If you’re looking in Auckland and surrounding areas specifically, see the Auckland Wedding Venue guide.
Choosing your wedding venue is usually the first big decision after getting engaged, once you’ve given some thought to your wedding budget, potential date and number of guests (see the initial wedding planning guide).
Choosing your wedding venue is actually pretty exciting – the first step of wedding planning where you really get to think creatively and can begin to envisage your wedding, and imagine where you’ll be walking down the aisle and making your vows, not to mention taking your first sip of champagne and getting those all-important photos.
Your choice of wedding venue will also probably have the greatest bearing on the style of your wedding, as well as be the biggest expense, so for many brides it can feel like an overwhelming decision.
When to Choose your Wedding Venue
Ideally, choose a wedding venue around 12 months out from your wedding – the venue will look very similar to as it will on your wedding date, and it’s the time that most venues start getting booked – especially for popular weekends in summer. Make an appointment with the venue at around the time your ceremony will be, so you can picture the spot as it will be on the day.
Before you Visit your Potential Wedding Venue
If you’ve ever watched Say Yes to The Dress, you’ll know that the absolute worst thing a bride can do is to try on a dress which is way out of her wedding budget. The same applies when it comes to choosing your wedding venue. If you visit and then fall in love with a venue which is way out of your budget, you are setting yourself up for failure and/or disappointment.
Prior to visiting any potential wedding venues, email their coordinator to enquire about package and pricing options. Set out an email with any preferred dates or at least the month and days of the week, and the approximate number of guests you intend to have, and then only make an appointment to view if you can afford it. This also avoids potential disappointment in visiting the venue only to find that your date is already booked. It also gives you an insight into how helpful they may be to communicate with over email – a valuable part of wedding planning.
Before you get near the property or meet anyone, you’ve also got some research to do to ensure you choose a wedding venue that’s going to make wedding planning easier and enjoyable. Once you’ve booked your wedding venue, there’s less urgency to organise anything else – see also the 12 month wedding planning checklist – you can go back to just enjoying your engagement for a while.
Choosing a New Zealand wedding venue
New Zealand is absolutely spoiled for choice when it comes to wedding venues, making it a popular spot for destination weddings too. As most of our friends lived overseas at the time of our wedding, we saw it as a great opportunity to bring the “expats” home, and encourage the international friends to come and experience our beautiful country. A word of warning – we were initially looking at Auckland wedding venues, and had a Waiheke Island property in mind, but soon found out it was on the market, and wasn’t taking bookings. It was disappointing, but it wasn’t meant to be.
Don’t be frustrated if the wedding venue you find online isn’t available on your date, is out of your price range, or for whatever reason won’t work for you. Something better will come along.
How to choose your Wedding Venue?
Hopefully, you’ve also followed the first steps to wedding planning, and have begun your little white book, because the more prep you’ve done, the easier choosing your wedding venue will be. It is very difficult to choose a venue without having thought about a date, a draft guest list and without starting a wedding budget, because the size of your wedding, how much you’re willing to spend, and when it’s going to be are crucial elements to help determine where to tie the knot:
- Guests: You shouldn’t choose a wedding venue until you’ve decided on approximately how many guests you’re inviting. There’s no sense securing a venue which seats 100 and then making a guest list which spreads to 120. Once you have an estimate number, you can compare venues based on cost per person, too. Having a small wedding is by far the easiest way to cut costs.
- Wedding budget: will indicate whether it’s an extravagant or an more intimate event, and you can’t sign any wedding venue contract before knowing exactly how it’s going to effect the rest of your budget. Your wedding venue can cost up to 50% of your entire budget (if catering is included) and if you opt for a dry-hire/DIY venue, there’s a lot of other budgeting to do to make it work.
- Season/date also has a part to play in choosing your wedding venue – if you are planning a wedding in a short space of time, you are less likely to secure an in-demand wedding venue on popular weekends. You can save a substantial amount by having an off-peak (weekday) or winter wedding – New Zealand has some incredible venues for those.
What are your Wedding Venue priorities?
Wedding planning always comes back to priorities, because for most people, you can’t have everything. Think about your wedding venue priorities, such as the ideal style, theme for decor, the date you’d ideally book, guest capacity and whether you’ll have your your ceremony and reception at different locations, or if you want an all-in-one wedding venue. For example, If you have not prioritised a large spend on décor and flowers, but the space is very bare and will require a lot of decorating, you may have to reallocate your budget to achieve the look you want. You may not be able to get everything you want from your wedding venue, so prioritise which elements are most important.
For example, our priorities were to take our guests out of Auckland city (and therefore we needed plenty of accommodation on-site or nearby); to find a venue that could host both the wedding ceremony and the reception dinner; and, of course, we wanted to showcase one of the most beautiful spots of New Zealand to our international guests (and which would look stunning in photos).
What else might you be looking for in a Wedding Venue?
If you are having a religious ceremony, you will need to choose your church or other religious building, which may dictate your reception venue choices a little due to travelling distance. If transport is important to you (whether a helicopter entry or arrival on horseback), then you need to ensure the venue suits that requirement too. Create a ‘must have’ and ‘might have’ list.
Think about wet weather options too – if the only reason you love a venue is for its stunning garden ceremony space, or its outdoor photo opportunities, consider how you will feel if the heavens open and your picture-perfect panorama becomes a wet and muddy trench.
If you are having a large wedding, how does the space work in terms of visibility and audibility – both for the ceremony vows/readings and the reception speeches.
Should we have a DIY/Dry-Hire Wedding Venue?
I understand, it can be so tempting to see the potential savings by having a BYO venue and saving on the alcohol for your wedding. Unfortunately, it just isn’t quite that simple. I should know – we had a completely DIY venue, which meant we did get to BYO wine and spirits. Here’s what it also meant:
- We also had to hire every single item of crockery, cutlery and glassware, at great expense, not to mention the chairs, tables, vases, and even a microphone for our celebrant.
- We had to estimate how much beer, wine and spirits to buy, knowing that if we underestimated and ran out, the wedding would feel like a complete disaster, with the closest supermarket being over half an hour’s drive from the wedding venue
- We had to transport, and then refrigerate (in a hired refrigerator) cases and cases of wine and beer, and keep them cool on one of the hottest days in February
- As our venue did not have a bar, or bar-tender, we had to instead put all the bottles on a large table for guests to help themselves from. While they loved this – and there was plenty to go around, when we tidied up (yes, you have to do that at a dry-hire venue!) the next day, we realised that 80% of the bottles had been opened but 60% of the bottles were half full, so we wasted a lot of really good wine!
You’re creating the wedding venue from scratch, which means complete flexibility in terms of how to design the day. It’s all your choice, but it’s all at your expense!
If you go for a ‘Dry or DIY hire’ wedding venue, you have the opportunity and responsibility of doing everything yourself, preparing the room, organising the catering, alcohol, bar tenders, and servers. It can be a big job for one person – I’m not saying you need a wedding planner, but you might want to enlist the help of a friend or parent, (and definitely stay on track with a wedding organiser and diary)
Personally, we decided that the expense was worth it, because the venue satisfied all other requirements and even had some accommodation on-site.
We did a lot of maths first though, and the venues that work out the cheapest are those that offer everything on premise, such as a chef, staff, catering and furniture. Examples of such venues include vineyards (Mudbrick on Waiheke Island, or Villa Maria in Auckland), garden venues (Waterlily Gardens, Tauranga), or restaurants (Pilkingtons, Auckland).
Ensure that when hiring an all-inclusive wedding venue, that you really do know everything it includes (even down to the chair covers, or the services of a wedding planner). The wedding planning pack covers all wedding vendor questionnaires – it’s sold individually or in the bundle. If you don’t want to spend $10 (or buy the little white book + planning pack bundle for $99), please at least take the time to truly think about whether the venue fits all your requirements, and you give some serious attention to the contract and what it includes and excludes.
Make a shortlist
Once you’ve worked out your guest list, budget and other priorities, start making a shortlist of wedding locations and venues. Research them a little online if possible, spend a weekend visiting a few venues, ask friends and family recommendations, and talk to representatives at wedding shows.
You’ll get a much better feel for them by talking to people, than by just reading the website and looking at photos. If you have absolutely no idea where to start, have a look at The Wedding Map and Backyard Weddings. If you like a particular photographer’s style, browse their website for venue inspiration, or browse through wedding blogs such as Paper & Lace or Truly & Madly. Just be aware that websites and magazines favour their advertisers, so while a site like Auckland Weddings can be useful, it’s only featuring those that have paid to be on there.
When you visit each venue, keep in mind:
Ensure the capacity of the wedding venue fits, and not just according to how many tables and chairs there are, but whether there’s enough room for everyone to dance, space for older people to sit down, and ample space for everything else you want to have. Buffet tables take up lots of space, bands take up more room than a DJ, and if you’re asking for presents to be brought to the reception, you’ll need space for a gift table too.
Consider the capacity and layout of each of the spaces you’d be using.
- If you’re having a small wedding, a large venue may be unsuitable and completely change the ambience.
- If you’re doing ceremony, cocktails, and reception all in one venue, does it have three separate spaces for all of those events?
- Does it require a space that is weather dependent (such as an outdoor space)? This is where you can recognise potential hidden costs and hidden issues.
- Think about the flow of the ceremony if you’re having it at the same venue.
Style & Theme
Does the venue have the right feel and ambience, in accordance with the style, theme and environment you want to create? If you’re planning a casual wedding, don’t pick a venue with a fussy, fancy feel, as you’ll have to spend time and money changing it to suit your theme, when you could choose a venue that’s more suitable to start with. What is the existing decor, will it match your wedding colours, or will you have to spend a lot of money on other decorations and flowers to make it suit?
Many venues restrict wedding catering to in-house only, or specify which caterers to use. This may be of importance of you for many reasons, including personal or religious, so ensure you consider the options and limitations for caterers. The same applies with BYO – understand whether there is an option to bring any of your own wine (and if a corkage fee applies).
If you have a lot of elderly guests attending, or friends and family in wheelchairs, ensure that the wedding venue is not just accessible, but also enjoyable for those. Consider bathroom facilities with the same thoughts in mind – you don’t want guests to have difficulty taking themselves to the bathroom, having stairs to climb or having to go up and down hills if it will make them uncomfortable.
The same goes for parking – is the venue accessible for guests to park and walk to; safe to leave their vehicles overnight; is there public transport available for intoxicated guests to get home, or are you okay with needing to provide transportation for guests from a hotel to your remote venue? Transportation can be a fairly big line item on your budget if you’re bussing or shuttling people to and fro
These are just some of the questions I prompt you to ask with the wedding planning pack, as well as others such as:
- How many guests can you cater for?
- What are the noise restrictions?
- Can you bring in whatever outside vendors you want?
- Are the kitchen facilities available for those vendors?
- Is there tableware included?
- How many tables fit into the room?
- What sound equipment is provided for a DJ or band?
- Is there room in the wedding venue for a band and/or dancing?
- Is it a licensed venue?
- Is there enough lighting provided?
- Are you allowed to light candles?
- Are there any limitations on decorations?
- Are candles or other open flames allowed?
- Are there any hidden costs?
- What are the overtime charges?
- Note this is a non-inclusive list, look to the wedding planning pack for all vendor questionnaires, or the venue-specific selection pack.
Once you’ve answered all of these questions, and more, go over any contract with a fine-toothed comb (or a lawyer/parent/friend) and consider:
- Can we afford this venue? Not just can we afford to pay the venue fee, but will this cost fit within our budget and still allow us to have the other things we hope for?
- Does the availability/date suit us and our guests? You may wish to double-check with your most important guests (bridal party, close family, etc).
- Does this wedding venue really fit my estimated guest list. Sometimes venues stretch what’s possible in order to make themselves more attractive to all couples (just because you can fit 200 people into a room, doesn’t mean you should.
- Does the venue fit your vibe? You should be able to suss this out fairly quickly, and get a good gut reaction, but if you don’t LOVE the vibe, and aren’t sure you LOVE the space, keep looking.
Once you’ve booked your venue
Once you’ve booked your wedding venue, you can begin to organise everything else, including the very important on-the-day plan. As you organise each of the next elements of your wedding, keep coming back to what will suit and fit the venue. I suggest working with a floor plan of the area, so that you can see how much room things will take up, i.e. a DJ booth, dessert table or selfie station will each need a couple of metres of space.
Think about transport and parking – both between the ceremony and reception venues (if applicable) and how your guests will get home afterwards. Put this on your wedding invitation info card.
Keep in regular contact with your wedding venue. They may even be able to suggest or book preferred suppliers for you, and many will continue communication with those vendors once you have booked them in too.