By Jodi Bryant
When your husband-to-be is a commercial fisherman who likes to party and you
leave the wedding planning to him, you're going to get one big shin-dig - with
fresh fish, he's caught on the way to the wedding, on the menu of course.
Jess and Zak Olsen's wedding was never going to be a small affair, despite only giving guests 10 weeks' notice. It was also never going to be your mainstream wedding. The couple, who met over the Whangarei bar Jess owns while Zak was in town fresh off his fishing expeditions and buying up large, knew they wanted to throw a real party for their large network of family and friends.
"It was Easter Sunday, which was great because it meant everyone could come out and stay and make a good weekend out of it," says Jess of their venue on a friend's private farmland tucked away in Helena Bay.
The couple invited 250 guests with 200 able to make it at short notice and many opting to camp at the location for several nights 'which was helpful having the extra hands around to help set everything up as it was just a bare patch of land with a couple of baches," describes Jess.
Unlike most brides-to-be, Jess left most of the planning to Zak. "Zak basically planned the whole wedding as this was my second wedding so I was pretty relaxed about everything – until it came to the dress!"
Keeping an eye out for a second-hand dress hadn't turned up much luck so, five weeks out, Jess paid a visit to a bridal shop and fell in love with the second dress she tried on.
"It wasn't the cheap option I was originally going for but I felt so beautiful and confident in the dress, that Zak agreed to pay for it – on the way to being a great husband already!" she beams.
Zak first came to Jess' attention when he'd come into her bar barefoot or in gumboots, fresh off the fishing vessel and raucously spend all his hard-earned cash.
She recalls having to stock up on the rum whenever Zak was onshore and, overtime, got to know him and realised he had a 'heart of gold'.
Newly single after a nine-year relationship with two years of marriage, Jess had embraced singledom and decided to take Zak on as a project to shape him into the perfect man to set up with a friend.
While Zak, a Southern Cross fishing vessel skipper, was onshore, the two spent time together. However, Jess' plan to 'refine the rough edges' had barely got started when she realised that she was falling in love with Zak herself.
Zak too, was blindsided: "I'd never been interested in relationships," he explains. "All I'd ever been known for was partying and fishing. I was married to the ocean first and everything else came second."
However, they both rolled with it and things progressed from there with the arrival of daughter Ariel, and Zak becoming co-owner and operator of Butter Factory with Jess. On Boxing Day last year, Zak got down on one knee at the water's edge at Whale Bay – Jess' favourite place where she spends every Boxing Day with family and friends.
They didn't have long to plan their wedding but knew they wanted the event to reflect their lives.
With eight members in each bridal party, plus two flower girls – Ariel and her cousin Imogen, including the couple themselves, the bridal party made up a total of 20. Their attire was largely left to them; While the groomsmen were to wear paisley shirts, the bridesmaids' outfits were to be ankle-length and within a colour palate of blues and purples, which tied in with Jess' bouquet and crown.
"The flowers were done by Florabunda and nobody realised that they were artificial! They still look great in our home now. The bridesmaids and flower girls also had matching flower crowns."
Jess' maid of honour was her best friend and Ariel's godparent while Zak's best man is Ariel's other god parent.
On the morning of the wedding, Zak set two 25-hook recreational long-lines, before returning with his groomsmen to haul them in while it was live-streamed to those on shore. They caught 13 snapper and two groomsmen fell overboard, much to the entertainment of those watching.
The groomsmen then made their grand entrance by boat, wading into shore and donning their shoes on the beach. The bridesmaids and flower girls followed, with Jess and her father entering last through the driftwood arch the bridal party had made the day before.
During the ceremony, one-year-old Ariel was honoured with a special green stone Tonga carved for her and rings, designed and made by Steve Haywood Master Jeweller, were exchanged before the signing of the registry was conducted by the couple's mothers as a way of honouring their importance in their lives.
Following the ceremony, local band Farandicus entertained guests while drinks and nibbles were served and photos were taken on the beach.
"The band had learned one of our favourite songs and played it for us at the end of their set. Zak had organized that as a special surprise for me," says Jess.
"It was a pretty chilled-out afternoon. We had a lot of time to relax and catch up with everyone as we had the ceremony at 1pm – I even went for a swim after photos!"
Later, MC Luke Bird led the charge and everyone gathered under the big marquee on the lawn beside the sea to share in the feast, which was largely catered by Zak and Jess themselves and included the fish caught before the ceremony.
Speeches followed with many glasses raised and a lot of laughs had. Following the speeches, was the cutting of the cake, which Jess had made the day before and even decorated on her wedding morning. Then local band 5K rocked the night away while bon fires blazed on the beach.
"The biggest thing that did not go to plan was running out of alcohol," recalls Jess. "I was pretty shocked because we had over-estimated how much everyone would drink, but under-estimated the hot sunny day and celebratory mood everyone was in. Luckily, we knew somewhere we could get more at 7pm on Easter Sunday!
"It was just an incredible day celebrating love and an amazing feeling to be in such a beautiful part of Northland surrounded by people that love and support you. It was very humbling actually."
Zak agrees. "The whole thing wouldn't have been possible without all the support from our amazing family and friends, the bridal party and our 'unicorn' James who made it all possible.
"The plan for the wedding was to unite our two loves: Jess' love of the beach and my love of the ocean and fishing. I think we nailed it. The party after was just a bonus.
"Cowley's Party Hire really came to the party and we are lucky to have a hire company like them in Whangarei. Trent and the team made our dreams come true because, without them, there is no way the event of that size could happen on a patch of bare land."
Besides these great memories to add to their collection, along with an album of over 1,000 stunning wedding photos, tying the knot hasn't brought about too many changes for the couple's daily lives.
"We have been living together, running a business together and breaking the new ground of parenthood together and those things are such a big commitment and, through them, we have experienced so many of life's ups and downs," says Jess.
"I think, if anything, the biggest change is being able to call each other husband and wife. It's really special and truly reflects the level of our love and commitment to each other."
However, come February will be the biggest change, when their new addition is due.
"Pregnancy wasn't planned but, I guess, being in Rarotonga on honeymoon has a way of making these things happen and we are very happy and excited!"