First wedding of the year

Saturday 23 January 2021 | Written by Losirene Lacanivalu | Published in Features, Weekend

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First wedding of the year
Stephen Lyon and his wife Lovelyn Gatchalian. CHARLOTTE PIHO/21012225

Rarotonga businessman Stephen Lyon and his long-time partner Lovelyn Gatchalian exchanged their vows in front of family and close friends this week. The wedding held at Ra Mura in Betela, Arorangi, was a special one – it was the first wedding of the year.

Stephen Lyon made Rarotonga his home after moving to the island from New Zealand over a decade ago.

Lyon set up a diving business here and eventually got himself involved in community work, advocating for the environment and supporting the people.

A couple of years after arriving here, Lyon met Lovelyn Gatchalian who came to Rarotonga from Philippines for work. They started dating and over time developed an unbreakable bond which strengthened after Gatchalian gave birth to their son James five years ago.


The bride Lovelyn Gatchalian. CHARLOTTE PIHO/21012222

About a decade later on Wednesday in front of family and close friends, the two tied the knot after taking their forever vows of love and honour. They sealed their lives together in a matrimony before Cook Islands marriage celebrant Florence Buchanan.


Cook Islands marriage celebrant Florence Buchanan. CHARLOTTE PIHO/21012223

The wedding held at Ra Mura in Betela, Arorangi, was a special one – it was the first wedding of the year.

Lyon, who is the owner and managing director of Pacific Divers, says they were planning to get married earlier but had to stall their wedding due to Covid-19.

They would have got married earlier if borders had been open, he says, adding they decided to have it in the summer hoping borders would be open by then.

The quarantine free travel into New Zealand which started on Wednesday enabled some of their guests, including his best friend from New Zealand, to attend the wedding.


Stephen Lyon with his best friend who arrived from New Zealand this week for the wedding. CHARLOTTE PIHO/21012226

The couple were also happy to exchange the vow in the presence of Lyon’s daughters from New Zealand, who managed to get to the island to witness the wedding.

“I am from New Zealand and my wife is from the Philippines, it would have been wonderful to get families and friends here,” he says.

Instead the couple relied on their close friends in Rarotonga to make their big day extra special.

“People who gathered around us are close friends who rallied together to plan and organise the wedding, food, decorations and many more, it was outstanding.”


The bride and the bridesmaids. CHARLOTTE PIHO/21012227

Lyon’s wedding team was led by Tokerau Turia who prepped the food for the big day and the Pacific Divers team Sandra Ankli and Ben Vakatini who located the tables and other equipment to the venue. Pigs were kindly gifted by Tin Tolosa and Trainee Samson. Fish was supplied by Jason Tuara.

The venue was decorated by members of the Filipino community in Rarotonga and the arch was created by Nana Short.

The material for the dresses was gifted by their friends in Nelson; Mike Kennedy and Edisha Patosa Miscoran and the bride’s wedding dress was sewn by Marilyn Garcia.

Lyon also thanked celebrant Florence Buchanan for her “guidance and support” and photographer Charlotte Piho for capturing the precious moments on their wedding day.

“It would have simply been impossible without all the help we have received. And I credit this to my beautiful bride to be. Who’s kind and warm soul has touched so many more lives than my own. Lovelyn truly is an amazing woman, evidenced by the people that have come together to help us.

“Thank you to all I have mentioned, and those I have no doubt forgotten. Thank you to absent family and friends for your wishes.

“And one last acknowledgement for our beautiful daughters, Dylan and Mila Lyon who have accepted Lovelyn into our lives. Without their support and acceptance this would never have been possible.”

Lyon hopes when the two-way travel bubble with New Zealand opens, it will also open up the opportunity for Kiwis to celebrate their big day in the little paradise.


The Lyon family. CHARLOTTE PIHO/21012224

“As soon as borders open New Zealand come to the Cooks. Having a wedding here is absolutely beautiful and the Cooks is an amazing place, it is a gorgeous place to get married.”

Before Covid-19 restrictions forced Cook Islands to close its doors to visitors, weddings on the beach here was a “dream come true” for many tourists.

The demand for paradise weddings was growing and became an important tourism foreign exchange earner in the Cooks. There were more wedding suppliers than ever, and many people were making their living from weddings.

The statistics available before Covid-19 pandemic disrupted the tourism industry showed that the numbers of visitors getting married in the Cook Islands remained fairly steady. The country hosted 643 weddings in the 2018/19 financial year.

While achieving similar growth in the near future seems impossible, there are high hopes the two-way travel bubble – expected to start by the end of March this year – will attract a good number of visitors who are planning to head here to make their big day extra special.