Planning a marquee wedding from scratch in a bare paddock without power or water and at the mercy of the elements is not for the faint-hearted, as Justine Tyerman discovers.

A dark feathery thing slid down the bride's cheek as she sailed out the door, her train and veil streaming out behind her, already more than just fashionably late for her wedding. A tiny cluster of eyelashes had detached itself and was heading for her lacy décolletage, the last in a series of dramas that kept pulses racing and hearts thumping in the lead-up to a family wedding in Wanaka.

Maid of honour, the bride's younger sister was hot on the phone to the make-up artist, her voice steady but words clipped, with instructions to rendezvous, pronto, with replacement eye lashes and glue. Crisis narrowly averted.

Fresh snow on Mt Aspiring created a touch of magic for the wedding photos. Photo / Supplied
Fresh snow on Mt Aspiring created a touch of magic for the wedding photos. Photo / Supplied

A day earlier, one of the bridesmaid's dresses had arrived back after minor alterations with mysterious marks on it. Hasty sponging after a pricked finger perhaps? Despite umpteen weddings in Wanaka year-round, there is no local dry-cleaner and with no time to get it to Queenstown and back, I was entrusted with the terrifying task of removing the marks from the delicate, champagne-coloured fabric. Soaking in Napisan in the bath did the trick followed by hanging to drip dry in the shower and a cool iron while still damp.

Advertisement

It was a nerve-racking process but nothing compared with the nail-biting suspense as we tracked the progress of flights into Queenstown Airport live on Flight Radar during the weather bomb that struck the country last February . . . immediately prior to the wedding.

There were cheers and whoops of delight when it appeared that one of the bridesmaids, a girl from the Chatham Islands, had landed successfully after four separate aborted attempts . . . only to be replaced by groans and despair when the plane icon did an abrupt about-face and began heading for Invercargill instead. It took her three days to get to Queenstown with her husband and two infants in tow. They were finally bussed from Invercargill.

When the DJs, The Sweet Mix Kids, were also delayed on the morning of the wedding due to weather hi-jinks, we decided the bride did not need to know. Anyway, they got there just in time and were sensational.

Lovely touches - an outdoor lounge area for guests to chill out and enjoy the scenery. Photo / Supplied
Lovely touches - an outdoor lounge area for guests to chill out and enjoy the scenery. Photo / Supplied

Planning a marquee wedding from scratch in a bare paddock without power or water and at the mercy of the elements is not for the faint-hearted. It's effectively like creating a small village, bringing all the infrastructure onsite from tables to teaspoons, from lighting to loos, from generators to water tanks. The couple managed the mission like professional wedding planners with the minutest attention to detail.

However, with so many variables or 'moving parts' as our daughter described them, there is always a risk of a few things going awry . . . such as tables arriving on site the day before the wedding, wet and sticky from very recent oiling. But thanks to a veritable army of friends, each one was individually dried with a heating tool hurriedly purchased from Mitre 10 – a frustratingly time-consuming, labour-intensive task.

Another glitch was the discovery of spelling mistakes on the order of service cards the day before the wedding. Thankfully, the groom had the original document in PDF format on his lap-top and an efficient Wanaka printing firm managed to reprint the cards at the 11th hour.

Te Ariki Nui is a tranquil, rural retreat 10 minutes out of Wanaka. Photo / Supplied
Te Ariki Nui is a tranquil, rural retreat 10 minutes out of Wanaka. Photo / Supplied

It was a blessing that we were staying at Te Ariki Nui, a tranquil, rural retreat 10 minutes out of Wanaka. Encircled by magnificent mountains, golden tussock lands and a herd of sociable alpacas, the peaceful surroundings had a distinctly calming effect on the family. And hand-feeding the quizzical alpacas provided a welcome distraction from wedding dramas.

The outside Jacuzzi was also therapeutic, soothing ragged nerves . . . it was sadly off-limits as soon as the bride and her maids had had spray tans but the rest of the family put it to good use.

It was quite surreal to soak in the spa pool surrounded by a substantial dusting of mid-summer snow on the peaks and ranges. Photo / Supplied
It was quite surreal to soak in the spa pool surrounded by a substantial dusting of mid-summer snow on the peaks and ranges. Photo / Supplied

Two days before the wedding, immersed in warm bubbly water surrounded by snow and single digit temperatures at the height of a Central Otago summer, the bride's father was heard to inquire with a hint of impending doom in his voice: "Do we have plan B . . . if the weather does NOT clear on Saturday afternoon as forecast?"

"Yes of course Dad . . . and C,D and E," the bride replied.

Despite all the mishaps and near-catastrophes, the wedding day at the lakeside Olive Grove was perfect in every way from the moving ceremony conducted in bright sunshine by the pastor and friend of the bride's late grandmother, to the superb cuisine steamed, baked, grilled and smoked in French oak wine barrels by Wild Earth. The newly-weds looked radiant, the speeches were amusing and highly entertaining, and the flamboyant Sweet Mix Kids kept guests of all ages on the outside dance floor under a canopy of stars until 3am.

A Wild Earth staff member checking the vegetables in one of the French oak wine barrels. Photo / Supplied
A Wild Earth staff member checking the vegetables in one of the French oak wine barrels. Photo / Supplied

And in the most magnanimous of gestures, having created maximum havoc with bridesmaids, best man, DJs, family members and numerous guests stranded hither and yon, the weather cleared at noon on the wedding day to a perfect, windless, blue-sky day, not too hot, not too cold. Everyone miraculously arrived in time and the dusting of fresh snow on the high peaks and ranges added a touch of magic to the photos. Wanaka even turned on a magnificent pink and gold sunset, a mirror lake and a dazzling night sky.

Checklist

* Te Ariki Nui is a great base for pre- and post-wedding events.

* Pick up a JUCY Rental at Queenstown Airport and drive to Wanaka - 60 minutes over the Crown Range or 90 minutes via the Kawarau Gorge, both magnificent scenic experiences.

* Air New Zealand flies daily to Queenstown from Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch with connections available across the domestic network.