It's where it all began for our country, so why not consider the beautiful Bay of Islands as a place to start your next chapter as a married couple or an idyllic spot to honeymoon?
I’m embarrassed to admit that although I’ve lived in Auckland for 13 years, I had never explored this iconic region just 3-4 hours’ drive north. But recently, my husband and I were invited to explore the area over a three-day weekend. I think it’s safe to say had we known about it prior to our nuptials on Waiheke Island four years ago, it would have been a strong contender; a special place to retreat and connect in the moment ourselves, while also allowing a getaway for our guests.
As Tim and I arrive, we’re teased by the stunning outlooks on the outskirts of Paihia. The views are beautiful, the air fresher and time already feels like it’s moving more slowly. I’m already mentally ticking wedding venue must-have boxes for couples who are searching for a uniquely spectacular area to celebrate their special day with their nearest and dearest.
The area is rich in history, and after our first stop – a visit to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds – I can’t help but ponder how far New Zealand has come as a country. For couples who want to bring culture, Aotearoa’s history or elegant simplicity to their wedding, the Bay of Islands has got to be a consideration.
The Duke of Marlborough is a spectacular wedding venue, with fine dining options and incredible photograph locations.
From Paihia, vehicle and passenger ferry services are available to float you across to Russell , once known as Kororareka. Today, it’s a quaint and romantic village with original street plans and buildings from 1843. It’s hard to believe (but so interesting to learn) that decades back, the area was a ‘shore station’ for seamen, convicts and traders – and the stomping ground of dodgy folk and their debaucherous behaviour. If only the pavements could talk!
The passenger ferry takes us to the wharf at Russell and we’re greeted by the sight of the town’s oldest hotel, The Duke of Marlborough .
Inside the Bridal Suite at the Duke of Marlborough, Russell. Image: Jess Burges.
She’s a spectacular old Dame of double levels sitting proudly on the shoreline – the gatekeeper of the town. The pure white exterior with French doors and gables are picturesque on any day, least of all as a space to get ready on the morning of the big day. As we take a walk around the property – passing the exterior space where hundreds of couples have exchanged vows and the spacious reception venue complete with a bar and a ton of room for dancing – I noticed there was a new addition to the original building.
“We’ve created 12 new rooms, which gives us 38 in total,” explains co-owner Bridget “Duchess” Haagh, who eight years ago with her husband Anton Haagh and Riki Kinnaird and Jayne Shirley, purchased the iconic building (in a lacklustre state). “The four of us were having lunch here and the conversation started, and here we are...”
They’ve done an incredible job breathing new life into this majestic building – for each of the lunches and dinners Tim and I have in the hotel’s restaurant, it’s packed with cheerful locals and tourists. The menu alone has you salivating, and the food’s presentation and deliciousness is like dining at any big city’s finest. During a mouthful of my oven-roasted Far North hapuka created by former Euro Bar chef Dan Fraser, I look up to a hum of excitement. It’s none other than PM Jacinda and her beau, Clarke, sitting down to enjoy a dinner for two. Naturally, Tim wonders whether Clarke had a chance to get out and enjoy any activities on the water while his partner was running the country.
After a relaxing sleep in the spacious Bridal Suite and waking to the lapping of waves just metres from our balcony, The Duke’s wedding planner Ida Birch joins Bridget and I over lunch.
“Russell is a place of stories, rumours, yarns and tall tales,” says Ida, who is also a marriage celebrant. “Couples love the idea that by being married here, they are adding to the history of this unique village. Being reminded that ... the spirit of adventures past and present will live on in their future.”
Couples from all over the world come to Russell and the Bay of Islands to wed. I ask Ida if she’ll share a few planning tips. “Book your venue first,” she suggests. “Then other things will start to fall into place. The time of year and the time of day are important in this area – couples need to be aware of the position of the sun and the tide, particularly if the ceremony is outside or on the beach.”
Leaving Russell is like a break-up. You know you have to go, but the good memories will last in your mind forever. From Paihia , we head 45 minutes north, via Kerikeri, to Matauri Bay, home of Kauri Cliffs lodge . Arguably, it’s made famous thanks to its pristine golf course and that time John Key took Barack Obama there for a golf date (apologies for another political name-drop).
Above: The lodge and golf course at Kauri Cliffs.
The property also boasts panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean and Cape Brett. It is awe-inspiring and of international standard. I can’t wait to get a tour through the property, villas and spa – all used by couples who have chosen Kauri Cliffs for an elopement hideaway, intimate wedding evenings or magnificent lodge celebrations.
Hubby can’t contain his excitement at the chance to play on this championship course. Me? I’m in my happy place too – at the spa, indulging in a facial by beautician Kaycee using locally made Bee Sensual products.
And that’s the thing about this region, I think. The Bay of Islands is a space to reflect, to dream, to escape, to remember where we all came from. To put things into perspective. Beautifully.
Planning a wedding can be a long and tiresome process, but if you know that when you come to embark on your next chapter together, you and your partner can be present in places and spaces that make you happy and touch your heart – everything that follows will be just as magic.
STAY & PLAY
Take a few extra days either side of your wedding to treat yourself with activities and experiences the region has to offer. Or, suggest to your wedding guests and bridal party to make the most of the area – should they be visiting as part of your celebration.
- Charlotte’s Kitchen
- Treaty of Waitangi
- Kauri Cliffs Golf Course & Spa
- Pompallier House
- Flagstaff Hill
- Wine Estates
- Kayak tours
- Hikurua Waterfall
- Fullers Great Sights Hole in the Rock Tour
- Swim with dolphins
The writer travelled with assistance from the Bay of Islands Marketing Group . Visit visitboi.co.nz