Bay a wedding hot spot
The economy may be flat-lining but the bridal business is booming in the Far North.
Shane and Pip Lloydd's Copthorne Hotel and Resort Hokianga has hosted 20 weddings since the start of September and more are booked until July.
"The market is definitely increasing and demand has grown," Mrs Lloydd says.
Most couples holding their ceremonies and receptions at the resort are from Auckland or overseas with 70 to 140 guests.
"They love the location because it's beachfront and has a tropical feel to it. They often liken it to Fiji."
Revenue from weddings is a big part of the Copthorne's income.
"They basically book up the resort."
Tour operators and motels in Omapere also benefit when the resort hosts weddings because it only has 33 rooms and guests usually stay for three days.
"A lot of guests hire fishing charters or take forest or boat tours. It becomes a community thing."
The Duke of Marlborough Hotel in Russell will have hosted 16 weddings by the end of May – compared with two last season – thanks to extensive renovations and targeted marketing.
Bridget and Anton Haagh and Jayne Shirley and Riki Kinnaird have refurbished the hotel's function room and kitchen and upgraded waterfront rooms to five star quality since they bought it last year.
Hosting nuptials at the historic hotel has boosted business and brought visitors to the Bay of Islands, Mrs Haagh says.
"Weddings range from 60 to 180 people and most have been out-of-towners."
Marketing the Duke as a wedding venue is a big part of the hotel's business strategy.
"We're going to the Grand Wedding Show and Bride and Groom Show in Auckland in April and May," Mrs Haagh says.
Kerikeri marriage celebrant Heather Townsend has helped more than 20 couples, including four of the same sex, tie the knot since the start of September.
She says the last spring and summer has been an extremely busy wedding season.
"I'm usually quite busy but these are more than I would normally do," she says. "I still have four weddings to go."
Beaches have been the most popular locations for non-religious wedding ceremonies.
Other popular venues include the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, Eagles Nest in Russell and The Pear Tree, Wharepuke and Kingston House in Kerikeri.
Pakaraka wedding planner Debra Shand says a growing number of upmarket but relatively affordable venues are capitalising on the Bay's closeness to Auckland.
''Some venues have realised this is a good market and they're making efforts to refurbish and make their premises more appealing,'' she says.
Two weddings she is organising for 75 and 85 Australians reflect the bay's popularity as a venue across the Tasman.
''Some in Sydney or Melbourne are exceptionally expensive and they have to book years in advance, so in some ways it's cheaper for them to come here.''
Ms Shand would like tourism agencies to promote the Bay of Islands as a wedding destination, especially in Asia.
''There are some beautiful places to marry here and it's relatively unspoilt.
''I think it's just a matter of marketing that.''