With the 2010 wedding season in full swing and Valentines Day looming, New Zealand’s tourist industry is flush with romance - catering for a blossoming number of couples seeking a novel way to pop the question or tie the knot.
New Zealand has always been a popular choice for overseas couples to get engaged or marry but tourism operators say there is a noticeable trend towards "destination weddings".
And with romance providing a good excuse to take a break or enjoy a special treat, hotels, lodges, spas and tourist operators are coming up with some attractive Valentine’s Day deals to woo new custom.
When an Australian couple joined the destination wedding trend recently they became one of 28 couples who have chosen the dramatic Aoraki Mount Cook region for their special day, this season alone.
Melinda Gaughwin and Gary Cook, from Bridgewater, South Australia braved near zero temperatures to tie the knot at 6,900ft on the Tasman Glacier and surrounded by the snow-capped Southern Alps.
Aoraki Mount Cook has been rated 17th best wedding location in the world, by UK newspaper The Independent and The Hermitage hotel which caters for the functions, says this is their busiest season ever.
Wedding planner Nyree Schaar says more couples are moving away from the idea of a traditional wedding in their local church or at home and opting to marry in unusual or special places.
Aoraki Mount Cook
"We're seeing more and more couples, particularly those from Britain, America and Australia, choosing to wed in the incredibly special surrounds of Aoraki Mount Cook," Ms Schaar said.
The increase could be attributed to several factors, including couples marrying later in life, she said. "This often means better financial security and the ability to pay for their own wedding rather than rely on their parents - which gives them more control over the cost, location and who they choose to invite."
Many couples fly by helicopter or ski-plane to high points of the glacier and national park, or marry with the region’s deep turquoise lakes in the background.
New Zealand’s dramatic scenic locations, whether alpine, lake-side, beach, native bush or wide open countryside, are one of the key reasons couples choose the country to marry or get engaged.
New Zealand’s Pure Cruise charter company says February is a busy month with several private weddings booked to take place on Lake Rotoiti - near Rotorua, in the central North Island. The lake’s secluded coves and private beaches provide a dramatic backdrop to capture lasting memories, the company says.
As well as using luxury craft, resorts, remote islands, beach side properties and the more obvious settings with a stunning vista, couples are also seeking out-of-the-ordinary venues and novel ways to pledge their love for one another.
Some of the more unusual circumstances in recent years include underwater, during a rock concert, on a sky dive, on the Wellington cable car, during a bungy jump, on a fire engine, gondola, yacht, train, helicopter, float plane, farm tractor and even in a farm milking shed.
Jumping for joy
Derek Melnick of NZONE "The Ultimate Jump", a specialist sky jump company operating in Queenstown and Rotorua, says the company has been in operation for 20 years now and is party to at least two or three marriage proposals every year.
The most recent was a UK couple, who live in Abu Dhabi, and had planned a sky dive as part of their New Zealand holiday. Ray Adcock decided it was the perfect opportunity to pop the question to girlfriend Debbie Simmonds and spent months arranging the proposal with NZONE staff.
He even had a giant banner bearing the words "Marry me Debbie" printed in Abu Dhabi - the lettering large enough to be visible from thousands of feet.
Adcock did his tandem jump first and when Simmonds parachuted to the ground her husband-to-be was on his knee ready to slip a ring onto her shaking finger.
Whether affected by the adrenalin rush or happy to say yes, she became one of many who have accepted a marriage proposal in front of NZONE staff who say they hope it will be another marriage made in heaven.
And another novel wedding-related idea has come from a Hamilton couple who have decided to give away a free wedding, the day after their own.
Kim Stevens and Gene Paul, due to marry on 27 February 2010, want to give away a replica wedding on the following day to a couple who otherwise couldn't afford the dream day.
To be considered, applicants must be experiencing financial hardship caused by circumstances beyond their control which makes a wedding an impossible expense.
Staff at the Mystery Creek Events Centre near Hamilton, where the weddings will take place, latched on to Stevens’ idea and are now running the competition, through local radio. Other local businesses have joined in and the liquor, spit roast, cake, hairstyling and other products have all been donated.
Paul and Stevens have even donated the groom's suit and the bridal gown from their wedding to ease the financial burden on the lucky winners.
With the approach of 14 February - Valentine's Day - New Zealand’s tourism industry is gearing up for increased business and there are some good deals for valentines wanting to treat loved ones in style.
Rotorua’s Lake Okareka Lodge is bracing itself for a wave of Valentines Day excitement, having been named one of the top 10 places in the world to propose.
Manager Diana Moore says she’s not sure how the five-star luxury lodge made the list of most romantic destinations but it was chosen by US-based Hotels Combined.com, the world’s largest online hotel search engine website.
Lake Okareka Lodge was also named ‘world’s best country house’ in the 2009 World Luxury Hotel Awards and had received a lot of positive publicity, Moore said.
Sky high Valentine’s Day
Auckland’s SKYCITY has come up with a novel Valentine’s Day idea. One lucky couple will have the opportunity to "sleep with the stars" by spending the night of 13 February on the Sky Tower’s Sky Deck - 60 floors above the city.
The Sky Deck is a glassed-in area near the top of the 328m-tall tower, and will be decked out as the SKYCITY Vegas Vista VIP Suite for the occasion.
The offer is on New Zealand’s Trade Me website and bidding will close on 11 February. All proceeds from the auction will go to the New Zealand Breast Cancer Foundation.
For Valentines Day, The Langham Hotel Auckland has created a limited range of exclusive packages named after notable lovers including ‘The Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton Valentine’ - a luxury accommodation package in the hotel’s decadent Royal Suite.
There’s also the ‘Antony and Cleopatra Valentine’ which is a special offer involving the infinity bath in the Chuan Spa Haven; and for couples wanting to get away for a break from the children there’s the ‘Brad and Angelina Valentine’ - an accommodation package in a Langham Suite or Club Room.
Not to be outdone, Wellington Zoo is suggesting people should let their animal instincts run wild on Valentine’s night and spend a romantic evening with someone special, along with the zoo animals.
The zoo is offering a three-course dinner on the red panda viewing deck or new African village, and an evening of ‘adults only’ entry to the zoo so couples can enjoy a tranquil walk through the enclosure, indulge in some "naughty nibbles" and listen to talks on animal courtships and mating behaviour.
Anyone who is tied to home and the kitchen sink on Valentine's Day could spice up the domestic action with a "Love Potion" tea towel from Napier fabric design company Esther Diamond.
Founder Sandi Reefman has come up with the red and black, unique designs especially for Valentines Day and suggests using the tea towels to impress someone (ideally not your mum) by drying the dishes.
Massage for a Difference
One heart-warming event, just in time for Valentine's Day, will be staged by the New Zealand College of Massage, Auckland, on 12 - 13 February.
The charity event, Massage for a Difference, is the brainchild of leukaemia survivor James Roiauri who wants to raise NZ$10,000 for the NZ Leukaemia & Blood Foundation.
Roiauri and other students at the college are volunteering their time to provide massage to members of the public to celebrate Valentine's Day.