Congratulations on your engagement. You’ve clinked champagne glasses, changed your Facebook status, now begins the quest to please everyone – including your father’s half sister’s aunt Betty who, having sent you R50 for your birthday every year since birth, expects to be invited. But what do you want?
Have you considered a ‘destination wedding’?
People all over the world are getting married all over the world. “We got married in Cyprus, partly because we didn’t want a big razzmatazz wedding,” says Helen Andre of Horsham, Surrey. “We had 11 guests. It was fab, laid-back and unconventional – we did what we wanted, not what others expected of us.”
Film producer Vicky Patela-Pollitz, who lives in LA, got married in the UK “because it’s my real home. We used my family as proxy organisers and our guests turned the trip into a holiday.”
And that’s what more and more South Africans abroad are doing…
For South African expats ‘back home’ is the new destination wedding!
Margo and Ian Smith, entrepreneurs living in England, got married in South Africa: “You get so much more for your money,” Margo explained, “Health and Safety issues are not an issue either – we got married under trees and our photographs were taken at the beach on a sofa.”
Claudia and Gerald did the same, and had some practical advice about marrying in South Africa: “Be flexible and make sure the venue has a generator. Ours didn’t and we had a power cut due to a massive storm. In true African style the DJ picked up her guitar and serenaded us.”
12 of the top 25 places to visit in Africa are all located in South Africa
All but one of these are in the Western Cape, says Trip Advisor’s Traveller’s choice awards 2015. Although the Western Cape is admittedly one of the most visited, premier locations in the world, you are likely to be just one of millions of visitors flocking to its shores. If crowds are not exactly what you had in mind, and you’d prefer something more wild, secluded and equally beautiful…
Why not consider the Eastern Cape?
The Eastern Cape (EC) is described as South Africa’s “’wild’ province” by SouthAfrica.net. It’s home to a range of natural attractions from pristine coastlines to mountains and semi-deserts, world renowned reserves and untouched wilderness. (It was also Nelson Mandela’s home province.) According to a recent EC Tourism Report, the province only received 7.6% of foreign tourism in 2014.
For this writer, Morgan Bay on the Wild Coast, and its surrounding countryside, is a particularly beautiful part of the Eastern Cape – untouched and secluded in a Swallows and Amazons-rugged-coastal-adventure sense.
Follow your nose along the N2 route from East London, turn onto the R349 and you will find the small hamlet of Morgan Bay. What used to be a 44km dirt road, is now tarred and completely accessible. The whole idyllic holiday village will take you just 10 minutes to explore.
The best-kept secret of the Eastern Cape
From May to November, you may be almost the only car on the village road, the only couple on a 4km stretch of sandy beach, the sole recipient of a warm Indian ocean breeze. Accommodation is abundant and prices are lower. Your only distraction may be a friendly smile from a local, quietly throwing a water-logged stick for his dog.
What can such a tiny village offer a couple planning their wedding?
Morgan Bay and the surrounding countryside boasts a number of wedding venues with breathtaking photo opportunities, accommodation and unique South African settings.
Morgan Bay Hotel
On the beachfront, at the heart of the Morgan Bay village is the Morgan Bay Hotel, a hotel run by generations of one family for 70 years. “It’s like coming home,” reads the Hotel’s slogan. “Many of our customers arrive as guests and leave as friends,” explains Jackie Warren-Smith.
“We have a location to die for,” says Jackie “Right on the beach with the most beautiful view, crashing waves, ocean spray, personal service and affordability, amazing photographic opportunities with incredible natural backdrops, reception venue & accommodation all rolled into one.”
Lauren and David were married at the hotel: “We taught in South Korea for 2 years and could not imagine getting married without our family and friends. I grew up visiting Morgan Bay so it was always going to be my choice.”
“A small village has more charm and character than the wedding factories of the big cities and the fact that it was a destination wedding meant people really made the effort to visit and it became more than just a wedding,” recounts Lauren. “An advantage of a wedding abroad is that you maintain perspective rather than getting caught up in silly and expensive purchases.”
Under a shady canopy of trees nestles a quaint little one-stop venue run by Robyn and Sean Rhon. Yellowwood Forest is tucked away in a little valley at the mouth of the blind Inchara river, so called for the crabs found there. Yellowwood is in walking distance from everywhere in the village, though one has the feeling of having escaped. This is a welcome feeling in high season, when the crowds are buzzing around the beach, or if the wind is blowing – which it does.
Yellowwood started off as a campsite and craft shop serving coffees and cakes, but soon blossomed into a haven for weary beachcombers. There is now a restaurant under the trees, bar, outdoor pizza oven, craft market, children’s playground and thatched accommodation as well as camping.
Margo and Mitch recall their wedding: “It’s a magical place,” beams Margo. “We loved the serenity of the venue, the natural beauty and the great hospitality. Nothing was too much trouble for the Yellowwood team! Honeymoon accommodation was gorgeous, quirky and romantic!”
Inkwenkwezi Game Reserve
Fancy a venue where your guests can view a cheetah? From East London Airport, drive just 30 minutes along the Jikileza route to Inkwenkwezi Game Reserve, a secluded ‘bush’ venue ideal for a destination wedding.
Tania and Ben, now living in Atlanta, Georgia, married at Inkwenkwezi game reserve: “I wanted the wedding to be at a place familiar to me, but also sort of exotic … something different from what my US friends would see.”
Tania’s advice: “Keep the wedding small and intimate and use the resources the country has, like Proteas for the bouquet.”
Fancy an African farmhouse setting? The Cock-Inn is a B&B on a farm just outside the Morgan Bay village. Hidden amongst indigenous trees and with an abundance of birdlife, The Cock Inn is a taste of Anglo-African hospitality. Owner, Tammy Cockin promises something off-the-beaten-track with “traditional dancers, wedding and honeymoon suites, guest accommodation and the use of a small chapel on the property.”
Guest entertainment around Morgan Bay
Local knowledge is key and there are infinite tourism opportunities for your wedding guests. Remember, because it is not a booming tourism area (yet) you are still a valued client and almost anything can be arranged.
Morgan Bay has easy access to nearby seaside resorts such as Kei Mouth, Haga Haga, Csintsa and Trenneries. There are private game reserves offering guided game viewing – some have restaurant, braaiing or picnic facilities and even accommodation.
For something a little more wild, the area formerly known as the Transkei awaits – it costs just R60 to take a vehicle across the Kei River on an old fashioned pontoon. You can hike along miles of beach and rugged coastline, stopping in at pubs and restaurants in villages along the way. The brave might wade right up to the rusted shipwreck of the Jacaranda, which the sea has been slowly breaking up since it ran aground in 1971. Maybe throw in a bit of local history and visit Nelson Mandela’s birthplace and resting place in Qunu village.
Watch out for market days – African crafts, local artists’ work, farmers’ produce and artifacts can be purchased at a 10th of the prices you’d find in Johannesburg and Cape Town.
Ideas for bachelor’s or hen’s days?
There’s bowls, golf, fishing, horse riding along the beach, surfing, a spa, breathtaking walks along the cliffs and Ming-china hunting at Double Mouth beach – the area is rich with fun activities.
Alternatively, the ‘big city’ of East London is not far away with temptations for rainy day cinema showings, restaurants, coffee shops and malls.
All that’s left for me to say is good luck with your wedding plans and bon voyage!
Photography by Gareth Yearsley, Estefania Romero, Sandi Durnford-Slater, Morgan Bay Hotel