The Perfect Blend of Life's Passions

Images and words by Eva Bradley, Published in Destinations Magazine

It has been called the Loire Valley of the southern hemisphere or Napa Valley Downunder. Locals just call it Wine Country, but Hawke's Bay needs no comparison and with some of the country's most exclusive wineries, it is fast becoming the country's top wedding destination.

There is a romance in wine that, like love itself, is impossible to define. Both must be experienced to be appreciated and perhaps that is why vineyard weddings have captured the hears and imaginations of so many couples looking to plan a wedding outside the box.

New Zealand's oldest wine region and second largest producer, Hawke's Bay - with endless summer sunshine and premium venues - has earned its reputation as one of the country's leading wedding destinations.

While most regions host their top restaurants and and wedding venues in the bustling city centre, Hawke's Bay has its own hidden away in rolling river valleys, beneath sweeping peaks and amid the vast expanse of vines which produce much of the country's top Syrah, Bordeaux blends, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.

Because wine is about making a statement on terra firma as much as in the glass itself, Hawke's Bay's leading wine estate have spared no expense in creating architecturally spectacular restaurants in which to match their best blends with fine cuisine.

Combined with a landscape that dishes out drama in an almost cavalier way and an eclectic mix of activities both high octane and deliciously, slow paced, it is understandable why wedding guests are always quick to RSVP for a wine country wedding.

But a wedding is about practical considerations as much as emotional ones, and the simple fact is that at any of a dozen breathtaking venues in Hawke's Bay a bride can prepare herself in a luxury vineyard villa before walking on her father's arm to her ceremony, have her photos taken on-site and be back with her guests for a five-star meal before wondering back to her gorgeous accommodation - this time on the arm of her new husband.

The next day they can join their guests in exploring a region that has a little bit of the best of everything - empty golden sand beaches, rustic farmers' markets and vibrant history in the buzzing art deco city of Napier, where a modern airport connects the region to the rest of the country.

As a wedding photographer, my challenge is to strike a balance between beautiful locations and practical matters such as the time spent away from guests, while still creating a collection of images with several different looks and feels.

With their crisp green vineyards, moody cellars stacked with French Oak and dramatic architecture, Hawke's Bay wineries provide breathtaking backdrops without the need to waste precious moments during the wedding day travelling to far-flung locations.

There is a magical symmetry between the concept of growth and renewal in a vineyard which underscores the important principles of marriage. Wine and the making of wine is a labour of love where elements come together and the passing of time can, in the right conditions, make a good thing great. It's something Hawke's Bay has mastered, both in the bottle and as a place to say "I do."

Top Shelf

The best places to say "I do" in Wine Country.

Church Road
The cathedral-like proportions of the Tom McDonald cellar lends a sense of grandeur, while the expansive park-like setting and New Zealand's only wine museum add tot he uniqueness of the venue.

Craggy Range
Tucked into the Tukituki river valley beneath the great sweep of Te Mata Peak, Craggy Range boasts some of New Zealand's best scenery along with award winning wine and cuisine. Bold architecture speaks back to the majestic landscape.

The Old Church
A picture-postcard historic church transformed with opulent detailing into a top restaurant and ceremony venue, it is set amid the vines and features an exclusive villa for top shelf accommodation for the bridal party and family.

Mission Estate Winery
New Zealand's oldest winery, the Mission Estate's glorious old seminary building is found at the end of a sweeping tree-lined drive, on a hillside overlooking the estate's vines. Garden ceremonies are held beside a charming gazebo.

Hidden Gems

Hawke's Bay Opera House
Old world drama combines with a modern twist in this beautiful old building which is fully set up for a wedding.

The River Room
Set high is the hills looking across to Te Mata Peak and down the Tukituki river valley, the River Room with its capacity for only 40 guests is a beautiful little retreat for intimate weddings.

Crab Farm Winery
Low-key and quirky with its rustic interior, Crab Farm replaces glitz and glamour with heart and soul and is quintessentially kiwi.

Christ Church at Pukehou & Eskdale War Memorial Church
For those looking for the picture-perfect cute country church for their ceremony, these two are hard to beat.