WRITTEN BY KRISTA BEAUVAIS
What does it take to elope on one of the most beautiful and photographed beaches in the world? What is it like to fly by seaplane to a remote island? Then be carried by your groom-to-be onto a white sand beach for a private ceremony? How do you organise it – and what does it cost?
Like any normal girl, I had once pictured myself walking down a traditional aisle for my traditional wedding. But then, as the years carried on and I started to find my own uniqueness in this world, it soon because apparent that the traditional wedding wouldn’t work very well for me. Luckily, Erik, my groom-to-be, felt the same. And thus began the search…where would we get married? Rather, where would we elope? What experience would be special and intimate for both of us?
After three years together, Erik proposed on the beautiful and romantic Ponte Vecchio in Florence, Italy – and a little over a year later, we were standing barefoot on Whitehaven Beach inside the Great Barrier Reef, Australia, exchanging our vows. How exactly did we choose this location? It’s not very scientific, I’m afraid.
We saw photos of this island in a book we own called 501 Must-Visit Islands. We were spellbound by its beauty and were instantly drawn to see it out. What better place to marry the one you love than on an island that is so beautiful it seems positively inaccessible?
With the ‘where’ decided, how would we actually go about doing it? Normal wedding or elope? Just us or with friends? On a sailing trip near the beach or on the beach itself? As foreigners, can we even get married in Australia? Will it be legal?
The decision to elope happened because we chose to do a 15-month trip around the world instead of getting married in the traditional way. Neither of us could fathom spending thousands on a single day. Nor did we want to be the centre of attention or spend our day worrying about whether or not everyone was happy and having a good time.
Instead, we decided that we would spend fifteen months just enjoying each other and following our dreams around the world. Kids will be factoring into our future (at least we hope) so we figure we’d best indulge now! Luckily, our family and friends all understood and supported our decision.
The Legal Stuff
It turns out that getting married in Australia is very easy to do! They have a system whereby you are married by a ‘celebrant.’ Once you know where you want to get married, you look for a celebrant in that area (Google worked for us). They then do everything on the legal end, help you plan the ceremony you want, marry you on the day, provide you with a momento wedding certificate, and send away to the government for the official wedding certificate.
At the start of this process, to get the legal ball rolling, your celebrant will send you a NOIM (Notice of Intended Marriage), which you must complete and get back to them at least one month and one day before you intend to marry. It’s only two pages long and easy to complete.
Unlike many countries, they don’t require an affidavit from your embassies attesting to your single status and ability to marry; you simply need to sign that you are legally able to marry. If you lie about this, you can be jailed for fraud. You need to send certified copies of passports and birth certificates along with this document. If you are in Australia when you do this, the Police will certify these for you for free – just pop into any Police Station.
Your celebrant guides you through the process entirely; it is very easy! For what they do, their fee (which appears to range between $400 – $600 AUD) seems like a bargain! We selected Donna Fornasiero as our celebrant and she was brilliant; I highly recommend her for her casual, warm personality.
How to Get to Whitehaven Beach
Where exactly is Whitehaven Beach? It’s in Queensland on the East coast of Australia, North of Brisbane but South of Cairns. If you find Airlie Beach, look off the coast from there and you’ll find Whitehaven Island (home to the beautiful Whitehaven Beach) situated amongst a total of 74 islands clustered within the protection of the Great Barrier Reef.
You need a boat, helicopter, or seaplane to get to the island, which is a 15-minute flight from Airlie Beach, which is on the mainland. If you continue flying for another 15 minutes past Whitehaven Island, you find yourself flying over the outer reef of the Great Barrier Reef.
We chartered a private seaplane from Air Whitsunday to fly us over and can highly recommend them! It’s not cheap at a cost of about $1,500 AUD, but it was that ‘special thing’ Erik really wanted so it wasn’t negotiable. Without a doubt, the whole seaplane experience, flying over those majestic islands, certainly made our day magical!
You have lots of accommodation options, depending on what experience you want. You can either stay in Airlie Beach on the mainland, where there are lots of options for accommodation. Or you can stay on Hamilton Island (which is home to Qualia Resort for the most exclusive luxury in the region), Daydream Island (the smallest inhabited island), or Hayman Island, a highly awarded private island.
We chose to stay on the mainland in a highly rated apartment complex just outside town, on the hill overlooking the sea. We chose Summit Apartments because they had the highest rating on Trip Advisor when we were researching options. At the time, they also offered an excellent value week-long package that included two activities (which cost the same as an accommodation-only week-long package at other places).
As the reviews suggested, staff were superbly friendly, the apartment was brilliantly modern, spacious, and well appointed. We stayed in room 11 and it was perfect! It’s a corner room with privacy and unobstructed views to the sea along one full wall of the apartment. We felt positively spoiled!
We paid $1400 AUD for one week’s accommodation that also included a scenic flight over the Great Barrier Reef and a day’s sailing around the Whitsunday Islands. $200 AUD a night seems to be pretty standard for nice accommodation in Airlie. So this was a great deal since it also included two activities for each of us!
Planning Your Wedding
We chose to stay on the mainland because, if you stay on one of the islands, you have to use their own wedding coordination service and it looked like that meant we wouldn’t be able to use Donna as our celebrant. Because we had already started our journey with her, we were not willing to negotiate on that point and so we chose our accommodation accordingly.
Once I started to research all of the suppliers to organise this ourselves, I learned very quickly (believe it or not – I didn’t at first!) that it was going to be cheaper to hire a Wedding Coordinator than to organise it myself. We chose I Do Events because they offered a good elopement package that included everything we needed for a lower cost than I could source myself. For a little more than $4300 AUD (May 2013), we received the following services all included for this price:
- Donna’s celebrant fees
- Private seaplane charter
- Private luxury car return transfer between our accommodation and the airport
- Bouquet and button hole flowers
- Hair and make-up in our apartment
- Organisation of signing table and ceremony props on the beach
- Picnic on the beach after our ceremony
- Mini wedding cake
- 3 course celebratory dinner
- Photographer, photo slideshow, photo album of 50 prints, CD of 50+ photos
On the Day
Jess L (originally from Chicago) was our Wedding Coordinator. She was friendly, professional and organised. I wasn’t sure who to select for hair and make-up so Jess chose for me and she did a brilliant job! She chose Rowena Kissun for my makeup and Amanda Hearn for my hair. Both ladies were professional, relaxed, friendly, and they knew exactly what to do! I was very pleased with Jess’ selection! She also did a great job looking after everything on the day, which meant that we simply got to relax and enjoy our day; she took all of the stress away that we otherwise would have felt if she hadn’t been there to manage everything.
With ourselves dressed and dolled, we were collected by the car service Jess organised and taken to the airport where Jess was waiting with Donna, Brooke (our photographer), our flowers, and our post-ceremony picnic. We boarded the seaplane and Dan, our pilot, flew us over the islands, engulfing us in a sense of awe and magic. It is as beautiful as the pictures we saw in the book that inspired us to come here! We touched down on the water, a new and exciting experience for both of us, and we set foot on pure white sand made of 98% silica.
Brooke Miles was our photographer. We chose her as we liked what we saw of her work – she seemed able to capture ‘moments.’ I didn’t want a photographer who was going to make us ‘pose’ and I got a sense from Brooke’s photos that she just knew when to snap a shot to grab a ‘moment.’ We were very pleased with our choice! She readily put us at ease; she has a casual manner that is perfect for a beach wedding! And it’s clear she knows what she’s doing!
Only a few days after the wedding, our photos were uploaded online for preview and we were able to enjoy our slideshow the following day! The hard copies of everything came in the post a few weeks later as promised. We were really pleased with her service!
Et voila – we were married on a beach that seemed too beautiful to ever access! And yet, here we stand, toes wiggling in the soft white silica sand. Another dream turned reality. A true Wodara moment for both of us!
ALSO SHARED BY KRISTA
- See the full list on her profile page