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Wedding vs Elopement

How to Have Your (Wedding) Cake and Eat it Too

So you’re getting married! Congratulations! You’ve found The One! Or maybe you’re just keen on wedding planning and have decided it’s time to get some of the ducks in a row, significant other TBA. If so, that’s ok too. This is a safe space.

Whether you’ve always planned a big wedding, or have forever dreamed of eloping overseas, as soon as there’s even a possibility of a wedding on the horizon, it seems like everyone’s got an opinion. While elopements have come a long way since the Elvis-assisted Las Vegas chapel imagery that we all know and love, you can safely assume that others will expect you should/must have a wedding. (For them, obviously – weddings are AWESOME).

Everybody loves a wedding

As much as everybody loves a wedding (and having their two cents worth about yours), it’s worthwhile taking a step back and thinking about what you – the people getting married - actually want (gasp). A wedding day can quickly become about pleasing others, from managing your in-laws’ extensive international guest list, to politely declining that family heirloom, to accommodating small children in numbers that virtually scream mutiny.

South Coast Family Elopement
Mutiny at Seacliff House - Jon Harris Weddings

Expectations from family and friends can be overwhelming, and in an age ruled by social media, it can be hard for couples to cut through allllll the #weddinginspo. With an ocean of wedding vendors and services available, the line on wedding must-haves and lust-haves can quickly become a little blurry.

After all, who can say no to an epically Instagrammable venue, hand-made invitations, or to that dream long-sleeved lace wedding dress. With custom overskirt. Or to the Louboutins to match – after all you’ll absolutely wear them again. Of course, you also need the perfect bridesmaids’ dresses in contrasting yet complementary tones. 

It’s all so worthwhile and completely justifiable. Your wedding is the biggest party of your life and will be captured forever in the photographs. By that cutting-edge wedding photographer that you’ve been casually following for the last two years. Who only has two available wedding dates remaining in the next 12 months.

Beth Fernley Weddings and Elopements
The biggest party of your life - Beth Fernley Photography

Are weddings the new avocado toast?

Before you can Google “perfect yet reasonably priced Sydney wedding venues”, the wedding juggernaut can well and truly get away! With the average cost of an Australian wedding reportedly at the $53,000 mark, a wedding is accepted as a significant financial commitment.

An increasing number of couples, especially millennials - forever tarred by the stigma of financial planning in units of avocado toast - are questioning traditional wedding concepts and formulaic wedding spending. That money could potentially otherwise amount to a good chunk of a house deposit.

Destination weddings: the fence-sitters of the wedding world

More accessible air travel has resulted in an increase not only of activewear as acceptable (cough) flight attire, but also in the prevalence of destination weddings. Many couples are happy to up the honeymoon component of their trip and invite a small circle of close family and friends to witness their vows and join in on the holiday.

Of course, this concept applies as much to domestic destinations as it does to international locations. Beaches, mountains, wineries and adventure locations (think rock climbing, hiking, music concerts, boats and helicopter rides) are great choices for local elopements, allowing for a romantic, individualised experience, epic photos, and a holiday, all in one!

South Coast destination weddingDestination Wedding in Kiama - Peter Izzard Photography

Let’s elope!

Although elopement purists out there (and obnoxious sticklers for definitions - we all know at least one) may be wrinkling their nose at the suggestion of an elopement with any guests, the notion is quickly gaining traction. Many of our very own wedding celebrants specialise in bespoke elopements, including Josh Withers of Married by Josh and The Elopement Collective. The focus is on the celebration of the marriage over the hosting of a wedding, with core elements of a beautiful location, an intimate and meaningful exchange of vows, and stunning photography to capture the memory.

Married by Josh
Sunset elopement in Wanaka - Married by Josh

This modern concept of an elopement-plus-guests gives couples significant freedom in planning their day to include as much or as little formality as they desire with little pressure to conform to others’ wedding expectations (because Auntie Sharon, it’s an elopement and to be honest, you’re lucky to have an invite).

Of course, an elopement can also remain as Auntie-Sharon-free as you’d like. In cases of competing or unreasonable expectations from families, it’s the ultimate free pass, allowing you to merrily disregard other people’s menu preferences. As most married couples who have made it to the flipside of a traditional wedding can attest, the wedding planning process can take on a life of its own, leading to the occasional cross word, testing of friendships or episode of rocking in the corner while breathing into a paper bag.

Planning an elopement

Eloping can be as romantic and intimate as you’d like it to be. For your Australian marriage to be valid, you’ll need to have two witnesses (hint: your photographer may be also be happy to be your witness), but the rest of the guest list (or complete absence one) is up to you. There is incredible intimacy in exchanging vows without an audience present, allowing you and your partner to relax, focus and exist completely in the moment together. There's none of the  ‘pressure’ that some people may feel in a traditional ceremony format in front of their gathered loved ones.

Josh Withers Elopement"Weddings should make you smile.  Here's an example" - Married by Josh

Of course, elopements are only one option and the concept doesn’t suit every couple. If you’ve always dreamed of a big white wedding, then your wedding day is absolutely the full-princess moment you’ve been waiting for. Gather up your five metre train and get on it! You only get married once (in statistical likelihood).

Wedding traditions

Weddings also offer many opportunities for those moments of celebration that we’ve often been conditioned to look forward to during our lives – the bridal preparations, hens’ and bucks’ nights, dress shopping, first dances, speeches and of course the opportunity to publicly declare your love to your partner with the exchanging of vows. If you’re a natural-born planner (show of hands, please), you and your A-type personality may thrive on the huge and exciting project that comes with planning a wedding and (ahem) organising everyone and everything around you to match your vision. All of this is ok. If you and your partner are on board for some serious wedding palooza to rival the royal nuptials, you do you, hon! And make sure you send us the pictures!

If your family heritage encourages big weddings, this alone might sell you on the concept of a big family wedding as a rite of passage. A snap decision for an elopement could potentially create discord within the family or leave you dealing with feelings of having missed out down the track, so always carefully examine your motivations and expectations if you’re feeling excited but apprehensive about the idea of an elopement.

Equally, many couples pause to re-examine some of the historical concepts behind some customary wedding goings-on, and choose to modify or omit some parts of traditional wedding proceedings. We’ve seen an increase in couples walking down the aisle together in line with changing societal views about gender equality. Weddings are evolving, and almost every aspect of a wedding day is negotiable.  

Erin Shanley elopement
You do you! Erin Shanley Hair

Is an elopement the right choice?

Some ways to test the waters concerning your feelings about an elopement is to have an open conversation with your family about your plans, and to examine how you feel during and after the conversation. Some couples decide to let their parents or immediate family know in advance about their intentions to elope. It can soften the impact of a sometimes shocking “Surprise, we’re married!” announcement after the fact. 

Wedding decision angst (it’s a thing)

The good news here is that ultimately, you don’t have to choose between a wedding and an elopement. The two concepts are best viewed as ends of a sliding spectrum to find the sweet spot at either end (or right in the middle) where the couple are comfortable.

It’s very much a case of being able to have your cake and eat it too. Whether you choose to have a registry wedding, ‘pure’ elopement or legals-only ceremony, you’re still entirely able to host a big, all-in celebration, renewal of vows or formal celebration as well. On a different date or even on the same day. Some couples even choose to have a close friend or much-loved family member ‘officiate’ at a larger ceremony after a legal ceremony has been conducted in private, given that the couple are therefore already officially wed.

Planning a destination wedding

Some couples strategically choose a destination wedding that ticks boxes on their travel bucket-list, also knowing that only a handful of their nearest and dearest will attend. This also allows for variations on the elopement concept such as inviting family or parents only to join the couple for particular dates, including the ceremony, but also allowing the couple to effectively already be on their honeymoon and enjoy time together in their preferred destination both before and after their ceremony. A further attraction of this approach for travel-loving couples is an almost-compulsory trip back to where it all began for an anniversary celebration or family tour in years to come. 

Elopement Wedding Reception
South Coast Elopement - Jon Harris Photography

Planning a wedding or elopement: where to start

Wedding or elopement, the single most important consideration is to make decisions that are true to what you and your partner really want for your day. A simple exercise is to each write down a few key desires and considerations for your celebration and see where they overlap.  Once you have big picture agreement on what’s important to you both, it’s easy to start browsing locations to fit your concept, and watch your big day come together.

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74 South Coast wedding venues

Searching the South Coast of NSW to find a wedding venue?  Here is our recommended list of 74 South Coast wedding venues - and they're all within 3 hours drive of Sydney.

South Coast wedding venues

If you want to make a weekend of your wedding you’re searching in the right place!  The South Coast of NSW has a huge variety of wedding venues and all the accommodation you’ll need to accommodate your entire entourage.  Most of the properties on our list provide accommodation onsite and some can even accommodate your entire wedding guest list.

Wedding Venues South Coast Download the Complete List of South Coast Wedding Venues

South Coast venues offer all the amenities to create a destination wedding experience you’ll never forget.  There’s swimming pools, tennis courts, horse stables (and riding), wildlife, working farms (including all the cuddly & photogenic creatures), an on-site book shop, segway experiences, golf (and soccer golf!), 5 star foodie adventures, a brewery, wineries, a fromagerie and more. 

We’ve made it easy to find the wedding experience you're looking for by providing some fancy icons on our list of venues.  And just fyi, the long necked animal you'll find on several properties isn’t a giraffe.  Although giraffes would no doubt add to the landscape, the South Coast locals are rather more in favour of their woolly llamas.  

South Coast venues under 2 hours from Sydney

You’ll find our first 9 recommended venues between Wollongong and Kiama.  The closest is City Beach - a great option for larger weddings with a capacity of up to 400.  Take heed from Illawarra celebrant, Ruth Matos:  “City Beach is your beach wedding venue. They ooze professionalism in everything they do.  They take care of their couples and keep them in the loop during the whole wedding process.”

Pyree Hall Wedding Venue
Celebrant Ruth Matos in action on the beautiful South Coast, NSW.

Another large venue in the area is Fine Spun at the Woolshed which caters for up to 350 guests.  Three words to describe this space would be 'delightfully rustic glam'.  The other favourite with industry folk (including Sharon Bridges from Ceremonies with Sharon) is the old post office turned restaurant of Ruby’s at Mount Kembla.  The restaurant itself seats up to 50 guests and 120 can be accommodated in the permanent marquee.

We need to thank local photographer Beth Fernley Photography for the tip on this one – the brand new Warreen Homestead has just opened at Jamberoo.  It’s likely to be suitable for smaller wedding parties and elopements. Check out the link on Beth's Facebook Page & you might like to ask her for any other hidden gems she knows about while you're there!

Within 2 hours of Sydney you'll also find a purposely restored 19th century home, a working cattle farm that overlooks the ocean and 2 Kiama favourites; The Sebel and The Pavilion.  

Peter Izzard - Kiama Wedding Photographer
Kiama Wedding Photographer - Peter Izzard Photography 

Ten minutes drive from Kiama and just under 2 hours from Sydney is the beautiful Illawarra town of Gerringong. Here, you’ll find one of the most endorsed wedding venues in Australia and a favourite amongst local photographers.

"Seacliff House is a simply stunning venue!  Suitable for anything ranging from a small, intimate family only wedding, up to a grand celebration.  With stunning views to the ocean and across Gerringong, and incredibly tasteful facilities, you won’t regret booking Seacliff House for your wedding." Jon Harris Photography

Seacliff House South Coast wedding venue
Jon Harris Photography @ Seven Mile Beach near Seacliff House

If you're interested in having a winery wedding Jon also recommends Crooked River Wines.  “Foodies and wine lovers will rejoice in the catering options for your wedding!" he says.  "And the winery setting is magical for photos, with stunning beaches just 5 mins away.”

Berry wedding venues

A popular destination for weddings on the South Coast is the charming village of Berry.  And she comes with all the options.  For a farm experience, Bundara (perfect for weddings of up to 30 guests) or Willow farms have you covered.  There's also beach venues, wineries & luxury country hideaways.  

Industry favourite Jaspers is another great option in this area and caters for up to 100 guests.  And if you're getting married at Jaspers, our celebrant Ruth Matos would love to join you!  "Jaspers is quite the escape" she explains.  "It's like you enter their front gate and all of a sudden you are in a different world.  The grounds are exquisite and beautifully maintained and the staff are accommodating and willing to please."

Kangaroo Valley wedding venues

Dubbed Australia's most beautiful valley, it's no surprise that 7 of our recommended South Coast wedding venues are in the Kangaroo Valley.  

Kangaroo Valley wedding
Kangaroo Valley Bush Retreat, by Peter Izzard Photography

Wedding venues in this area book out up to 18 months in advance.  Probably because the location is a convenient 2 hours from both Sydney and Canberra, and is absolutely stunning.   We recommend you enquire early to book a wedding like Dane & Laura's above at Kangaroo Valley Bush Retreat.

Almost every type of wedding is catered for in the Kangaroo Valley.  Amongst the venues in this postcode there’s a golf course, working horse & cattle farm, luxury estates & retreats, landscaped gardens, bush escarpments, private residences, farm stays, wildlife sanctuaries and hundreds of acres of pristine Australian bush.  From rustic weddings to elegant, luxury events, Kangaroo Valley caters to every taste and budget.

If you're wanting epic photos, photographer Jon Harris recommends being adventurous and heading into the rainforest gully at Wildwood.  "You must visit Wildwood if you're planning a Kangaroo Valley wedding... once you see the beauty of this property you will fall in love."

Back on the coast and slightly off the beaten track you'll find a pet friendly vineyard perched on the ridge of Coolangatta.  Have a look also at this Mountain Ridge Wines wedding.  The area also boasts luxury villas at Shoalhaven Heads and local landmark Pyree Hall affectionately known as The Red Shed to locals.  

South Coast wedding venue Wildwood
Jon Harris Photography
@ Wildwood 

Within 10 minutes drive of Nowra are 6 more properties including the laid back and ever popular Driftwood Shed.  For a marquee wedding in tranquil gardens you can't go past Figbird Cottage and there's also the temperate forest of Bewong River Retreat.   These venues cater for 100 – 130 guests and offer the best of both worlds with Jervis Bay all but on your doorstep.

Jervis Bay wedding venues

Home to the whitest sand in the world!  The Jervis Bay Maritime Museum is home to the area's information centre and provides a unique waterfront space for events.  If you'd prefer a weekend wedding where all your guests can be accommodated (and you have access to your own private beach) check out instead, The Cove.  

Another South Coast favourite is the one & only Worrowing.  This historic 250 acre estate is one of Australia's most instagrammed wedding venues.  With versatile spaces to suit weddings of between 50 and 180 guests, plus accommodation in the farmhouse on site – it’s not hard to see why Worrowing books out fast.

Beth Fernley at Driftwood ShedDriftwood Shed - Beth Fernley Photography

The seaside towns of Milton, Mollymook and Ulladulla offer up another 6 world class wedding venues including Rick Stein's seafood restaurant Bannisters and Milton Park Country House (favourite of International celebrant Josh Withers).

For smaller quirky weddings try The Harvest Bar in Milton.  Or for larger weddings of up to 220 guests contact much-loved local Beth at Mollymook Beachside WeddingsSouth Coast photographer Peter Izzard has captured some favourite weddings here.  Check him out.  

Perennial favourite with industry professionals in this area is Cupitts Winery & Brewery.  They also do cheese!  “Cupitts is a multi-award winning venue, and for good reason” says photographer Jon Harris.  “Sensational food and wine, amazing staff, stunning views and close by Ulladulla.” 

This next option is for glamping enthusiasts.  If you love the idea of a ‘wedstival’ wedding you’ll love the secluded lakeside property of Bawley Bush Retreat.  Think outdoor dining with wet weather options, all your guests on site and canoeing on the lake!  (There’s also cottages on site)

For the full list of 74 South Coast Wedding Venues, plus all the info on accommodation & onsite features fill out the form below.  And in the unlikely event you can't find what you're looking for on the list - email us at info@wedlockers.com.au.  We may know a few secret spots to share with you!

Eternal Love - Swan Lake Ballet

Like the timeless love story of the Swan Lake Ballet, a real life ballerina dances into the night. From the black feathers of Alin Le' Kal she transitions into a grandiose white feathered ball gown. But this is not a romance inspired by the violins of Tchaikovsky. It's a real love story.  

Desa was a ballet dancer back in Europe.  Today she's married to Filip and they take pictures together.  These are some of them.  

This is Eternal Love - a styled shoot based on the true story of Desa & Filip at Sephory Photography.  Made possible by the team of talented creatives listed below.  

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CREDITS Photos & Art Direction Sephory Photography | Gowns Alin Le' Kal | Shoes Sophia Webster | Crowns Viktoria Novak | Invitations Adorn Invitations | Flowers Chloe Lashay | Jewellery Temelli Jewellery | Skincare LUIERE | Makeup Suzy Sela | Hair Coco Mane | Cake Mary Eats Cake | Ballerina Darcie Keil | Venue Anton Venoir Interiors