I feel like I’m in a Bond film! Ok, I’m not wearing heels or an evening gown, nor am I trained in hand-to-hand combat, but I am aboard a private speedboat that is bouncing across the sea towards a secluded Thai island. This feeling lasts approximately seven minutes, until when, in my eagerness to take in my surroundings, I stick my head too far out over the side and am drenched with the splashback from a wave we just crested. That never happens to Bond girls!
My husband and I are en route to the Santhiya Resort on Koh Phangan for a few days of rest and relaxation following a big wedding season. One of the most envy-inducing components of my job is hearing about honeymoon plans, so I try as often as I can to reward myself with a little break of our own!
This is our second trip to Santhiya, having stayed here last year. The minute we step off the boat, it is like coming home. Everything feels so familiar, from the chime of a gong to herald our arrival to the large balcony we are seated on as we wait to check in. Staff bring us cold towels (handy for getting that seawater off my face!) and chilled watermelon juice as we sit enjoying the ocean breeze and incredible views over the South China Sea. I feel the relaxation begin immediately.
The resort is built into a steep hillside so we are taken to our room on one of Santhiya’s adorable wooden trucks. Sitting on the bench seats, we’re afforded views of the beautifully landscaped gardens all the way down to the sea. Orchids and tropical plants abound everywhere and every staff member we pass greets us with a wai and a warm Sawasdee.
We have chosen a supreme deluxe room for a bit of luxury! These rooms are located at the very top of the resort above the Saaitara pool. The room is large, with a king size bed taking centre-stage. My favourite feature is the big egg-shaped bath. It sits directly below windows that look into the bedroom, allowing you to sit in the bath without losing the breathtaking view that lies beyond the bed. Sadly, it will remain unused for our visit as I eschew it in favour of the pool and, in the evening, the daybed that sits on our balcony.
With fond memories of the main swimming pool, we trot down to reserve a sun lounge. The main pool is set over two levels with a shallow pool cascading over boulders into a lagoon of varying depths. Standing in the pool against the infinity edge and looking out towards the horizon proves to be rather hypnotic and it’s how I begin most mornings before getting out to read beneath the trees.
When the heat proves too much, it’s back into the pool to sit under the waterfall and cool off. (Poolside cocktails may also contribute to the cooling down!). When I finish my book earlier than anticipated, I pop into the Santhiya library to borrow one from the many left by previous guests.
Santhiya has two restaurants on-site, but for most meals we take the narrow sandy path along the shore to the next beach. There are plenty of beachside restaurants, most offering great local food at reasonable prices. I became somewhat addicted to the Pad Thai at the restaurant closest to the resort, while my husband loved the fact that he could run straight out of the ocean to lay back on the sand with an ice-cold beer in hand.
In the evening, these restaurants cater well to the tourist market through happy hour specials and live entertainment, whether that’s fire twirlers, lantern releases or live bands. We ate most evenings at Beach Club, where the manager had a joke and story for every occasion, most involving coconuts. He was entertainment enough himself!
One of the seemingly hidden attractions of Santhiya is the Saaitara pool. It sits at the top of the resort, so that may explain why some guests don’t make the journey up there, although the fact that many rooms have private pools could also have something to do with it! (Honeymooners may want to book one of the stunning pool suites for a little extra luxury).
A shallow infinity pool is set alongside a deeper lap pool, with rooms on the lower floor having direct access into the water. The highlight for me are the wooden fishing boats that lie in the shallow pool, cleverly hiding sunbeds. Once afternoon rolls around, this is where you frequently find us – books in one hand, a G & T in the other and a commanding view of the entire resort in front of us.
While there are plenty of attractions on Koh Phangan (the island is renowned for its Full Moon Parties), we didn’t venture out for many of them. Beachside massage huts abound and if you’re anything like me, falling asleep to the sound of waves as someone works out all the knots in your back may prove to be amusement enough. Our days followed a pattern of relaxation and indulgence, with the most strenuous activity undertaken being a daily walk along the beach or up the hill to our accommodation.
I have to say, while the facilities and views at Santhiya are magnificent, it is the service that made us return. Staff go out of their way to make your experience special, whether that’s by saying hello, leaving notes and flowers in your room or remembering how you like your omelettes (on that note, the breakfast buffet does not disappoint!). It is clear that management have made service a priority and we are made to feel welcome each and every time we speak with staff.
We reluctantly climbed aboard the speedboat to Koh Samui a few days later, feeling rested and relaxed, but knowing we’d be coming back to Santhiya – hopefully sooner rather than later. You see, there’s a little wooden sunbed that’s begging me to return….
Ms Chinoiserie Says: I think I’ve just discovered heaven on earth! Lush tropical forests, a crystal clear bay and a private beach set the perfect backdrop for romance!
About Koren Harvey: “I love standing with a groom waiting for his bride to arrive and watching the emotions well up in his eyes. I love seeing the joy on a bride’s face when she catches sight of her husband-to-be. I love what I do. Being a celebrant is the best job in the world.”
A honeymoon in the picturesque Blue Mountains is a perfect way to enjoy each other’s company, without paying top dollar for travel insurance or overseas flights. Just being in the Blue Mountains is enough activity for many, with ethereal backdrops and the stunning flora and fauna Australia is known for. Of course one of the best things about the Blue Mountains is the ability to feel away from it all, just a one and half to two hour drive from Sydney.
Where should you stay? The Carrington Hotel is a wonderfully friendly and well-priced place to stay for your honeymoon. A long, curving driveway leads up the theatrical front, with the gardens sprawling before the hotel reminiscent of times long past. The staff are lovely, with recommendations on hand if you’d like to know where to eat or what to do. Of course if you just want to stay in your room, the spa is certainly an encouragement. Charlie’s, the in-house bar, has an age-old glamour with smartly dressed bartenders and heritage features. A great place to grab a drink before heading out, or back in.
For an even more luxurious experience, try Emirates One&Only Wolgan Valley. Though it offers a less central location than The Carrington, it’s hard to fault the grounds of this location. The 7,000 acre wildlife reserve is home to plenty of stunning Australian flora and fauna and wildlife; historic tours organised by the resort make planning easy. This stunning retreat offers you luxury, right within the heart of Australian bush and whether you want to relax in the pool or do something a bit more adventurous, One&Only has it all on offer. Horse-riding, treks and 4WD adventures are all offered exclusively to One&Only guests, so if you want to do something exciting just ask the staff for their picks!
For an even more private experience, though one that requires a bit more self-sufficiency, AirBnb is a great option and the Blue Mountains is home to some of the most spectacular holiday escapes in the country.
In terms of things to do, that will of course depend on you. For those who want a time to indulge and relax, there are vineyards and restaurants, as well as sprawling landscapes and bushland to explore. One great vineyard is the Dryridge Estate. Nestled in the beautiful Megalong valley, this boutique vineyard is near Blackheath and offers amazing wines coupled with breathtaking scenery. Like it so much you don’t want to leave? You can even stay there.
There are art galleries, heritage centres and markets that will give plenty of time to those wanting a relaxing, wandering type of stay. Begin at the Blue Mountains Cultural Centre to enjoy the art gallery and library, and whilst you’re there, find out about weekend music events, markets and other cultural events.
Want to pick up the pace? If you’re the kind of couple that loves action there’s plenty for you too, with 4-wheel driving tracks, horse riding and rock climbing. A go to source of action should be the Blue Mountain Adventure Company. You can climb, abseil and canyon, and everything is organised for you.
I love a beautiful destination wedding, but contrary to popular belief, one needn’t go far. The incredible back drop of Lord Howe Island set the scene for the destination wedding of Paula & Brendan. The island’s mountains behind them as they said their I do’s, the towering pines just one of the many natural elements that contributed to the magic of the day all captured by Sarah Christensen.
Of how they met, Paula tells the story. “We meet 10 years ago when we worked in a bar together. We only worked one night a week together and started off as flirty friends then had a sneaky pash at a party a few months later. We started hanging out for a while without anyone at work knowing (which was tricky but fun) then let the cat out of the bag when we started getting serious (as in he called me his girlfriend one day and we were like, oh yeah I guess we are boyfriend and girlfriend).
Our relationship has naturally progressed slowly, we never pushed any aspect and let it evolve organically into whatever it would turn out to be. We are so grateful for this because we have developed a deep spiritual connection and respect for one another, we rarely fight and we’re best friends.”
The thoughtfulness of the day began with gifts for the wedding guests, Paula explaining, “We wanted to keep the details as simple, thoughtful and locally made as possible. We wanted to give our guests something they could keep and remind them of our day without it ending up in the back of the cupboard, in the bin or eaten. We really appreciated everyone taking the time, effort and money to be with us so wanted to give them something they would treasure.
We decided on giving every couple/family a small palm from the local nursery (The Kentia Palm Nursery) so they had a memento from the island and they could “let the love grow”. We also found out that one of our favourite Aussie retailers The Beach People stock their beach totes in one of the stores on the island. We thought this would also be a perfect gift as our guests would be able to use them when they were on the island and we could get them delivered there instead of us having to take them in our luggage.”
Paula and Brendan kicked off their day together at The Treehouse, Paula telling, “Our wedding day started with a big breakfast together at our accommodation, the amazing Treehouse, run by the equally amazing Katie and Jay. It is one bedroom house with a killer view to watch the sunset every evening that feels like your sleeping in an actual tree house. Sarah, our photographer, came over and snapped a few photos of our usual morning routine chaos, which naturally comes with having a toddler.”
With not being able to find a hair and makeup artist who would be on the island during the wedding, Paula and her bridesmaids booked Leigh of Zada Hair to teach them to do it themselves! The bride remembers, “Leigh, spent half a day teaching us how to create amazing beachy hairstyles and how to apply makeup like the professionals do. Leigh made sure we all felt confident in being able to recreate each other’s hair and makeup for the day, even though we bombarded her with our crazy energy and less than appropriate sense of humour. It was a super fun day and Leigh was super fun to work with. Hopefully we made her proud!”
“My honourary bridesmaid and dear friend Kate created the most gorgeous handmade bouquets. One of the locals from Blue Lagoon lodge was very kind and popped over to drop off a huge box of freshly picked flowers. As there is no florist on the island we were prepared to pick one or two ourselves before the ceremony, so were very surprised that Betty had gone to a big effort to pick a whole box full of hibiscus, frangipanis and ivy (and just so in the perfect colours to match the bridal party) for us to create some bouquets for myself and the girls, for Brendan to pin one on his shirt as well as plenty left over to decorate the ceremony location.”
The groom departed to leave the bride and bridesmaids to get ready, and the bride to spend some one on one time with her baby girl.
“Being on an island the weather can change at any given moment so after checking the forecast we also had to make a few phone calls to other lodges so our guests knew what time they would be picked up and taken to a surprise ceremony location. It was fun to keep the time and location a surprise because it kept the day a bit of mystery and our guests guessing on possible locations as they explored the island in the lead up to the day.”
“The weather was perfectly beautiful and everyone was happy and healthy, which is all we cared about. There was one minor issue though (it wouldn’t be a wedding day without at least one!) one skirt and two tops missing for my bridesmaids. The girls arrived the day before and due to an electrical storm in Sydney the baggage staff decided last minute to take a couple of bags off the plane to comply with safety regulations being only a small Qantaslink plane.
One of those bags just happened to belong to one of my girls. I told Katie and without a blink she said she would take care of it. She was on the phone to the airline all morning to make sure her bag was on the one flight for the day and to find out exactly when it was due to land. Of course the plane arrived an hour late, about 20 minutes before we were supposed to start the ceremony.
Katie was amazing and drove to the airport to pick up the bag to race it back to us, then rolled it straight into the lounge room where Pip was waiting with the iron to get the skirt wrinkle free minutes before we left. A little stressful as there was no guarantee the bag would actually be on the flight but thank goodness it was as the girls looked stunning in their custom made Nizeti skirts that Melinda worked so hard on creating for us before we left for the island.”
Kate, Brendan and the groomsmen decorated the ceremony area with shells collected in the days leading up to the wedding. The couple chose Lovers Bay for their ceremony. Paula remembers, “We arrived fashionably late to the ceremony, however Lord Howe runs on island time so no one minded in the least. The guests barely noticed either as the location, Lover’s Bay, is a magical spot and Brendan organized for Brad our drinks waiter to start serving the champagne and beers early. We also hired local musicians, Tia and Lossi, to play. Their acoustic renditions of some of our favourite songs matched the atmosphere perfectly and created a relaxed, island vibe for everyone to kick back and enjoy the scenery.”
For her walk down the aisle, Paula remembers, “Tia & Lossi played an acoustic version of Islands by The XX.”
Bill Monks officiated the ceremony, the bride noting, “Our ceremony was short, a record maybe at about 7 minutes long, but perfectly us. We pretty much had what was necessary (no readings) with our own little twist on the vows including both Brendan and I messing up the words in fits of laughter at one point. Our mischievous little one stole the show of course with her cuteness and demanding our attention as she deconstructed the beautifully designed aisle of shells and flowers Brendan, Kate and the groomsmen created.”
Paula chose Swish Bridal to make her wedding gown, telling “With a little lady demanding my attention pretty much every minute of every day, I found it really difficult to find time to organize dress fittings. I had a certain design in mind and didn’t have the time to go out and find if it actually existed in Sydney. Also after having a baby my body was changing shape all the time and I didn’t want to buy a dress only to spend more money on alterations.
So I contacted a local dress maker, Angela at Swish Bridal designs, to see if she could create my dream dress to fit me with whatever shape my body decided to end up as. Angela worked her magic and was able to create an even more amazing dress than I had envisioned. She consulted me on every detail and never pressured me to settle for anything I wasn’t completely happy with. The dress fittings with Angela were so much fun! She happily welcomed my daughter (also one of my bridesmaids has a little mini that would come along too) as well as the fits of silliness, laughter and totally inappropriate behaviour from my bridesmaids and me.
Somehow through all the crazy carnage we created for Angela at each fitting, she created a dress so beautiful and so comfortable I want to wear it every single day. But to my surprise the 2 weeks between me picking up my perfectly fitting dress and our wedding day I actually lost a little more weight so it was a little lose but still looked amazing. The gift in this was that it actually meant I could easily breastfeed my daughter without getting completely out of my dress – a big win in my book!”
“After the ceremony Sarah took Brendan, Harper and I to the side to take a few photos while the guests had a celebratory drink. As we walked up the hill I remember looking up and thinking wow looks like it could rain. At that very moment, yep, it started to rain. All I could do was laugh as I started running and Sarah snapped away yelling “these photos are awesome!” We were never in fear that the rain would hang around as it usually passes through quickly. We took it as a sign of good luck and Mother Nature telling us to wrap up the ceremony and head to the reception.”
Paula tells, “Our favourite part of planning was definitely our research trip! In 2013 we decided to spend a week on the island to plan our wedding for the following year. We pretty much organized the whole wedding (in between some relaxation of course) while we were there and emailed our family and close friends to confirm the date.
A week after we arrived home we found that we had brought a little unexpected souvenir with us. Our first baby was now on its way and the expected due date was only 8 weeks before our wedding date. We quickly sent out the word that we had a scheduling conflict with our wedding date and will set a new date soon. 10 long weeks later we could finally tell everyone the real reason we had to postpone the wedding and that it was all totally worth it. Even though we already had our hearts set on getting married on 1.4.14, moving the wedding date to the following year worked perfectly as we could have our gorgeous daughter Harper a part of our day as well as it being our 10 year anniversary.”
Of their photographer, Paula remembers “Sarah is a dear friend of mine. We met a about 7 years ago when we worked together as photographers. Whenever we were assigned shoots together we always knew it would be super fun and full of laughs. I’ve always adored Sarah’s style and knew she would be the perfect photographer for our wedding. She had photographed us before, when I was pregnant and when our daughter was 3 months old, so we were already comfortable with her taking our photo.
We felt totally relaxed knowing she would create photographic magic for us and knew her warm and bubbly personality would blend perfectly with our besties in our bridal party. She was everywhere without being seen and did whatever she had to do to get the most incredible photographs. We are so grateful she was able to be there for us.”
The bridesmaids wore Kookai white tops paired with pale yellow skirts byMelinda of Nizeti . Paula remarking, “She custom created the look I was trying to find for my bridesmaids. Melinda was so patient as I tried to make up my indecisive mind and went back and forth over ideas. I had an idea of what I wanted but also wanted the girls to be happy too especially seeing as one would be 20 weeks and another 13 weeks pregnant for the wedding. I wanted them to have an outfit they would happily wear again and not sit in the back of the wardrobe wasting away. In the end, the skirts turned out even more perfect than what I was imagining, even so that I had one made for me too!”
Anchorage Restaurant hosted the reception, Paula telling, “Our reception was held at Anchorage restaurant run by Kathy and John who were absolutely amazing organizing everything from transport for all our guests, setting up for the ceremony, decorating their restaurant with local native palms and making sure we had thought of everything we could need.
Their head chef, David, was more than happy to create a menu we loved and his creations were as beautiful as they were delicious. We also got to design our own signature cocktail with the help of their cocktail guru Brad, to compliment the evening. We opted for a stand up cocktail style event instead of a sit down dinner to fit with the relaxed vibe we wanted to create.”
“Apart from speeches, we didn’t do any of the traditional wedding reception things like the first dance, cutting of the cake, throwing the bouquet etc. We wanted the reception to feel more like a party than a formal wedding reception.
We asked the bridal party and both of our dads to make a short speech and everyone delivered. Brendan rounded up the speeches with special thank you shout outs to all the amazing people who helped us create the wedding of our dreams. He also thanked our daughter who when she heard her daddy say her name couldn’t help but run over and join in. This included her taking his shoe off just as he said he would do anything for her, ad libbing “I’ll even give you my shoe”. Brendan ended his speech with a few words about his blushing bride, and how I looked “so dam hot right now”, with Harper adding a perfectly timed “whoa” while moving her tiny hands outwards to indicate a big whoa. Comedic timing is definitely one of her gifts. All in all, the reception was the perfect ending to our special day.”
Congratulations on your marriage Paula and Brendan! Thank you for sharing your day with us! Thank you also to Sarah Christensen for sharing today’s photographs and Swish Bridal for sending this wedding our way!