28 October 2023

Party Planning

Ngā Mārena. Rural Weddings.

writer: Izzie Thompson
photographer: Andre Robertson

For Southland couple Ali and Nick Woods, getting married was a matter of due course. How they went about it, though, was a more unconventional affair – throwing a surprise wedding party disguised as a joint birthday bash in Aparima Riverton.

Dahlias and old, black and white photographs as wedding decorations

Top image. Wanting to show their out-of-town family and friends their new neck of the woods, Ali and Nick decided to have their “party” in Riverton. “We talked a lot about keeping it local – Riverton being our new local,” Ali says. “It was post-Covid, so putting money back into the community was important to us.” Above. “After the wedding, my mum took some of the flowers to the cemetery where my grandparents are,” says Ali.

Despite growing up just a half hour down the road from one another, Ali and Nick didn’t properly meet until a mutual friend’s party during their second year of university. “Our paths could’ve crossed a lot earlier,” muses Ali. “Our families go back about four generations,” Nick elaborates. “Not only did our grandads go to the pub together back in the day, but our dads both went to boarding schools in Ōamaru and used to play rugby against each other!” And what came of that fateful night? Nick remembers them being “mates” for quite a while. “Nick chased me for ages,” laughs Ali.

They eventually started dating. Over the course of almost a decade, marriage entered the picture. “We’d always talked about marriage,” says Nick. “We knew we were going to spend the rest of our lives together, we just hadn’t gotten to the engagement part yet.” Ali adds, “I wasn’t even sure that I would get engaged. I thought we’d just get married, and that would be that.”

A bride walks down the main street in Aparima Riverton
“My family is from Ireland. My dad gave me a penny to put in the bottom of my shoe on the morning that I got married,” Ali says with a smile.

Attending a friend’s surprise wedding a few years ago gave them a boost of inspiration and motivation to start planning their own – surprise and all. “I remember sitting at the table at that wedding and saying to Nick, ‘Maybe we could do this one day,’” Ali recalls. Not long after, preparations for their “Joint 30th” party began.

In the interim between planning and party, they bought a house, moved to Riverton and got a dog. “We never planned on moving out here,” says Nick. “My family had a bach here for a long time, and when this little house came up for sale Ali and I joked about taking a look at it.” As it happens, these two agree that moving to Riverton is one of the best things they’ve ever done.

“We had a huge marquee. Apparently, people in town had spied it and were talking about what it could be,” says Ali.

So how does one go about getting friends and family from around the world to a “birthday” shindig in a small town at the bottom of the South Island, with instructions to be tidily dressed and absolutely not late – without letting on what’s really taking place at the suspiciously nuptial hour of 2pm on a Saturday? “Honestly, by the time it rolled around, I think that ninety-eight per cent of people knew,” says Ali. “Or were highly dubious of the details,” adds Nick. They told some people outright – Ali’s best friend lives in London. “It was more important for us to get who we really wanted there.”

The parents, of course, were also in this category. Whether or not this had anything to do with a proposal just four months out remains to be seen. Ali explains, “We set a date to tell our parents in mid-December. Nick texted me on Tuesday, the day before, to say, ‘We’re going on a picnic tonight after work. I’ll sort out dinner.’ I thought that was so weird – we never do that kind of thing.” Ali’s funny feeling was verified later that night, when over her favourite takeaways at the quiet beach down the road, Nick pulled out a ring. Once the families found out, it was all hands on deck.

Newlywed couple sits on a retro lounger outside Crib Cafe in Aparima Riverton
Ali’s favourite Riverton spot is The Crib Café. “I just love it,” she says. “Some of our local friends contacted the owner without us knowing, and they opened the place up just for us to get some photos taken. It was such a neat surprise.”
Pink and orange table settings inside a marquee at a wedding in Aparima Riverton
The bright, fun-filled table settings. “We laid out a bunch of disposable cameras on the tables and let the guests go nuts with them. Some really neat pictures came out of them,” says Nick. “They’re those pictures that probably wouldn’t otherwise be captured,” comments Ali.

Even Ali and Nick’s new community pitched in. Ali was set on having dahlias, but as the wedding was near the end of dahlia season, frosty mornings were imminent. When Nick’s mum saw dahlias growing in a front garden in Riverton, she approached the homeowner and asked if she’d be able to cut some for a local wedding that weekend. “The lovely lady cut them herself and brought them over to our house the morning of the wedding, ‘looking for the bride!’” a still-delighted Ali reminisces.

There were a few other details not up for debate. One was to have Sam, their mutual friend from that second-year house party, as their celebrant. “For some reason, I thought he was already a celebrant – he wasn’t. So he did us a favour, but he enjoyed it so much that he’s considering doing more of it in the future,” Ali says. Another necessity was for cheese rolls to feature on the menu. The Sunday before the wedding found Ali, her parents and Nick making at least twenty-six dozen cheese rolls.

Newlywed couple walks down the main street of Aparima Riverton
“I feel so lucky to be with Nick,” says Ali. “Our jobs and our day-to-day are very different, but our values definitely align. Nick’s an accountant, and I work in transitional housing for a women’s refuge.” Nick adds: “At the end of each day, we regroup and bounce stuff off each other.”

The day of the party-cum-wedding was everything Ali and Nick hoped. “Our vows were my favourite part of the whole wedding,” says Ali. “I think that’s probably an unusual thing to say about your own vows, but I loved them. They were so real. I got up and remember thinking, ‘Shit, I wish I wasn’t so vulnerable when I wrote these now that I have to say them in front of other people!’”

A common theme in all six wedding speeches was Ali and Nick’s doing the Coast to Coast together – literally in tandem. In the case of this two-day multisport adventure race, however, it was Ali who had further to step from her comfort zone. “Nick loves the outdoors,” says Ali. “I don’t. I like shopping. I know that if I didn’t have a partner like Nick, in whose company I feel so safe, there is no way I would ever have done something like that. That’s huge. I’ll never forget how much of a challenge it was for me. For us.” Nick adds: “At the end of the day, if we’re in each other’s company, we’re happy.”

“Outrageous, without being too outrageous, was the theme,” says Ali. “Red and pink everywhere; empty champagne glasses were laid out on a retro set of drawers that I upcycled; the grazing board is actually an old mirror that I painted pink!”

Pink and orange table decorations at the wedding marquee in Aparima Riverton
“We didn’t have a head-of-table situation,” Ali explains. “We just sat with our families.”

25 March 2023

Bride Ali Boyle, 30, daughter of Joanne & Stephen Boyle, Invercargill
Groom Nick Woods, 30, son of Lynelle & Denis Woods, Winton
Wedding Location Riverton, Southland
Ceremony & Reception La Riviera Guesthouse

Celebrant Samuel Sinclair
Photographer Andre Robertson
Videographer Black Feather Studio
Bride’s Dress Custom Koukla by Natasha Prestidge, bought second-hand
Jewellery Earrings from Bluemly and rings from Coats & Schuck Jewellers
Hair The Florence Society
Makeup Merin Williams MUA
Catering Tommy’s Tucker Truck
Cake Made by Denis, Nick’s father
Flowers Blooming Heck

Honeymoon A Catlins getaway at Beresford Heights Accommodation
Living In Riverton

“I like looking over and seeing that there’s a ring on Nick’s hand. It feels great to be married,” says Ali.

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