How to Plan Your Beautiful Beach Wedding: A Practical Guide
By Brieonie Jenkins

14 September 2015

Nothing says ‘summer wedding’ more than reciting your vows on the sand with the salty breeze in your hair. As kiwis, we have a special relationship with the wild seaside, so it makes perfect sense that we love romantic, yet down-to-earth beach weddings. However, planning an event that will be exposed to the unpredictable New Zealand elements poses a unique set of challenges! To help you out, we’ve put together this helpful little guide to ensure that you take everything into account when planning your once-in-a-lifetime beach wedding.

Image by Chrsitina Schmidt Photography

Location, Location, Location

New Zealanders are spoilt for choice when it comes to beautiful seaside spots; so why not spend a fun day location scouting? Will you go for the soft white sands of the East Coast or opt for a rugged West Coast setting?

The perfect ceremony spot is more than just a pretty picture. Remember, beaches are naturally windy places (even on nice days!), so try to pick an area with some natural shelter.

Keep transport time in mind. It might be fun to take an hour road tripping with your fiancé, but it’s not as much fun if you’re running late on the day, or your guests are having trouble finding that special ‘secret’ location.

Get Your Permit

Arguably, the most important planning step for a beach wedding (or any wedding in a public area) is organising your permit. The permit is issued by the Council and gives you priority use of the area. This means no one else will be able to hold an event at the same time and the council will ensure that no maintenance, like lawn mowing, will occur while the wedding ceremony is in progress.  

Apply for it as soon as you have settled on the location as it can take up to eight weeks for processing. And if there’s one thing you don’t need, it’s the last minute stress of waiting for approval.

While a permit gives you priority, it does not give exclusive access. This means that other people are likely to be in the area you’ve chosen. Since beach settings are so naturally beautiful, you won’t need a lot of décor. However, setting up your space with chairs, parasols and an arch or altar will let people know something special is going on. And in most cases, everyone will be respectful of your space and careful not to get in the way.

beach bride

Image by Christina Schmidt Photography

It’s All About Timing

It is essential to visit your location at the time of day you’re planning to hold your ceremony. The tide and the sun are two unavoidable natural phenomenon that, if not planned for, can cause major headaches on your big day!

Check the tide chart on the Metservice website for high and low tide times. Some beaches won’t have enough sand space at high tide. Others may have a lot of debris left behind at low tide, and you may need to allow for extra time during your set-up to clear it away.

Take note of the sun’s position and think about where your guests will be facing. If they’re looking straight into the sun you may need to consider changing the direction or planning for a different time of day. Don’t leave your ceremony too late though; once the sun’s gone, you’re out of light!

Visiting the your location at the same time and day of the week will also give you a feel for how many other people will be around at the time. Summer weekends at the beach are definitely the busiest, so unless you don’t mind a few sunbathers listening in, why not consider a week day? Especially if you’ve picked a popular spot.

If your wedding is in the middle of summer, check whether there are any shady areas nearby, or consider providing umbrellas or parasols for your guests. If you’ve opted for autumn or spring, the temperatures can be changeable and you may want to bring along blankets to keep your guests cosy.

beach wedding

Image by Christina Schmidt Photography

Beach Access

Unlike other venues, there is no exact address for the beach. Your guests will be entirely dependent on your directions to find you! Most beaches have multiple access points so it’s a good idea to help your guests out by identifying any notable landmarks on the invitation and clearly marking the correct place on the day. Include a mini map with arrows in your invites, and if it’s an obscure location, ask someone you trust to direct people on the day.

Remember: Having your ceremony near a clearly marked access point means the bridal party won’t face an uncomfortably long walk to the aisle.

Setting Up Your Space

Sandy surfaces can be uneven and difficult for some people to negotiate, particularly older guests. If the sand is particularly loose (more common on the East Coast) consider burying a wooden walkway under the sand for extra stability.

Between the waves and the gulls, there can be a lot of background noise at the beach. You might be going for a laid back, free and easy vibe, but hand held microphones and portable speakers will ensure no one misses the ‘I Do’.

Make your guests feel comfortable by placing a welcome table at your ceremony site. Top it up with water, lemonade, cheap sunglasses, hats and sun block; you may want to include a basket where people can put their shoes if they want to remove them.

beach wedding

Image by Hollow Creative

Dress Accordingly

One of the most appealing things about a beach wedding is the relaxed atmosphere! Socks, shoes and stiletto heels are a no-go for the wedding party. There are no rules when it comes to dress style but generally a lighter fabric and less structured shape are more sand friendly. If you choose to wear a veil, keep it simple; wind and a long floating veil don’t mix well! Preferably, opt for a flower crown or hairpiece instead.

This is particularly important to keep in mind if you pick a West Coast location. The landscapes are beautiful but the rugged appeal comes from constant exposure to the elements. If you’re the type to worry about a wind whipped hairstyle, a West Coast beach may not be the best choice for you.

Don’t surprise your guests, let them know they’ll be on the sand, and that shoes are optional! Tell them to bring jandals instead, especially since black sand gets very very hot!

Always Have a Plan B

Have a relaxed approach to your schedule. Hopefully Mother Nature plays along, but if she doesn’t, be prepared to ‘rain delay’ for an hour or two. Pay attention to the weather forecast in the week leading up to the wedding, if things aren’t looking ideal, organise an indoor back-up plan. You may not need it, but you’ll feel relieved (and hopefully not too stressed!) if you wake up to cloudy skies or a thunderstorm and need to utilise Plan B.

Pack-up Carefully

Be respectful of our beautiful New Zealand coastline and leave the spot exactly as you found it. Ask a few trusted friends to be the last to leave. They’ll need to make sure all the equipment is packed up and that no rubbish is left behind.

beach wedding

Image by Hollow Creative