Eclipse Director, Rachel’s, destination wedding at the Tree Church, New Zealand.
In 2018, my husband (fellow Eclipse musician, Nathan) and I had a destination wedding in a town called Ohaupo, which is just outside Hamilton in New Zealand. We liked the idea of turning our wedding celebration into a miniature holiday for ourselves and all our loved ones – somewhere not too far from Australia but far enough to feel like a different world. We arrived in New Zealand about a week prior to the wedding, had a Welcome Brunch the day before for our guests, and celebrated the wedding the next day. Some guests chose to stay for a few weeks after or weeks before.
Whenever I speak with brides and grooms-to-be, particularly when we meet in-person, the conversation often goes to how I planned my own wedding. Of course, it’s helpful to see how other people approached it when you are in the midst of wedding planning yourself! Whenever I’m asked, I usually direct people to the feature article that Together Journal magazine did on our wedding. It was wonderful to have our wedding picked up by a magazine I love. However, given how curious I see our clients are about my own wedding, I thought it would be beneficial to go into more depth.
A secret garden wedding concept
Getting married so far from home was a good way to encourage our friends and family to ease up and switch into holiday-resort mode for the whole lead up to the wedding. By the wedding day, everyone was so relaxed, they could be themselves, be present and enjoy the day. Having a pre-wedding Welcome Brunch was also a great way to remove nervous energies, giving everyone a chance to meet before the wedding.
For the wedding day itself, we wanted everyone to feel like they had been swallowed up in a secret garden, somewhere far from the nuances of their own lives back in Australia. Somewhere they could easily forget the stresses of everyday life, escape and celebrate with us. We kept it intimate with a tiny guest list of seventeen.
After some research, we found the Tree Church in Ohaupo, in the Waikato region of New Zealand. The owner of the venue was an avid gardener and landscaper who originally built the gardens as his own private home retreat. He told us stories of how strangers would ask to visit just to meditate there, or to speak to God alone in times of internal crisis. Eventually, he opened the gardens to the public. When we saw the venue ourselves, it was very clear to see why. Nature was singing there. The chirping birds. The sheep and cows in the paddock next door. The blooming roses that had weaved themselves throughout the interior of the Tree Church structure. The area was so perfectly curated with so many areas to get lost in. Every angle was beautiful.
Developing our creative vision
We chose not to visit New Zealand prior to the wedding, so everything was organised remotely from our home in Perth, Australia. That meant there were no pre-wedding scouting trips. We hadn’t visited the Tree Church in person until a few days prior to our wedding day. (Neither did our guests until the day itself, which really added to the otherworldly charm of it!) The same went for meetings with all our wedding vendors. No cake tasting. No makeup trials. No pre-wedding shoots. All discussions with vendors were over the phone, video chat or email.
Much of what we needed to communicate was also done in visual mood boards. That is, compilations of images, colours and textures that I wanted my vendors to pull from as they did their work. It’s something I had picked up from working years as a graphic designer, having to communicate design concepts to contracted photographers, stylists and content creators. In our wedding planning, I made sure to choose vendors that could interpret my ideas artistically, who could get excited about different creative options, and discuss concepts that were tasteful and stylish. It was really important to me that we were creatively aligned, so it would be easy to trust their own creative processes and executions.
All stylistic elements of the wedding I designed to build upon the venue’s already-existing aesthetic and atmosphere. The venue was my anchor point. The soft gardenia patterns influenced my choice of bridesmaid dresses. The country inspired our choice of drinks, which were all by local New Zealand wineries, distilleries and produce. The peaceful energy inspired the floating classical music that we asked of our reception pianist. Everything was selected to tie in and reinforce each other – atmospherically, aesthetically, tactically.
The reception floristry
I knew that whatever extra floristry we’d bring in needed to organically extend from what was already there. They shouldn’t look too perfect, or else they’d lose their naturalistic flavour. I spoke with our florist, Sophie, about installing floral pieces on the pop-up bar in a way that looked like an overgrowth making its way across the bar, playing with different heights, levels and depths. So, the overall feel would not be too structured but like something that emerged chaotically, perfectly, on its own.
Beyond that, we had floral centrepieces for each cocktail bar table. Each bouquet with hues of burgundy and muted blush tones to complement the dresses of my bridesmaids and of the mothers of the bride and groom.
The food menu, desserts bar and drinks
By far, one of the best things we invested in was good food and good drinks. Good quality ingredients, prepared excellently, makes you feel great. You can’t feel ‘off’ when you’re well fed. With a small guest list, we kept the effortless feel going with a canapés-style reception. It encouraged guests to wander around the gardens and mingle with each other.
Bar staff distributed selections like Middle Eastern aubergine skewers, pulled pork and chipotle mayo sliders, chicken, almond and lemon tea sandwiches, and spiced sweet potato cakes with guacamole. There was also a grazing table on the side with cheeses, dried fruits and antipasto. The wedding cake was a salted caramel piece of goodness with dulche de leche, popcorn and salted caramel buttercream. It was amongst a dessert bar with nut butter chocolate fudge, parfait jars, and raspberry, coconut and chocolate truffles.
One thing I wish I had thought of was to hire twice or even three times as many glasses for drinks. I thought that if we have X number of guests, all we need is X number of wine glasses, which wasn’t the case. People put down their glasses after each drink and then got a fresh glass for their next. So, unless you arrange to have very attentive bar staff who have access to a sink or dishwasher (and are happy to wash throughout the event), clean glasses run out very quickly.
Curating and sourcing live music
What I originally pictured was to somehow place a baby grand piano in the midst of the gardens. (Even better if it was a clear or white piano.) The musician would play dreamy classical pieces to reinforce the escapist atmosphere of it all. An instrument that large would have also been loud enough for a small guest list without amplification. We also toyed with the idea of a solo acoustic guitarist or harpist – playing all instrumental music with no vocals – but it was such a struggle to find even a handful of options.
Sourcing musicians in New Zealand for us was a mission. Much like what I had learned about the musicians back home in Perth, Australia, many of the good ones are not easy to find from a quick Google or Instagram search. When we found a good player, who knew their instrument well, they were difficult to communicate with. If they were good and easy to communicate with, they were really poorly presented. Some requested that we source their sound equipment and instruments for them, which was a nightmare! (We are not even in the same country!)
We understood how much music affects the event’s atmosphere, so we were set on finding the right act. (Think of how stepping into a room with dance club music feels different to a room with indie pop, or even a room with silence.) Eventually, we did. She was a master’s degree graduate from the University of Waikato, specialising in classical piano.
Normally, a musician will play for an agreed number of sets. They need breaks every 45 minutes or so to reset their fingers, grab a drink or food, and review the flow of the next set of music. Prior to the wedding, we had discussed with our pianist what the set breaks might sound like. When we got to finally visit the Tree Church in person, there were so many birds singing. Really, really loudly. We realised then that the birds were more than enough to fill the silence, so we asked our pianist to disregard any planned set break music and instead let the birds sing.
Organising logistics remotely
I relied heavily on the satellite view of Google maps to create the event floor plan. It helped me understand what the venue already had. As much as good photography helps you see the potential of a space, Google’s satellite view is very raw and unforgiving – so to speak – so it’s easier to see what is actually there, versus what may just be clever photography capturing good angles and covering flaws.
I had discussions with my caterer and photographer on what to expect at the Tree Church. They had both worked at the venue previously, so their stories and descriptions of the location helped gauge my decisions. Barry, the owner at the time, and creator of the Tree Church, was also very happy to send us images from his phone of certain areas of the venue at different viewpoints.
We made contingencies on what to do in case of rain or bad weather, even though Barry insisted that we wouldn’t get rain. (He hadn’t seen a single wedding get rained on there since he built it.) Sure enough, we had no rain or wind. We got married in springtime, but a New Zealand spring is still colder than what we are used to in Australia, so we wanted to be safe!
The wedding ceremony
While we are both Australians, I am of Egyptian heritage and my husband Nathan is Irish, so it was important to me to blend in some Egyptian traditions throughout the wedding. We had a Coptic Egyptian ceremony with a priest that chanted hymns and burned incense, in a very Western-style garden wedding.
Without my knowing, my friend had taught all the female guests how to do the Egyptian zaghrouta, which is kind of an ear-splitting cheer that Egyptian women sing out during a celebration. It was so exciting to hear them all nail it every time something monumental happened during the ceremony.
Dresses, bouquets and accessories
My wedding dress was found and ordered online from Needle and Thread, a London-based designer. I opted for a white floral headpiece instead of a veil, and we had my bridesmaids (my two sisters) follow suit in matching head pieces in blush pink. They wore two different Zimmermann dresses from the same collection. While they were not the same, they were in the same fabric and print to keep some consistency. Beyond that, they chose their own shoes and jewellery. For my mother and Nathan’s, I asked them to each find a dress they love in burgundy, which I knew would go with my bridesmaids without looking too matchy-matchy.
I asked our florist, Sophie, to create something that would fall in line with this palette of burgundies and blush tones. I had seen a reference image somewhere in my research of roses painted gold and asked her to interpret this in her own style. Looking back on my bouquet, I think it would have also looked great to have all white flowers with those painted gold highlights (to better match my headpiece). Or to have something with less weight on it. Large bouquets are amazing, but they do get heavy! Extending from that aesthetic, Sophie created a floral wristband for each bridesmaid, and for my and Nathan’s mums.
Our wedding suppliers
Event styling: Rachel Farag
Floristry: Muck Floral
Food: Blank Canvas Catering
Glassware & tableware: Royal Laboratorie
Groom’s suit: Uberstone
Invitation design: Rachel Farag
Invitation printing: The Little Press
Music (classical pianist): Noelle Dannenbring
Pop-up bar: Carlton Party Hire
Venue: Tree Church
Water bottles: Antipodes Water
Bride’s dress and accessories
Bridal party’s dresses and accessories
We are a collective of musicians based in Perth, Australia, that perform the most well-adored songs of the decades for weddings, corporate events and special celebrations. We believe that live music is so important in establishing the tone of an event and, if done right, sets an atmosphere that allows guests to let their guard down, enjoy, and step into another world where they can feel comfortable enough to experience all that a good event has to offer.
Our musicians are not just experienced performers but also trained formally in jazz and contemporary music, and we understand the importance of how visuals reinforce a event’s tone, which give us the versatility to perform at cocktail events, black-tie events, wedding ceremonies and receptions, conferences, and brand or product launches.