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The Duke of Marlborough: a Destination Wedding just hours away

When planning our wedding, we sought a destination to bring guests from all over the world together to enjoy a few days of New Zealand’s best scenery, food, drink and experiences. We searched for a spot that would really wow our international guests, but also be a holiday destination for our local friends.
While we settled on Coromandel and created a ‘from scratch’ wedding at a dry-hire venue, it’s only now in hindsight that I see how perfectly the Bay of Islands, and The Duke of Marlborough – would have fit the bill!

Photography: Levien & Lens Photograhy, full wedding on Paper & Lace

Just 3 hours up the road from Auckland, a Bay of Islands wedding has all the benefits of a destination wedding, just hours up the road. If you’re looking for a wedding venue that’s full of unique history and charm, romantic, beautiful and all inclusive for a large or intimate wedding, The Duke of Marlborough in Russell. You only have to see a few photos of the venue to see that it has the wow factor too. It even has the sunset we were after – its waterfront views are second to none. So, when staying here recently for a mini-break with Blair, I couldn’t turn down a personal tour of Russell’s best ceremony venues and vistas, and lunch with one of The Duke’s owners Bridget Haagh, and resident wedding coordinator and experienced celebrant Ida Birch (pictured below right).

In fact, I basically* attended a wedding at The Duke of Marlborough once (and it was beautiful)!
*by fortunate timing we were having dinner next door and even spied the gorgeous couple having their wedding portraits on the dock – (in fact Ida was the celebrant at the wedding I tried to crash).
Good food and wine are a given – The Duke‘s been serving alcohol since 1827 (legally since 1840 as NZ’s first licensed premises) and also serves the most beautiful fresh seafood and meat, as well as locally sourced seasonal produce.

Tying the knot away from home, whether at a destination wedding overseas or organising within New Zealand in another town, it’s a must to have a good team to rely on. Bridget together with owners Anton, Riki & Jayne, has made that a real priority. As a celebrant, Ida really knows, and more importantly truly understands the needs of couples planning their weddings, and assists them to do so here with ease. It takes more than great scenery to make a destination wedding, and having everything in-house – a go-to list of recommended vendors – makes planning a breeze.  The team ensures that couples, families and guests are all really comfortable and organised, and constantly bring couples’ dreams of a perfect day to life.

Guests can be married at The Duke itself, at nearby Christ Church in the village (the oldest existing church in New Zealand, above via Emily Raftery) or Russell Chapel on the Olive Grove (among others) before venturing to The Duke for the reception (and staying on to enjoy its 4 star accommodation). The Duke of Marlborough not only has 25 rooms (soon expanding further) but also The Duke motel, and there are ample neighbouring baches.

Top line: Christ Church, Second: Russell Chapel on the Olive Grove

Bridget has been behind the complete transformation of The Duke over the last few years, bringing the historical building back to its former glory and making it perfect for weddings. It has a capacity of over 140 for a seated dinner, and more for a cocktail reception, while smaller weddings still feel intimate as the room is easily divided to make it smaller. The function room backs onto the sun-filled waterfront porch, so all guests can enjoy the majestic views of the Bay of Islands, and enjoy the history and charm of New Zealand’s first licensed hotel – you’re just spoiled by history here.
It’s the perfect spot for a destination wedding, holiday experience for guests, and a honeymoon for the couple.
the-duke-of-marlborough-russell-weddings the-duke-of-marlborough-russell-weddings
Having experienced the space both as a restaurant day-to-day, and transformed into a wedding venue, as well as staying at the venue myself, and it’s just sensational.
Book a weekend away at The Duke to see what all the fuss is about and sample some of the delicious local food and over 100 wines on the menu (plus see this post on a Romantic Retreat in the Bay of Islands).
My favourite wedding at The Duke: Jess Burges/ Exposure NZ – Isabelle & Tim at Duke of Marlborough, Russell, Bay of Islands

See also Emily Raftery – Julia & John’s Wedding at Christ Church & Duke of Marlborough, Russell, Bay of Islands.
Levien & Lens Photography – Hana & Aidan at Pompallier Mission Gardens & Duke of Marlborough Wedding.

How to write thoughtful Wedding Thank You Notes

There’s something so special about receiving letters in the post these days, and it doesn’t get much more special than receiving a truly personal hand-written thank you note. While it might be the last thing you feel like doing post-wedding, writing thoughtful thank you notes is such a wonderful opportunity to reconnect with all of your guests, reflect on your memories of the day and with them, and express your gratitude for their presence (and possibly their gifts too).

I’ve also included some stunning personalised thank you cards at the bottom of this article, with links to where to purchase.

Get Organised Early: Order your Thank You Cards

You can organise your thank you notes with your wedding stationery designer at the same time as creating your invitation suite, or wait until after the wedding and send a photo thank you card.

To encourage me to do so, I organised my thank you cards at the same time as the rest of the wedding stationery and had them sent out to me pre-wedding.  Since the wedding a month ago, having the stack of cards and envelopes by my bed has been the perfect reminder of the time I spent with my friends and family. I enclosed a photo of the two of us, and where possible, a photo of our guests, which I had printed through Happy Moose (use ‘meg’ for 10% off).

Start writing Thank You Notes early

According to tradition, you have up to a year to write your wedding thank you’s, but in the instant-communication era we live in, you should aim for 3-6 months. Slowly but surely, I’ve been working my way through the cards, thinking about the time I spent with each of my guests and taking the time to be grateful for each of them and writing truly personal notes from the heart.

The guest list section of our wedding planner book has space to record the gift received from each of your guests, besides their name and address, allowing you to quickly refer to and write your thoughtful thank you card with ease, writing the address out on an envelope, and reminding you of the particular gift you are thanking your guests for.

What to write in your Wedding Thank You Cards

You don’t need to write an essay, just a few sentences expressing your gratitude for their presence, thanks for their gift, or if they contributed to your wedding wishing well, you can let them know how you plan to use the money.

If you can, make it personal – what made your wedding so special – was there something unforgettable during the ceremony or speeches? Did you particularly enjoy this guest’s song choice, over-the-top dancing, or were they just fun to be around? Remind your guests of your experience together, and make them feel special for being part of your Big Day..

Write special Thank You notes for family and Wedding Party attendants

Your family and wedding party have likely spent a lot of time helping you in the lead up to, and on your Wedding Day, so writing a longer, more thoughtful thank you card for their contribution and time is one way to show your appreciation. Some couples choose to give a small gift too – for family this could be a high-quality framed photo print of you all together (make sure to add this to the photographer’s photo list), or a small piece of jewellery or homeware for your wedding party.

Once you’ve finished writing and sending your thank you cards, it’s a great time to reflect and reconnect with your new spouse too, think about starting I still do – a couple’s journal and wedding anniversary diary to continue to work on your relationship long after you’ve sent the last thank you card.

Wedding Thank You Card Inspiration & Purchase Links

PearlyPaper (Downloadable then print with Happy Moose ‘meg’ for 10% off)

Mallory Hope Stationery (physical prints)

thank you note card inspiration 2

Wild Bloom Printables

wedding thank you card note inspiration

Sydney Bernadoni (Printable)

Wedding Thank You Note Card Printable 1


How to write thoughtful Wedding Thank You Notes

Bridal Shower: The Beginners’ How-to Guide

I feel incredibly lucky that my bridesmaids were so wonderful and eager to help with pre-wedding prep.  Of the five of my best friends I chose, only one lived in Auckland with me (literally, living with me!), the others in New York, Berlin, and two in Christchurch.  I’m not someone who likes to ask for help, or do I ever relinquish control, so the distance just meant I did it all myself and that suited me fine.  That is, until my bridal shower, when the two Christchurch girls insisted that the task of organising the shower was theirs alone.

The entire shower was a surprise: Impeccably beautiful, classy, and chic (so beautiful I should have asked them to plan the wedding itself)!  The photos speak for themselves, you wouldn’t believe it was their first stint as bridesmaids.  In addition to everything else, they even offered to write me an article:

How to Organise a Bridal Shower – From the Bridesmaids

The Bridal Shower

Date, time, venue, theme, guests, music, food and (importantly) drinks.  These were a few of the million and one things we discovered were crucial in planning anything wedding related! Having little (slash no) experience with bridesmaids’ duties, the two of us were going in blind. For those of you currently in the same position as we were, this is for you.

Given the privilege to be asked to stand beside your beautiful friend on her big day, get your thinking caps on – it’s bridal-shower time and the planning must begin!


First things first… What does the bride want?

Theme (if you wish)

The bride may let you know if she has a preference on theme for her bridal shower. Our bride-to-be had very few requests or requirements for what she was after (we told her we were in charge), so we thought hard about her likes and dislikes…


Cupcakes, class and Champagne – a high Tea it was!

Dress Code

Depending on the theme, consider a dress-code, e.g. vintage theme; tea-party dresses; all-white.

So where and when?

A bridal shower is a pre-wedding celebration, so we organised the party as close as we could to the wedding for as many of the wedding guests to attend and get to know each other.  Anywhere from 2-8 weeks is ideal, depending on bride and guests’ availability. A bridal shower is generally a little more civilised (until the mothers leave) so we opted for an afternoon shower and continued the celebration late into the night with the bride. Depending on what you choose, you can have it at someone’s house or at a hired space or venue.  Both have their pros and cons, costs and trade-offs.


  • No limits on guest numbers (subject to constraints of the home)
  • Flexibility for decorations and other personal touches
  • Organise in-home catering or try your hand at canapés
  • Complete discretion


  • Much less cleanup
  • Ease for catering
  • Possibly rental fees
  • Guests able to purchase own drinks/food


Invites: Who and How-to

Ask the bride to let you know who she wants at the shower.  As a shower is a classier, usually more grown-up affair than the bachelorette (hens’) party, the guest list normally includes mothers, aunts and grandparents.  Usually, a bridal shower, like a bachelorette, will be girls only.  Go through the bride’s wedding guest-list and narrow it down from there according to numbers’ constraints.
Figure out whether you’ll post physical invites, or a more casual Facebook one.  For Meg’s, we felt that sending out a physical invitation was more personal and better for getting in touch with older guests.  There are lots of great websites where you can design invitations using  templates, have them printed and sent right to your door.  We used vistaprint and opted for a simple template, which we customised to suit. Invites should be sent a month in advance, include time and date, costs if applicable, anything to bring (desserts or gifts), dress-code and theme if applicable, and possibly dietary requirements.

Food & Beverages

With regards to food, we suggest to keep it simple.  If guests are drinking, it’s very important that there’s enough food.  A high tea calls for club sandwiches, asparagus rolls, quiches and sweet treats.  These are all easily homemade foods that can be prepared the day before.   To cater for all guests we kept dietary requirements in mind with options like gluten-free quiche.
A dessert buffet or sweet table doubles as both decor and food.
Our bride-to-be loves a good glass of champagne, but not everyone drinks alcohol so provide a range of non-alcoholic beverages as well such as tea, coffee and/or a non-alcoholic punch.


A good place to start is raiding Pinterest for DIY ideas.  Decorating the venue with garden-gathered flowers (your mum’s friend’s great aunt’s garden) is a cheap, quick, easy and effective means of decorating.  To make this go even further we saved some wine bottles (not much of a challenge), removed the stickers and spray painted them in colours to match the theme. Wine bottles make great vases for floral arrangements.  Flowers will double as favours if you want to send guests home with something, or enjoy them in your home after.
A Bridal Shower High Tea of course also demands beautiful china.  We visited our friend Maureen at The China Cabinetin Christchurch who has an amazing selection of tea cups, saucers, vintage champagne glasses and more.  We handpicked each piece of china in beautiful pastel colours, which doubled as decoration to set the high tea scene.
Other decorative suggestions: fill champagne glasses with jelly beans in complementary flavours and colours; spread tables with native greenery; create a balloon arch or flower wall for stunning photos; make a flower chandelier (pictures courtesy of Honestly WTF and The House that Lars Built).

Bridal Shower Games/Activities

Depending on the bride, her tastes, and guests, organise a couple of activities for the day.  As we knew that there was to be a (wild) hens’ do with the usual suggestive straws, pink feathered sashes and the (potentially novelty) stripper still to come, we made the bridal shower a more civilised and classy affair (like Meg).  We had guests leave notes for Meg on paper-spoons “Recipe for a Happy Marriage”.
Other ideas for games/activities: Bridal bingo; Match the guest with their parents’ wedding photo; Guess the groom’s answers to questions about himself and the bride; create a cookbook of guests’ favourite family recipes; make flower crowns; create a wedding dress with newspaper/toilet paper, etc.
There you have it: As easy as theme, venue, food and drink and activities.  You might also like to have a timeline in mind for the day so that guests know how long to stay and what the day entails.  There’s no need to go overboard, a bridal shower is just a lovely excuse to have guests together to mix and mingle prior to the wedding. 

P.S. When the time comes to plan your first bridal shower… just remember if this is your first official bridesmaid’s duty so don’t fuck it up!

Head to our wedding planning advice and check out the little white book wedding planner.

You’re Engaged! Here’s what happens next (the best and worst!)

I couldn’t wait to get engaged, and I’m not the only one, but I was surprised by some of the ‘side effects’ of my new ring – both the best and the worst!
  1. You won’t be able to stop staring at your ring! From the moment Blair proposed, I was blinded (thank goodness I don’t drive often). Even if you’re not a “jewelry person,” you’re still obsessed. Oh, and your face hurts from smiling at it.
  2. Having your nails painted suddenly becomes a lot more important than usual, because everyone else is staring at it too (and your cuticles!)
  3. You drink A. Lot. Of. Champagne.
  4. You have to tell your proposal story a million times! Of course, that’s part of the fun, too. I recommend doing so over Champagne and passing it to your friends in ‘Chinese whispers’ and seeing what it becomes!
  5. Everyone wants to know your wedding venue and date, immediately. “Congratulations! When’s the wedding?”
  6. They also assume they’re on the guest list. “Just let me know when to book my flights – ha, ha”
  7. You can’t just relax, you have to start planning immediately… even if you really just want a long engagement and a casual wedding (sure you do…)
  8. People forget that you had a life before wedding planning (and that you still have one), and it becomes all they ask about. “How’s wedding planning going”
  9. You feel really, really bad if you argue with your fiancé, because you’re supposed to be on cloud nine which means agreeing about everything… obviously. Of course, that’s silly – you’re still the same people, and it doesn’t mean the engagement’s off every time you have a row!
  10. Everyone’s so happy for you! You announce your engagement and discover friends you forgot you even had. 
  11. People assume you’re stressed about wedding planning. Tell them you’ve got a little white book, and it’s easy.
  12. You feel legit! Well, I did – despite having been together for 7 years, being engaged made me feel really secure, serious and legitimate (marriage even more so!)
  13. You change your mind about everything on your Pinterest page, once you realise how much it all costs (see Tools other than Pinterest)
  14. You get sent ‘wedding inspo’ by all your friends (I still do – thank you everybody!) because they think of you when they see it (cool, huh!)
  15. Everyone has an opinion (and they’re all experts!) – and it’s not necessarily the same as yours.
  16. Oh, and they’ll tell you their opinion, whether you ask or not “You want to get married in May? Well, my second cousin’s friend got married in May, and they got a divorce within six months. I really wouldn’t risk it.”
  17. You realise how much easier this would be if money grew on trees (read how to start a wedding budget).
  18. You say fiancé (or is it Feyoncé) as often as you can, and kinda like it!
  19. You get decision-making fatigue! budget, guest list, wedding party, venue… and that’s just the beginning!
  20. You wish you could get the stupid thing over with already. Yes, really. You’ll consider eloping (hello Vegas)
  21. Not everyone will be happy… There’s usually at least one person who may come off as less supportive or elated as the rest of your friends and family.
  22. You watch wedding movies differently! P.S. Watch My Big Fat Greek Wedding (1 and 2), Father of the Bride, My Best Friend’s Wedding and 27 Dresses

Just reading over this list makes me kind of makes me miss that time!
Personally, one of the best things about being engaged is that I finally had an answer to “Why aren’t you guys married yet?”
I’d love to know what’s surprised you about being engaged – the best and the worst.
Head to the wedding planning advice blog and grab our best-selling wedding planner to get started.


New Zealand Wedding Venues: How to Choose an all inclusive, DIY or BYO venue

Choosing your wedding venue is one of the first big decisions when you start wedding planning, after starting your wedding budget and guest list. While almost every other element of a wedding is completely optional, at the very least you will need to choose a ceremony location, and doing so can help you to get a real feel for how your Wedding Day will look and feel.

As choosing your wedding venue is such an important part of wedding planning, this article is a long one, so you may wish to bookmark it to come back to.

How to choose the Perfect Wedding Venue

Your idea of the perfect wedding venue will be completely different from others’, but even if you know exactly what your dream wedding will look like, it can actually be difficult finding the right location. Not only that, but as well as finding the ideal location to bring your visions to life, you also need to choose a wedding venue which fits your wedding budget and your guest list.

You may also be faced with a choice between an all-inclusive or “DIY” venue (where you transform a non-traditional wedding venue such as farm or private home into your venue, often hiring a wedding marquee and furniture.

Choosing your wedding venue is actually pretty exciting – its the first step of wedding planning where you really get to think creatively and can begin to ‘see’ your wedding. Hopefully when you find the right place, you can imagine where you’ll be walking down the aisle and making your solemn vows, not to mention taking your first sip of champagne and getting those all-important wedding photos. It’s going to be the best day of your life, you just don’t know where it is yet! I hope you find this article useful, make sure you take home at little white book wedding planner to help you with planning too.

When to Choose your Wedding Venue

For many couples, choosing the wedding venue can feel like an overwhelming decision. You may be worried about waiting too long to book and losing out on dates, possibly apprehensive about committing so much of your wedding budget, and maybe stressing just a little bit about your guest list.

I hope to be able to put you at ease, no matter how long you have until your wedding, if you’ve found your way here, you’re obviously taking positive steps to choosing the wedding venue for your big day, and you have plenty of time. They say you can’t rush perfection, and that’s what you’re looking for – the wedding venue that’s perfect for you.

Around 75% of couples choose to marry on a Saturday, and most weddings are scheduled over summer. If you are also seeking one of these covetable dates – of which there are around 14 per year – you will need to book your wedding venue around 12 months prior to your wedding.

This is actually an ideal time to view the venue too, as its appearance will be similar to what you can expect at the same time of year. If you are flexible as to days or months, you can probably secure a date much later.

Will you choose an All Inclusive Wedding Venue or Organise a DIY Wedding?

A ‘ready-made’ wedding venue like a hotel or vineyard may actually be much cheaper (and a lot easier) than organising a “Dry Hire” “DIY” or “BYO” wedding – for instance a bare venue like a hall, house, or piece of land with marquee for your wedding.

I understand, it can be so tempting to see the potential savings by having a Dry Hire/BYO venue and saving on the alcohol and catering for your wedding. Unfortunately, it just isn’t quite that simple. I should know – we had a completely DIY venue, which meant we did get to BYO wine and spirits. Here’s what it also meant:

  • We also had to hire every single item of crockery, cutlery and glassware, at great expense, not to mention the chairs, tables, vases, and even a microphone for our celebrant.
  • We had to estimate how much beer, wine and spirits to buy, knowing that if we underestimated and ran out, the wedding would feel like a complete disaster, with the closest supermarket being over half an hour’s drive from the wedding venue
  • We had to transport, and then refrigerate (in a hired refrigerator) cases and cases of wine and beer, and keep them cool on one of the hottest days in February
  • As our venue did not have a bar, or bar-tender, we had to instead put all the bottles on a large table for guests to help themselves from. While they loved this – and there was plenty to go around, when we tidied up (yes, you have to do that at a dry-hire venue!) the next day, we realised that 80% of the bottles had been opened but 60% of the bottles were half full, so we wasted a lot of really good wine!

Should we have a DIY/Dry-Hire Wedding Venue?

You’re creating the wedding venue from scratch, which means complete flexibility in terms of how to design the day. It’s all your choice, but it’s all at your expense and subject to time commitments.

If you go for a ‘Dry or DIY hire’ wedding venue, you have the opportunity and responsibility of doing everything yourself, preparing the room, organising the catering, alcohol, bar tenders, and servers. It can be a big job for one person – I’m not saying you need a wedding planner, but you might want to enlist the help of a friend or parent, (and definitely stay on track with a wedding planner book).
Personally, we decided that the expense was worth it, because the venue satisfied all other requirements and even had some accommodation on-site. We did a lot of maths first though, and surprisingly the venues that work out the cheapest are those that offer everything on premise, such as a chef, staff, catering, furniture and a sound-system.

Ensure that when hiring an all-inclusive wedding venue, that you really do know everything it includes (even down to the chair covers, or the services of a wedding planner). The wedding planning pack covers all wedding vendor questionnaires – it’s sold individually or together in the little white book + planning pack bundle, please at least take the time to truly think about whether the venue fits all your requirements, and you give some serious attention to the contract and what it includes and excludes.

Before you Visit your Potential Wedding Venue

If you’ve ever watched Say Yes to The Dress, you’ll know that the absolute worst thing to do is to try on a dress which is way out of her wedding budget. The same applies when it comes to choosing your wedding venue. If you visit and then fall in love with a venue which is way out of your budget, you are setting yourself up for failure and/or disappointment.

Prior to visiting any potential wedding venues, email their coordinator to enquire about package and pricing options. Set out an email with any preferred dates or at least the month and days of the week, and the approximate guest list you intend to have, and then only make an appointment to view if you can afford it. This also avoids potential disappointment in visiting the venue only to find that your date is already booked. It also gives you an insight into how helpful they may be to communicate with over email – a crucial part of wedding planning is being able to communicate effectively with your wedding vendors.

Finding your dream New Zealand wedding venue for both your ceremony and wedding reception will be the backbone of your wedding, so before you visit, it’s important to do some research and give some thought to your priorities.

Choosing a New Zealand Wedding Venue

New Zealand is absolutely spoiled for choice when it comes to wedding venues, making it a popular spot for destination weddings too.

Hopefully, you’ve also followed the first steps to wedding planning, and have begun your little white book, because the more prep you’ve done, the easier choosing your wedding venue will be. Having already identified your purpose and intentions for your wedding will make venue decisions much easier.

Of course, it’s also very difficult to choose a venue without having thought about a date, a draft guest list and without starting a wedding budget, because the size of your wedding, how much you’re willing to spend, and when it’s going to be are crucial elements to help determine where to tie the knot:

  • Guest Capacity: You can’t really choose a wedding venue until you’ve decided on approximately how many guests you’re inviting. There’s no sense securing a venue which seats 100 and then making a guest list which spreads to 120. Once you have an estimate number, you can compare venues based on cost per person, too. Having a small wedding is by far the easiest way to cut costs.
  • Wedding budget: will indicate whether it’s an extravagant or an more intimate event, and you can’t sign any wedding venue contract before knowing exactly how it’s going to effect the rest of your budget. Your wedding venue can cost up to 50% of your entire budget (if in house catering is included) and if you opt for a dry-hire/DIY venue, there’s a lot of other budgeting to do to make it work.
  • Season/date: also has a part to play in choosing your wedding venue – if you are planning a wedding in a short space of time, you are less likely to secure an in-demand wedding venue on popular weekends. You can save a substantial amount by having an off-peak (weekday) or winter wedding – New Zealand has some incredible venues for those.

There are a number of options available to you when it comes to venues that fit your style and budget, and remember that many venues can be personalised to set up your dream wedding celebration. If the venue of your dreams costs more than your budget allows, consider themed-adjacent, less-expensive venue options. One of the best ways to reduce costs is by looking for unconventional or alternative options for your wedding.

What are your Wedding Venue priorities?

Wedding planning always comes back to purpose and priorities, because for most people, you just can’t have everything. Think about your ideal style, types of wedding theme for decor, the date you’d ideally book, guest capacity and whether you’ll have your your ceremony and reception at different locations, or if you want an all-in-one wedding venue.

For example, If you have not prioritised a large spend on décor and flowers, but the space is very bare and will require a lot of decorating, you may have to reallocate your budget to achieve the look you want. You may not be able to get everything you want from your wedding venue, so prioritise which elements are most important.

Our priorities were to take our guests out of Auckland city (and therefore we needed plenty of accommodation on-site or nearby); to find a venue that could host both the wedding ceremony and the reception dinner; and, of course, we wanted to showcase one of the most beautiful spots of New Zealand to our international guests (and which would look stunning in photos).

What else might you be looking for in a Wedding Venue?

If you are having a religious ceremony, you will need to choose your church or other religious building, which may dictate your reception venue choices a little due to travelling distance. If transport is important to you (whether a helicopter entry or arrival on horseback), then you need to ensure the venue suits that requirement too. Create a ‘must have’ and ‘might have’ list.

Think about wet weather back ups – if the only reason you love a venue is for its stunning garden outdoor ceremony space, or its outdoor photo opportunities, consider how you will feel if the heavens open and your picture-perfect panorama becomes a wet and muddy trench.
If you are having a large wedding, how does the space work in terms of visibility and audibility – both for the ceremony vows/readings and the reception speeches.

Make a Wedding Venues shortlist

Once you’ve worked out your guest list, budget and other priorities, start making a shortlist of wedding locations and venues.

Once you’ve found a few venues that catch your eye, it’s important to schedule a visit in person. When you’re there, take note of the atmosphere, the lighting, and the overall vibe of the space. Pay attention to the layout and flow of the venue, and imagine how your wedding day would look and feel in that space. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and take plenty of photos to refer back to later.

Consider practicalities such as the venue’s capacity, accessibility, and amenities.

Once you’ve found a few potential venues that tick all the boxes, it’s time to start comparing prices and packages. Make sure you understand exactly what is included in each package and what additional costs you may incur. Ask about any restrictions or requirements, such as minimum spending or curfew times, and make sure you’re comfortable with them.

Capacity – Is it large enough to accommodate your guest list?

Ensure the capacity of the wedding venue fits, and not just according to how many tables and chairs there are, but whether there’s enough room for everyone to dance, space for older people to sit down, and ample space for everything else you want to have. Buffet tables take up lots of space, bands take up more room than a DJ, and if you’re asking for presents to be brought to the reception, you’ll need space for a gift table too.

Consider the capacity and layout of each of the spaces you’d be using.

  • If you’re having a small wedding, a large venue may be unsuitable and completely change the ambience.
  • If you’re doing ceremony, cocktails, and reception all in one venue, does it have three separate spaces for all of those events?
  • Does it require a space that is weather dependent (such as an outdoor space)? This is where you can recognise potential hidden costs and hidden issues.
  • Think about the flow of the ceremony if you’re having it at the same venue.

Accessibility –  Is it easily accessible for all of your guests, including those with disabilities? 

If you have a lot of elderly guests attending, or friends and family in wheelchairs, ensure that the wedding venue is not just accessible, but also enjoyable for those. Consider bathroom facilities with the same thoughts in mind – you don’t want guests to have difficulty taking themselves to the bathroom, having stairs to climb or having to go up and down hills if it will make them uncomfortable.

The same goes for parking – is the venue accessible for guests to park and walk to; safe to leave their vehicles overnight; is there public transport available for intoxicated guests to get home, or are you okay with needing to provide transportation for guests from a hotel to your remote venue? Transportation can be a fairly big line item on your budget if you’re bussing or shuttling people to and from.

Take note of any unique features or limitations of each venue, such as parking, bathroom facilities, or catering options.

Style & Theme

Does the venue have the right feel and ambience, in accordance with the style, theme and environment you want to create? If you’re planning a casual wedding, don’t pick a venue with a fussy, fancy feel, as you’ll have to spend time and money changing it to suit your theme, when you could choose a venue that’s more suitable to start with. What is the existing decor, will it match your wedding colours, or will you have to spend a lot of money on other decorations and flowers to make it suit?

Consider the extras, such as Catering & Hireage

When comparing venues, make sure to factor in any additional costs associated with each one. For example, many venues restrict wedding catering to in-house only, or specify preferred caterers to use, while others may allow you to bring in your own.

This may be of importance of you for many reasons, including personal or religious, so ensure you consider the options and limitations for caterers. The same applies with BYO – understand whether there is an option to bring any of your own wine (and if a corkage fee applies).

Think about any rental costs for chairs, tables, or decorations, as well as any accommodations for you and your guests.

Make sure to read the fine print and ask questions about any restrictions or requirements that the venue may have.

These are just some of the questions I prompt you to ask with the wedding planning pack, as well as others such as:

  • How many guests can you cater for?
  • What are the noise restrictions?
  • Can you bring in whatever outside vendors you want?
  • Are the kitchen facilities available for those vendors?
  • Is there tableware included?
  • How many tables fit into the room?
  • What sound equipment is provided for a DJ or band?
  • Is there room in the wedding venue for a band and/or dancing?
  • Is it a licensed venue?
  • Is there enough lighting provided?
  • Are you allowed to light candles?
  • Are there any limitations on decorations?
  • Are candles or other open flames allowed?
  • Are there any hidden costs?
  • What are the overtime charges?
  • Note this is a non-inclusive list, look to the wedding planning pack for all vendor questionnaires

Once you’ve answered all of these questions, and more, go over any contract with a fine-toothed comb (or a lawyer/parent/friend) and consider:

  • Can we afford this venue? Not just can we afford to pay the venue fee, but will this cost fit within our budget and still allow us to have the other things we hope for?
  • Does the availability/date suit us and our guests? You may wish to double-check with your most important guests (bridal party, close family, etc).
  • Does this wedding venue really fit my estimated guest list. Sometimes venues stretch what’s possible in order to make themselves more attractive to all couples (just because you can fit 200 people into a room, doesn’t mean you should.
  • Does the venue fit your vibe? You should be able to suss this out fairly quickly, and get a good gut reaction, but if you don’t LOVE the vibe, and aren’t sure you LOVE the space, keep looking.

Once you have booked your venue

After booking your wedding venue, you can begin to organise everything else, including the very important on-the-day plan. As you organise each of the next elements of your wedding, keep returning to what will suit the venue. Work with a floor plan of the area, so that you can see how much room things will take up, i.e. a DJ booth, dessert table or selfie station will each need a couple of metres of space.

Think about transport and parking – both between the ceremony and reception venues (if applicable) and how your guests will get home afterwards. Put this on your wedding invitation info card.
Keep in regular contact with your wedding venue. They may even be able to suggest or book preferred suppliers for you, and many will continue communication with those vendors once you have booked them in too.

An Stunning Alternative Fiji Elopement by Van Middleton

If you have been thinking about eloping or celebrating your wedding day in Fiji, today’s alternative love story will make it a done deal! This intimate elopement is not your average resort wedding, with gorgeous couple Belinda + Eddie embracing Fijian culture and local community before taking a swim fully kitted out in wedding gear! The stunning images by Van Middleton and this breathtaking film by Asher King will wow you all the way to the islands and back, and I’m now desperate to get by passport renewed for a Fijian adventure! Enjoy xox

Who Just the two of us (Belinda + Eddie)
Where Savusavu, Fiji

We splurged on… an amazing destination elopement. We wanted to do something that was just for us, to celebrate our love for each other and to minimize stress during an otherwise extremely challenging time in our life.

We shared our experience with our family and friends when we returned, in a quiet and special way. Our photographer and videographer made it easy for us to share our experience with those with love.

Our advice to engaged couples is to not ask for too many opinions when planning your special day, choosing your dress, or any other detail of your wedding. Find your inner voice, work our what you want together, and stick to it.


Photographer Van Middleton
Videograper Asher King (see the film here)
Planner Filo at Namale Resort & Spa
Hair + Makeup Felice (arranged via Namale Resort & Spa)
Brides Dress Martina Liana
Brides Shoes Grace Loves Lace
Groom Jacket, shoes, pants and shirt from Calibre
Music Local Fijian choir
Earrings Nicole Fendel
Church St Andrews Parish, Savusavu

The Secret to Organising your Seating Plan

If you’re struggling to work out how to organise the seating plan for your wedding, you are not alone. The seating plan is an important (but often political and quite tricky) part of wedding planning, to ensure your guests enjoy themselves – and avoid any possible family feuds.

When do you Organise your Seating Arrangements?

One of the tricky elements to organising your wedding reception seating plan is that you need to know exactly how many guests you have, as well as of course who they are, so that you can work out who to seat them with. If your wedding guests are a little slow to RSVP, this can mean you’re working out your seating plan right at the ‘sharp end’ of wedding planning, when you’ve already got a lot on your plate. Although you can try to organise your seating plan early, you do risk having to redo it later, so instead, make sure you’re on top of all your other wedding planning tasks, and save time to focus on this one right at the end.

Pro tip: We organised our wedding seating plan with a bottle of wine, and used wooden letters!

The Secret to your Wedding Seating Plan

The real secret to your wedding seating arrangements, is that it is not actually as important as you think it is. Your wedding guests won’t be stuck to their seats all night, and whether they’re seated with best friends or complete strangers, they will still have plenty to talk about, and will enjoy the seated part of your wedding reception. It can be really nice to break up groups of friends and pair them up instead with friends or family of yours that don’t know many others.

Specific Seating vs Choose Your Own Place

Of course, depending on the style and formality of your wedding, it’s up to you whether to assign tables. For a cocktail wedding, just ensure there is space for guests to sit, rest and eat.
If you choose not to allocate seating, still consider:

  • the amount of time required for guests to find a seat and be seated;
  • the space and ability of guests to move around tables to find a space;
  • it may not suit a set menu/plated meal if there are guests with dietary requirements;
  • whether you still want to delegate a head table, bridal party table and/or children’s table.

You can display a cute sign to inform guests, i.e. “come as you are, stay as long as you can, we’re all family, so no seating plan”, or “we’re all family now, please sit yourself”

Starting your Seating plan

The head table (or ‘top table’) is where the couple sit. The most traditional seating plans have the parents of the couple as well as the best man and maid of honour, whereas more modern weddings have the entire wedding party on the head table, and the parents seated nearby.

So that the couple can see the guests (and vice versa) and those making speeches can be seen and heard, usually the head table is a long rectangle one.
Alternatively, a sweetheart table is just for the bride and groom, and if the bride and groom have children already, they may want to have them at their table.

Round tables – it’s not necessary to specify actual seats, but rather you can just choose to group guests to tables. If you choose to have specified seats, you’ll also need place cards, which will add to your stationery budget. For a 60″ table, you’ll want 6-8 guests (10 at an absolute maximum and not for large guests)

Rectangle tables – depending on the length of rectangle tables, it may be easier to have guests with specific seating. Commonly, rectangle tables are 6 x 30″ and seat 6-8 people depending on whether you have guests on the end.

When spacing tables, consider the amount of room required for wait-staff, or more room if guests will be moving around a lot (i.e. for a buffet).

Mix, mingle and blend, or seat known friends/family together?

Between your two families and two (or more) groups of friends, you may have at least four distinct ‘groups’ of guests, so your first choice when it comes to seating will be whether to seat ‘groups’ together, or mix them all up so that they can get to know new people. Begin by organising your groups according to how you know them: family members and friends from different aspects of life (childhood, high school, college, work, etc.)

A combination of both often works well, such as seating clusters of 2-4 people who know each other close to each other, with other guests or family they don’t yet know. Between you and your partner, you’ll know what’s likely to suit your guests. Particularly for singles, or guests who don’t know many others, they’ll feel more comfortable being seated next to someone they do know.

Where to seat children?

If there’s many children of similar ages attending, considering putting them together, or alternatively seating them with their parents, and having groups of parents together (they’ll be more understanding of noisy, possibly distracted kids). If you do have children as wedding guests, consider how to keep them entertained during long parts of the evening like the reception meal.

How to Work on your Seating Plan

We used a wooden alphabet set to play around with (you could also use scrabble letters) instead of post-it notes, but you can write each guest’s name on a post-it note, and line up as many as you have tables, then move people around until you are satisfied with the arrangement. If you have couples, have both names on the post it, and if you’ve thought about a cluster of guests to be together, write all those names on the post it and move those around tables (saves time moving 2 or 4 different post its)

Take a picture of the spreadsheet, ready to send to your stationery designer, but of course don’t finalise anything until you’re 100% certain of your guest numbers and RSVPs.
Really, do what suits you – don’t stick to ‘tradition’ if it makes you (or someone else) uncomfortable.

Our Software makes this incredibly easy!

If you haven’t already discovered our wedding planning software, then this is the perfect time. You can pay to use it month by month (you could even use it just to organise your seating plan and it would be worth it!

Tips & Tricks to Organising your Seating Plan

  • Seat younger guests closer to the dance floor and older guests a little further away.
  • Seat children further away from the head table and speeches, so as not to distract other guests (close to the bathrooms, ideally)
  • Resist the ‘singles table’ – go ahead and introduce your single friends on the dance-floor later, but don’t put all the singles together, it’s embarrassing. But in the same vein, don’t put one single with a group of all couples, unless they’re friends already.
  • Be tactful, don’t make anybody feel uncomfortable. Avoid seating people together who have a history they wish they could forget.

Once you’re sorted, consider these beautiful seating plan designs, these two from my friend Amanda of (and she did our stationery too!) and the rest via Etsy.

Via Etsy (click to link).

Romantic Floral Dunedin Garden Wedding by Acorn Photography

We saved by… I have to admit…I’m not a very do-it-yourself kind of person, in fact I don’t think I have a single artistic or crafty bone in my body! Because of that, Andy and I definitely went for convenience over affordability and kept our DIY to the minimum. However, my Mum did spend many painstaking hours creating 75 beautiful confetti cones and a wonderful “Advice Board” for us.

Today’s gorgeous wedding took place in a beautiful garden setting on the Otago Peninsula, inspired by romantic florals…

The only thing I was 100% certain on for our wedding theme was that we would have peonies at the center and everything else would work around them. – Cara

Moody skies + lush green backdrops + mirror like harbour views make this wedding seriously romantic, with it all captured perfectly by Dunedin based Acorn Photography. Enjoy! xox 

Who Andrew + Cara Ridden (nee Raal)
Where Glenfalloch Gardens & Restaurant Dunedin
Guests 67 in total – mostly close friends and family

Our love story began… four years ago while working in the same job – Playball Dunedin, however this work was quite sporadic and so it took us a long time to actually get to know each other. Andy is incredibly shy and quiet and although I am very outgoing, trying to talk to him on the brief occasions when we worked together was painstakingly hard! Eventually I had decided I’d had enough of trying to make things happen at work and I needed to take things a step further… So after some discussion with some of my closest friends I decided to throw an “end of year” party. My friends and I dubbed this party “Operation Candy” (Cara + Andy = Candy)…safe to say it was a success and we’ve literally been inseparable ever since.

I said yes… Although quiet and shy, Andy has a real knack for making the simplest things incredibly romantic. Our proposal was much the same. As I’m a nurse I often work shift work and the weekends, whereas Andy works Mon-Fri and plays football in the weekends. After about 4 weeks of not having a single day off coinciding we eventually had a Saturday off together. Andy had a whole day of activities planned which basically involved re-creating our first few dates together. First he took me out to the Otago Peninsula to watch the seals frolicking, we grabbed an ice-cream and some lunch and then went for a stroll in the Dunedin Botanic Gardens.

After an hour or so of wandering around the gardens I mentioned maybe we should head back home as it was looking like it was going to rain. Andy seemed really hesitant to head back home and kept insisting that we try “one more path”. So, reluctantly, I agreed and we walked down this derelict path which opened out to a large lawn and bench overlooking North Dunedin. Once I saw the bench I realized that this was where we had our second date and we had spent hours sitting and chatting at this bench. When I sat down Andy got down on one knee and asked me to marry him. I had been given the diamond for my ring 8 or so years ago from my Grandpa in South Africa and my parents had kept it safe for me until we decided to get engaged. Unbeknownst to me, Andy had spoken to my father and got the diamond made into a beautiful ring for me.

Our wedding style was… Romantic/floral. The only thing I was 100% certain on for our wedding theme was that we would have peonies at the center and everything else would work around them.

We splurged on… Photography and videography. Personally, I always thought one of the most important aspects of a wedding is the photography as it’s something you get to keep forever and share with your children and grandchildren. After hearing endless amounts of friends and family say things like “your day will go by so quickly, make sure you take it all in” I decided that I really needed to go all out. After our wedding, I can safely say this was the best decision I ever made – the Acorn Photography team were spectacular and I cannot get enough of our photos and video. Having the creative video was like the icing on the cake as it meant we got to share our day with our friends and family who couldn’t make it.

Our advice to engaged couples… The biggest piece of advice I could give couples is don’t stress the little things. They may seem like big things now, but on the day they will seem insignificant compared to the fact that you just got to marry the love of your life.


Photographer Erin & Dave Isaacs at Acorn Photography
Flowers Amaryllis for Flowers
Venue + Catering Glenfalloch Gardens & Restaurant
Stationery + SignageJust My Type
Welcome Sign Harlan Creative
Hair Aurum Hairstylists
Makeup Sam at Ivy Make-up Artists
Cake The Tart Tin
Celebrant Nicola Wall
Brides Dress + Veil Venus Bridal from House of Kavina
Brides Accessories Necklace / Earrings Stewart Dawsons + Shoes Merchant
Bridesmaid Dresses Venus Bridal from House of Kavina
Grooms Suit Ace Suit Hire + Shoes Number One Shoes + Cufflinks & Watch ASOS+ Belts Hallensteins
Rings Dunedin Goldsmiths
Transport Two family friends who owned vintage cars
Music DJ from Gravity Events

An Intimate Rustic Matamata Farm Wedding

Today’s Matamata farm wedding is rustic, chic and a little bohemian (the perfect wedding trifecta!), with lovebirds April + Adam holding an intimate ceremony with an awesome after party idea that is totally worth stealing!…

We really wanted a small, intimate ceremony but also wanted to have a big party and celebrate with everyone! So that’s what we did. We invited immediate family to our ceremony (about 20 people) and while we were getting our photos down the farm all of our other guests arrived for our ‘Happily Ever After Party’ (an extra 80 people).

A big congrats to the gorgeous couple + a very special thank you to Keryn Sweeny for sharing your always inspiring work. xox

Who April & Adam Thorne-George
Where Adam’s family farm just outside of Matamata
Guests 100

Our love story began…

We met in early 2008 and were pretty full on for about a month then I got a new job as a flight attendant which required pretty extensive training and we mutually drifted apart. Later in the year we randomly bumped into each other again and have been inseparable since! We’ve done a lot together in that time including living overseas for five years before moving home and working together on Adam’s family farm. We also welcomed our beautiful little girl Sadie in 2015.

Our wedding inspiration was

Rustic, laid back and loads of fun! We really wanted a small, intimate ceremony but also wanted to have a big party and celebrate with everyone! So that’s what we did. We invited immediate family to our ceremony (about 20 people) and while we were getting our photos down the farm all of our other guests arrived for our ‘Happily Ever After Party’ (an extra 80 people).

We saved on…

We definitely saved on decorations. My sister-in-law made us an amazing entrance archway for the guests and some awesome hand-made signs. My mum also made the cutest little confetti cones and candles for the tables and we were able to pick all of the hydrangeas we used on the tables out of Adam’s mum’s garden and also from my aunty and uncle’s place.

We also saved a lot by being able to purchase all of our alcohol from the supermarket, my mum’s friend did all of our catering and we had a great celebrant who Adam knew and she gave us an awesome rate. I was also lucky to Adam’s sister as my personal shopper – she knew my budget and style and nailed anything I asked for!

We splurged on…

Our photographer, band and stretch tent – all important aspects of the day and worth every cent!

Our advice to engaged couples…

Stick to the kind of wedding you feel completely comfortable with! After all it is your special day and you want to have an amazing one. P.S If you decide to throw your bouquet make sure you have lots of room for the girls! We had a bit of an unfortunate bouquet brawl (accident) that resulted in one of my bridesmaids having to have surgery on her wrist the week after the wedding, she did get the bouquet though so I suppose it was all worth it!

Photographer Captured by Keryn
Hair + Makeup Mary Estelle’s Makeup + Hair Styling
Planning + Styling Myself, with lots of help from my beautiful sister-in-laws.
Flowers Pippins
Venue Adam’s family home and farm (The garden looked absolutely beautiful – Adam’s parents spent hours in there)
Catering Tracy Fuller
Hire Company Stretch Tents + Blakes
Stationery & Signage Lucy Design
Cake The Girl on the Swing
Celebrant Sue Smith
Brides Dress Rue De Seine
Brides Accessories + Shoes Earrings from Simply Italian + Shoes from Ruby
Bridesmaid Dresses Merge Fashion
Grooms Suit + Accessories Suit + tie from Hallenstein Brothers + Tie bar from Barkers
Rings Engagement ring from CTJ Jewellery + Wedding rings from Midas Jewellers
Band The Wingmen

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