Enveloped by crystalline lakes, snow-capped peaks that trickle with city lights, and rambling fields blanketed in flora – Queenstown is a destination suffused in magic. With alpine vistas that feel boldly dramatic yet intimately secluded, this dreamy city on New Zealand’s South Island is one of the world’s most breathtaking elopement locations, seducing hearts fuelled by wanderlust and wild romance.
When a wedding is stripped back to its rawest, most essential parts – two lovers making a promise of forever – it makes choosing a photographer to document that moment all the more crucial. You want an artist who can do justice to just how powerful that moment was, and how potent that location’s magic really is. You also want to steer clear of destination wedding photography cliches – frames that feel gimmicky and dramatically staged (and a quick Google search for destination wedding photographers will give you plenty).
Locally based, and renowned for her wildly romantic and atmospheric frames that layer magical landscapes with raw, emotive captures that forever transport you back into that moment, is Dawn Thomson. Specializing in documenting elopements and micro-weddings paired with her planning experience at The Lovers Elopement Co., Dawn is our go-to for advice when it comes to organizing an intimate celebration in this inimitable destination. We took the chance to chat with Dawn to uncover her best tips and recommendations for those looking to marry in Queenstown…
“More and more couples are choosing to elope for many reasons – adventure and spontaneity, more intention, saving money, less stress, quality over quantity, environmental factors, family dynamics or a desire to marry in a fashion that reflects them as a couple…”
Why Elope Over a Traditional Wedding?
For years, couples that align with the less-is-more mentality, value intimacy over crowded revelries or are enamored by the spontaneity and passion intrinsic with eloping, have opted for this smaller style of celebration. Yet, with the widespread reach and impact of Covid-19, more couples than ever before are opting to elope or exchange vows in a micro wedding. “Since the pandemic, more and more couples are choosing to elope for many reasons – adventure and spontaneity, more intention, saving money, less stress, quality over quantity, environmental factors, family dynamics or a desire to marry in a fashion that reflects them as a couple,” Dawn explains.
So is it for you? “If you’re a modern couple who cares about creating your own traditions, cherishes a really intimate and meaningful ceremony, seeks adventure and the opportunity to visit your bucket-list destination or desires a luxury and quality experience for you and a small number of guests, then yes.”
The Magic of Queenstown
It’s no secret – Queenstown is a destination renowned for its exquisite beauty. There’s a magic there that’s potent and palpable. An atmosphere that’s utterly unique. It ignites something deep within, which is why Queenstown is such an incredible location to host a wedding or elopement.
“The dramatic snow-capped mountains, turquoise glacial lakes, ancient beech forests – it is wilderness in its purest form. A short drive or helicopter flight will land you in a remoteness that fills your heart and soul – the energy is magical and wildly romantic,” says Dawn.
“Planning an elopement is different to planning a big wedding. Imagine spending the day doing whatever you can dream. A sunrise intimate ceremony followed by a lavish picnic in a breathtaking location; a mountain hike or a helicopter flight to a mountain top or hidden glacial lake followed by a romantic dinner for two back at your Airbnb prepared by a private chef. It is all possible,” Dawn begins.
“I tend to hang out with my couple when they’re getting ready, traveling to locations and to take photos following the ceremony. This way, I capture the full story of the day and create a great connection with my couples. There is no awkward ‘photo session’ as we are all just hanging out and immersed in the experience,” she says.
Planning Advice – Quality Over Quantity
A significant benefit of eloping lies in cost and value. When asking Dawn for her advice on planning an elopement in Queenstown, her key takeaway was to focus on quality over quantity and to invest in a local wedding planning service. Working with a planner will ease the challenges of organising a destination wedding from abroad while curating your day with quality in mind.
“Planning a destination wedding can come with its challenges, and this is why I have co-founded The Lovers Elopement Co. Our aim is to take the guesswork and stress out of planning a destination wedding and to create a day that is modern, unique and beautiful using our highly sought after little black book of wedding artists,” she says.
Another insight? Consider which season suits you best, as each season is distinct and poetic in its own way. This will help you navigate the style and itinerary of your wedding, as the activities and aesthetics can vary from one season to the next.
“I love the intimate nature of small weddings and the breathing space they allow. When my couples are more relaxed and are focusing on what really matters, I can capture some beautiful, intimate moments that feel really authentic to the experience.”
The energy of an elopement is typically slower and more relaxed, so when it comes to photography, this can have an incredible impact. Your photographer has more time to focus on the smaller details, your connection with each other, and the wider landscape, to holistically curate a story of the day that is truly unique and steeped with meaning.
“I love the intimate nature of small weddings and the breathing space they allow,” says Dawn. “When my couples are more relaxed and are focusing on what really matters, I can capture some beautiful, intimate moments that feel really authentic to the experience.”
“To make the most of your elopement shoot I would plan your day to be full of moments that you love; these could be activities or an experience – if you are truly engaged in the moment your photographer will be able to capture the most beautiful, authentic moments that you will cherish forever,” she continues.
For many, the real incentive to eloping in New Zealand lies in the honeymoon that immediately follows. While the Queenstown region is a famed hub for adventurers and thrill-seekers, there’s an alluring level of relaxation and luxury that stirs there too, delivering a best-of-both-worlds playground for couples who want it all.
“It’s fun to hire a camper van and drive a loop around the South Island. Taking in the drama and mountainscapes of the South; Queenstown, Wanaka, Central Otago and Bannockburn for a fabulous pinot noir; then heading up the wild West Coast and further north into Abel Tasman. Visit the Marlborough Sounds and Blenheim for hiking and wineries,” Dawn suggests.
“Treat yourself and stay at one of New Zealand’s luxury lodges or hotels such as Eichardt’s Private Hotel, Matakauri Lodge, Mt Isthmus, Minaret Station, The Lindis or Kauri Cliffs.”
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