Picture this scene. Beneath the hot summer sun the blue sea curls onto the crisp white sand of a long curving beach. In the shade of the blossoming Pohutukawa tree, a small group of people gather to celebrate a wedding.
Beach weddings are very popular in New Zealand.
The ever-changing beauty and freshness of a beach gives a wedding a backdrop and atmosphere that human artifice has no hope of matching.
Some bridal couples are so set on the idea that they will marry on the beach come hail or high water.
A small secluded bay when the sea is blue and the air is warm makes a romantic wedding venue and reminds us that we New Zealanders are great lovers of the outdoors.
A marriage is a sacred moment in a couple's life together, signifying the start of a new state of being.
Many recognise this fact by getting married in a church. For those of us however who are less sure of the role of God in our lives a civil wedding on the beach can be just as sacred.
The elements that meet at the coast: sea, land, air, sun-shine, trees and even the squawking seagulls, remind us that life is sacred. God, the spirit or however you recognise the force that animates us is invited to the wedding.
This is not to say, however, that beach weddings are a breeze. Things can, and will, go wrong; the wind may blow the celebrant's voice away, a family might set up camp in your special place or Auntie June may be unable to negotiate the steps down to the sand.
A beach wedding requires careful planning and consideration.
The points below will help you cover the eventualities when you take your wedding to the beach.
We all have our favourite beaches, and favourite spots on the beach but take into consideration the needs of a wedding.
The guests must be able to hear the celebrant. If the beach is open and windswept, or the surf is crashing nearby, you might have trouble hearing each other's vows never mind the celebrant and your guests will miss out altogether. Also, your videographer won't have a hope. I recently viewed the video of a beach wedding and all that could be heard of the ceremony was the wind and the waves, until right at the end, when the voice of a bridesmaid was clearly heard saying, "Right, it's time to crack open a bottle of bubbly!"
If you are worried about not getting your favourite spot on the beach, get a volunteer to claim your territory beforehand, they can spread themselves around until you arrive. Generally, we have found people pretty courteous and they will give a wedding some private space. The public likes a wedding though and you can expect to be congratulated by the other beach goers after it's all over.
Take into consideration the physical abilities of your guests. Some popular beaches have easy access but others have anything from a steep flight of steps to a 45-minute walk. Your guests need to be able to get to your chosen venue without endangering either their health or their wedding clothes.
Once you've chosen your location contact the local Council to find out if you need a permit or similar to have your ceremony there. Also check out any other requirements - for example some locations have summer alcohol bans.
You need to know what will be happening at your special patch of beach at the time of your wedding. Will the tide be out or in, going out or coming in?
Where will the sun be and will there be any shade for the wedding party?
Our summer sun is both hard on the skin and on the photographer's film.
Find a nice big tree to have your wedding under if the sun is beating down. Your guests and your photographer will thank you for it.
It would also be a good idea to know how many other people might be using the beach on the day of your wedding.
Cathedral Cove on the Coromandel Peninsula is an amazingly beautiful wedding venue but in January it receives up to 3000 visitors a day!
January weddings at Cathedral Cove can be private however if they are celebrated very early in the mornings.
Those of us who are lucky enough to live in the north can plan a wedding beneath the glorious scarlet of the flowering pohutukawa in early January. A little later on and the fallen stamens make a red carpet on the sand which can be just as special.
Always have a contingency plan or, if you are adamant that you will have your wedding on the beach regardless of the weather, take umbrellas or erect a shelter on the beach. Wind can make a beach wedding just as uncomfortable as rain so pick somewhere sheltered.
Dress casual. Although it's nice to dress up for your wedding some clothes are not comfortable on the beach and probably won't look right either.
Shorts and even Hawaiian shirts can look very attractive for the groom and groomsmen.
Brides, I know that you will want to wear a wedding gown, and why not--it's your special day! But do you really need high-heeled shoes on the beach?
I know of one bride who organised her brother to go down to the beach before the wedding and bury a plank of wood at spot X so that her heels wouldn't sink into the sand during the ceremony. It was a good idea at the time but the plank was never seen again and so she had to abandon the shoes.
Also if you don't wear stockings you will be able to walk hand in hand at the water's edge--a very romantic image for your photo album.
If you take your togs you will have the option of a swim.
You might not think that you would on your wedding day, but the water can look very inviting if you've been standing around in the sun and what better way is there to relax and release the tensions you will doubtless experience on your big day?
Things to take
A table for the paperwork is a must. A few seashells or other beach treasures make great decorations that can come in handy if a breeze is threatening to blow your licence away.
Champagne or something special to drink is a must. Allow at least 1/2 a bottle per guest. It is a real pleasure to sip a glass of bubbly on the beach and a wedding without it just doesn't feel right. Don't forget the glasses!
It's also a good idea to take water especially if you will be out for some time.
The celebrant will probably bring their own pen but a spare is good insurance--if you can't sign the licence you can't get married.
A good sun-block that incorporates an insect repellent will protect exposed skin from harm.
Most importantly take a receptive attitude so the wonders of the beach can speak to your soul and touch you with the sacred as you affirm your vows.
Article by David Elliot - Wedding Facilitator and Photographer