalito), dine right on the bay (try Barrel House Tavern or Scoma’s Sausalito) and soak in those stunning views.


Sausalito architecture


Explore the woods: A short drive from San Francisco, Muir Woods is a must-see for nature lovers and is home to some of the tallest trees on earth – the majestic Coastal Redwoods. Depending on how much time you have, try a brisk stroll around one of the shorter trails, or set off on a hike through the forest for a truly enchanted woodland experience. As you arrive, grab a map from the rangers and keep your eyes peeled for birds, butterflies, squirrels and chipmunks!

SF Muir Woods

Muir Woods stream

Three of the best: foodie experiences

Enjoy a moveable feast: Fancy a romantic stroll with food included? Join a walking food tour and get a local’s look at some of San Fran’s best foodie neighbourhoods. Avital Food Tours takes hungry travellers through a selection of the city’s iconic areas; so depending on your style you could try the trendy latin Mission District, Italian enclave North Beach, or the bohemian and musical Haight Ashbury. En route, you’ll get to sample tasty appetisers, delicious mains and decadent desserts from both new and stalwart establishments – and you can also choose to include drinks.

Sample the seafood: With its premier Pacific Ocean location, it’s only natural that San Francisco has garnered a reputation for great seafood – so you simply have to sample the local catch while you’re there!

Tourist hotspots Pier 39 and the Fisherman’s Wharf are the ideal places to start your SF seafood experience. Stroll along the famous pier, hang out with the raucous sea lions and try a mini donut (or many!) from Trish’s Mini Donuts.

Sea lions

Pier 39

Joe's crab shack

When you’re ready for mains, meander along the bay to the Fisherman’s Wharf and settle into a cosy booth at one of the many seafood restaurants. If you have a hankering for chowder and crabs, don a bib and get stuck in at nearby Joe’s Crab Shack ­– you definitely won’t leave hungry!

Dine market-style: San Francisco’s original Ferry Building has been transformed into a gourmet marketplace, bursting with artisanal products, fresh produce and delicious dining options. Foodie couples will love wandering along the cavernous main hall and discovering the array of delights on offer. Start your visit with a quality caffeine hit from Blue Bottle Coffee before venturing to Cowgirl Creamery Sidekick for a seriously cheesy Mac ‘n Cheese – it’s big enough to share! For upscale dining, slurp oysters at Hog Island Oyster Co or book into the highly regarded Slanted Door, which serves up inventive Vietnamese Fusion.

Ferry Building

All images by Anika Reynolds

With so many things to sample and see, friendly locals and super easy transport options, San Francisco is the perfect place from which to begin your United States honeymoon, no matter whether you have 48 hours, four days or more!

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Ms Chinoiserie Says: Wow – San Francisco is definitely on my US itinerary!

About Anika: I’m a freelance writer with a love of weddings and creatively styled events. I have a penchant for pretty stationery and perfectly put together cheese plates, and a never-ending sense of wanderlust!

Luxury Ubud Honeymoon

by | Destinations, Honeymoons, Location Asia, Reviews


Chloe van der Werf

As I am currently planning a getaway to the tropical paradise of Bali, I thought I’d have a look and of course dream about the perfect honeymoon. I came across the absolutely stunning Komaneka at Bisma, part of the centre of Ubud. It is nestled in the Campuhan River Valley, with picturesque views, nearby sloping rice fields and coconut groves. This resort is luxurious elegance and is designed to make you feel right at home. The resort offers airport transfers to and from Ngurah Rai Airport if made in advance.

Your 210 square metre, one bedroom villa has sweeping views of the stunning valley that can be admired not only from inside the villa but from the comfort of your own private pool, sundeck and daybed. For those of you who prefer to do a spot of cooking, you have your own fully equipped kitchen, pantry and dining area.

The stunning bedroom is complete with a king-size bed, air-conditioning for those balmy nights, Apple TV programs and free limited speed wireless internet. In my opinion, the bathroom is where this villa shines. Bathtub, twin vanity and the holy grail… an indoor and private outdoor shower room with rain shower head and restroom with eco-washer facility. Ladies there is also a dressing table and wardrobe! You also receive daily fruit, flowers and homemade cookies in your room and at the end of each day, you can help yourself to a delicious afternoon tea, featuring assorted Balinese and Western goodies.

The resort has plenty on offer as well including a restaurant, two bars, 24 hour room-service, spa, gym, jogging track, wood fire pizza oven and a Balinese kitchen compound for cooking lessons.  In-house guest activities include yoga classes, Balinese dance lessons, coconut leaf craft as well as wood carving lessons. There are also treetop picnic lunches, exotic Bisma barbecues and candle lit dinners. For those couples who would like to get out and explore the tropical surrounding areas, trekking and cycling activities can also be arranged.

Another favourite is the blissful Komaneka spa set amongst a tranquil setting of rippling water and the soothing aroma of spices and herbs. The spa has plenty of indulgent packages to choose from with natural products and a professional and personalised experience. Some of the treatments include traditional massage, wrap, herbal body scrub, baths and facials just to name a few.

Images via Komaneka at Bisma

Komaneka at Bisma really does offer something for everyone, from pure relaxation through to high intensity cycling and lots in between. While I didn’t even delve into all that Bali has to offer outside of this beautiful resort, if a warm, tropical getaway that has an abundance on offer sounds like your ideal honeymoon, I highly recommend you book in!

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Ms Chinoiserie Says: Absolute luxury for the perfect honeymoon – the daybed, deck and private pool look so beautiful!

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