Questions to ask yourself when choosing a unique outdoor South African wedding venue/location

If you are looking for a unique South African wedding venue, specifically one out in nature, then we are here to help! I recently had a brainstorming session with one of my favourite people, Rebecca Kooiker. We chatted about the exceptional forest, mountain and beach wedding locations that South Africa has to offer, and how we could use all that info sitting in our brains to help future brides and grooms.

This ‘guide’ is actually pretty far from that. By contrast, it is a mix of advice, questions and thinking points lovingly put together by two humans with major South African mountain, forest and beach wedding experience.

Rebecca has crafted some of the most beautiful non-traditional elopements and weddings for couples who want anything from an environmentally friendly wedding to an evening wedding under the stars. On the other hand, I have photographed over 350 weddings and elopements, all across the world. And I have definitely seen it all.

Be sure to hang out with us until the end where I have listed some of my favourite unique South African wedding venues!

The practicalities of choosing a unique South African wedding venue

One thing we both agree on is that deciding on a non-traditional ceremony location is not always a simple a decision. There is SO much to consider. There are also so many inputs coming in from family and friends that having a non-traditional wedding can often seem like an overwhelming, counter-intuitive decision to make, even though you want it with all of your heart.

In those times, remember this: Nothing worthwhile was ever easy. Jokes hahaha! Rather, remember this: you are allowed (that word is important) to simplify your plans to fit the people, or take out the people out of the plans to fit the adventure.

Practically, that is not as harsh as it sounds. We’re not talking about cutting out your irritating Aunt because she wants to know where she can go to the bathroom after your ceremony on the top of the mountain. We’re talking about sitting down and having a heart-to-heart discussion, and getting crystal clear

Questions to ask yourself:

  1. Why do you want to have your wedding or wedding ceremony at a unique South African location?
  2. Would you be totally fine taking the logistics upon yourselves or would it be best to hire a planner?
  3. Would you be comfortable having the ceremony in a different location if it came to that?
  4. Would you both be OK accepting the unpredictable forest/mountain/beach wedding weather in South Africa for what it is?
  5. Would you be comfortable with having fewer guests if you go ahead and choose your unique South African wedding venue?

Those are some tough questions, but the clearer you are from the beginning, the better! On a side note, the pandemic and it’s related explosion of creative micro-weddings has exposed a lot of ‘traditional’ guests to out of the box thinking from brides and grooms. You now have more permission to do whatever your wedding heart desires than in any moment in your history… why not embrace it ๐Ÿ™‚

Here is a little more info on the questions above and why you should be asking them:

1. WHY are you choosing a unique South African wedding venue?

Your wedding ceremony is the official start of your life together and many of our clients choose to take that first step in a place that truly means something to them. The allure of being out in nature and going against the traditional concept of a wedding ceremony venue in South Africa is also another huge pull for adventurous couples. But understanding why you have made that decision is one of the biggest treasures you can uncover.

Getting down to your real ‘why’ is a process of elimination. I was once advised: start with the question and then ask yourself (or each other) ‘why?’ for each answer until you aren’t able to anymore… until you hit the answer that feels right to your soul and that gentle feeling of peace washes over you.

Your WHY is important

Once you know your true ‘why’ as a couple, it will be your compass. Your ‘why’ will guide you through twists and turns and big (or small) choices because you’ll always know which decision is in total alignment with your ‘why’.

Your ‘why’ is a glorious thing, and it will become your Northern Star as you head off on your wedding journey!

2. Would you be totally fine taking the logistics upon yourselves or would it be best to hire a wedding coordinator for your unique South African wedding venue choice?

Do you hate pressure or are you the easygoing type who feels that everything will be alright in the end and if it isn’t alright, it’s not the end? If you are the former type who worries about details and timelines and logistics, then get a wedding coordinator.

If I am honest, even if you are the latter, get a wedding coordinator.

Wedding coordinators take the stress out of the unknown.

From an outside perspective, couples who have a wedding coordinator have a peaceful aura. That is not to say that the stress of the day is completely removed, but daaaaamn it is an amazing feeling to know someone else has to get that cake to the top of the mountain and look after it until the guests eat it.

It is an equally incredible feeling to know that your wedding guests have someone looking out for them and making sure they have all of the information they need because there is nothing, and I repeat, NOTHING that heightens stress more than family and friends constantly coming into the suite to ask questions whilst the bride or groom is getting ready.

Navigating uneven ground and getting chairs, infrastructure, a cake table, properly packed glasses, rubbish bags, ice buckets and champagne to the location, and then having things ready for guests when they get to the wedding reception venue (if different) is then the job of your wedding coordinator.

I will also add that the more remote the location, the more necessary it is to either get someone to assist with planning and coordination of the details, or to pare back the details themselves. More about that next…

Images: (Hi Rebecca) Sometimes you just want to jump in the ocean after your wedding, and your wedding coordinator can even help with the logistics of that ๐Ÿ™‚

3. Would you be comfortable choosing a different South African wedding location or venue if it came to that?

An interesting thought… every single one of your wedding choices carry logistical implications.

What the chain of wedding logistics looks like:

  • We want a mountaintop wedding: Amazing!
  • How are you getting there? Arrange a 4×4 car.
  • Just for you or are you inviting guests? Arrange 4×4 transport for guests.
  • Is the terrain pretty even or will you need to take precautions? Find a flatter area if it is. Advise guests to wear flat shoes and have someone on hand to help Gran.
  • Are you having a short or long ceremony? Ceremony with hymns and prayers will probably be about 45 minutes so we will need to advise guests there won’t be bathrooms available for those 45 minutes plus the cake and champagne hour as well as their journey back down the mountain (Sidenote: Arrange transport and person to get get cake, cake table, champagne, ice and ice buckets up the mountain… and don’t forget the cake knife).
  • Will those guests be OK to stand or will they need to sit? Arrange transport and people to take chairs/logs/hay bales up the mountain and arrange them pre-ceremony as well as bring them down again.
  • Will you have confetti? Yes but it has to be biodegradable so someone needs to go pick flowers from the garden, dry them and then take them with up the mountain in a cool basket. Then someone needs to offer that confetti to guests before they throw it.

The answer: you can simplify or outsource

You can add a slew of questions to the above and we can all understand that logistics can get a little heavy when you start hashing out the finer details. When you get there you’ll need to decide if you can simplify or outsource. Oftentimes outsourcing to a planner will help you solve any of the logistical difficulties that you are experiencing, but other times simplification of the location is the best way to go.

…or, get creative!

Just know, if you choose not to have your ceremony in your favourite location, it does not mean that you cannot still incorporate that location into your wedding day in some way. Many of my clients have chosen to use their ‘heart’ location in other ways like having a first look there or incorporating it into their couple photography session.

The couple below wanted to have their wedding on the beach at Forest Hall. They decided the logisitcs were just too complicated and settled for a gorgeous lawn ceremony instead. However, they used their beloved beach for their couple photo session AND for a family picnic the next morning.

(… or, get on that plane!)

If your ultimate location is far away, you could split your wedding into two parts… have a simple elopement in your dream location. Then, host a second event involving all your guests in a more traditional way, in a place that is easier logistically. Now I’m specifically speaking about ‘unique wedding venues in South Africa’ for the purpose of this article, but in reality I have travelled all the way to Iceland with South Africans who wanted to elope in the most ridiculously cool place on Earth because they couldn’t (logistically) get their family to a place that felt ‘right’.

They had a first look, promised themselves to each other in the land of fire and ice, and then exchanged their wedding bands. Then we travelled back to a little chapel in Grahamstown, South Africa for their official small ceremony with their family. The couple did what they felt was best for them and ended up having the best of both worlds… their wildest dreams and a happy family.

That wedding didn’t seem any less ‘authentic’ because the couple stayed true to their vision whilst also being realistic enough to work within their limits and allocate their money to an unforgettable trip instead of an elaborate wedding. They had the best of both worlds and they stayed true to their ‘why’.

4. Would you both be OK accepting the unpredictable forest and mountain weather for what it is at your wedding?

Along with the acceptance of working within your limits comes the acceptance of the weather being whatever the heck it is going to be. Sometimes there will be mist, sometimes there will be wind, sometimes there will be rain, sometimes there will be lightning, sometimes there will even be hail.

I have been at weddings where we took cover in an outbuilding whilst the hail was pelting down and then ran out and played in the white fields, with everyone excitedly in awe of what just unfolded.

Conversely, I have been at weddings where the family flat out refused to have photos outside in the wind.

You know your people

So thinking not only about yourself but your guests too may help you find some balance, and to decide on what is tolerable and what is not.

One a sidenote, two other important things to think about are the following:

  • If there is inclement weather on your wedding day like rain or gale force winds, would you even be able to access the location?
  • Do you have a solid Plan B so that you can rest easy knowing that whatever happens, you are covered?

5. Would you be comfortable with having fewer guests if you go ahead and choose the unique South African wedding venue that your heart is set on?

Choosing to forge ahead with your ideal non-traditional ceremony location means that you may have to sacrifice a few guests – not just those who are full of nonsense, but also those we may not have considered yet. Like a new mother who isn’t allowed to bundu bash. A person who may be sickly and won’t risk the elements. Guests who actually need to have access to a bathroom due to a medical condition. Those who can’t be in the sun for extended periods of time. The list goes on.

Choosing to go against the grain means that you will have to get reeeeeeeal comfortable with the idea of radical acceptance. This is exactly why your ‘why’ means so damn much. If you keep the real reason that you are going ahead with your non-traditional wedding and location front of mind, then you will start to get more and more comfortable with accepting things for what they are, and coming up with brilliant ideas to still keep everyone close to your heart involved.

My A-List of Unique South African Wedding Venues

Here are some of my favourite unique South African wedding venues with outdoor ceremony options:

South African Wedding Venues Near Mountains

The Edge, Hogsback (also have a forest option nearby)

Champagne Sports Resort, Drakensberg

St Bernards Lake, Swartberg

Blomfontein, Cradock

South African Wedding Venues with a Forest Option or a Forest Nearby

Forest Hall Estate, Plettenberg Bay

Tsala Treetop Lodge, Harkerville

The Plantation, Port Elizabeth

Kasouga Town Hall and The Cathedral, Eastern Cape

Bella Manga Country Escape, Plettenberg Bay

South African Beach Wedding Venues

Oceana Beach and Wildlife Reserve, Eastern Cape

Morgan Bay Hotel

Cape St Francis Resort

South African Game Reserve and Safari Wedding Venues

Lalibela Game Reserve, Eastern Cape

Pumba Private Game Reserve, Eastern Cape

Karkloof Safari Villas

Shamwari Lodge, Eastern Cape

Gondwana Game Reserve, George

Amakhala Game Reserve, Eastern Cape

Kariega Game Reserve, Eastern Cape (has forest option too)

South African Wedding Venues with Orchards

Surval Boutique Olive Estate, George

Newstead Lund Family Vineyards, Plettenberg Bay

Cherry Glamping, Elgin

And that is that!

My wish for you is that you’ll be able to use this article to dive a little deeper into your choice, and that you’ll be armed with SOOOOO much information and self-awareness. Be prepared, be fearless, and be happy! This will be one of the biggest moments of your life and you deserve to have it play out just the way you want it to ๐Ÿ™‚

I am always up for an adventure so if you’re looking for the ultimate photographer to join you, please get in touch.

Want more inspo? Here are a few of the weddings that have been featured in this article:

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