How divine it would be to have a tropical paradise created for you – and then to share this so generously with the world. Villa Botanica is a beautiful home surrounded by magnificent gardens, rivalled only by the equally magnificent view of the Coral Sea – the colours shining like only these tropical jewels can. Come and step into this wonderland of plants, water walls of ferns, marble, stone and wooden exotica and just for a day live the dream, surrounded by beauty. Leave all the planning of your big day to Botanica Weddings. Priding themselves on excellent service, you can relax knowing your wedding planning is in safe and professional hands whether it is at Villa Botanica in the Whitsundays, or at one of the exotic selected venues in Bali – Royal Pita Maha, Taman Bagawan, Ayodya and the Edge. With so much great advice to offer us, Janet leads us through the world of Botanica Weddings.
Please tell us the history of this very lovely venue?
Ralph Hogan was the highflying owner of Oddfellows Advertising in Sydney, one of Australia’s most celebrated if not controversial ad agencies, until he decided to turn his back on suburban bliss in pursuit of a childhood dream, to create a tropical palace for his (then) imaginary princess. A living work of art, Villa Botanica, in Australia’s glorious Whitsundays, is the beautiful product of that vision.
“As a 5 year old in Noumea, my parents divorced and told me I’d be spending my life in boarding school in Oz. Before I left, I came across a fat, pearlescent pink graptopetallum (succulent) leaf lying on a concrete footpath. It had taken root in a hairline crack in the concrete and this amazingly resilient plant became a metaphor for my life.”
50 years later, Ralph’s love of plants blossomed into Villa Botanica, the waterfront mansion he created for his muse and wife of now 30 years, Janet. Since the first of hundreds of massive 10 tonne boulders was carefully put into place back in 2002 to create the background of the astonishing landscape, the estate now boasts one of the most spectacular private botanical gardens in Australia, extending over 3 acres and including a 2000 m² manmade rainforest with a vast array of palms and exotic flowers as well as one of the biggest succulent and cactus collections this side of Arizona.
The same love, passion and obsession that went into the creation of this 2.3 hectare waterfront estate is now extended to providing exquisite weddings which in turn attract extraordinary testimonials from couples from all over Australia and overseas.
Image by Playback Studios
Please describe the estate?
Sprawling along 150m of spectacular oceanfront overlooking the Whitsunday islands, it would be easy to believe that Villa Botanica is an opulent estate somewhere in the Carribean, not 10 minutes drive from the North Queensland resort village of Airlie Beach.
To create their vision of the ultimate tropical mansion by the sea, Ralph and Janet travelled the world sourcing luxurious building materials, massive stone wall carvings, mosaic floors, rare antiques, doors and screens.
A 12000-litre aquarium, fabulous fossilised mammoth tusk and extensive shell collection are further testimony to Ralph’s passion for all things beautiful, natural and exotic.
Practically the entire estate has been decorated by seven container loads of building materials like centuries old teak and ironwood carved panels and Java rosso marble, made to order and painstakingly packed and shipped from Bali.
Exploring Villa Botanica is like unwrapping some exquisite visual feast. You enter the main building, first via an enormous carved teak root, to be confronted by a set of towering, hammered metal antique doors from India, big enough to allow elephants to pass through but these days only the smaller inner doors are used for the bride and groom to make their grand entrance as Mr and Mrs. The next portal of discovery they pass through is a 3-metre high intricately carved Arabic inspired timber screen.
“This, like most of the architectural features,” explains Janet, “was designed by Ralph. As with a lot of the carvings we commissioned, we’d send a sketch through to our contact in Bali, who would get a local architect to convert it to a CAD file, email it back to us for approval and then it would go into production. This screen, as well as all the fluted Merbau verandah columns, balustrades and carved timber panels kept an entire village in work for over a year.”
The house is a temple to maximalism, where ornamentation and richness of colour and texture successfully tread the delicate line between sumptuous exotica and sensory overload.
What makes Villa Botanica an award winning wedding venue?
Australian Traveller magazine dubbed Villa Botanica “the most romantic place in Australia” and with its unique mix of tropical gardens, breathtaking waterfront vistas, exotic architecture and obsession to detail, this truly is a venue like no other.
Janet: “I think the fact that it was never created as a commercial space but inspired instead by the beauty of nature, instantly distinguishes Villa Botanica from your standard, soulless function centre. Ralph has refused to allow signage or other disruptive elements. We had the advantage of creating what we love first, without restriction, and then letting it segue into a venue. The feedback we get from couples is that they can really identify with the passion that has gone into its creation, they are overwhelmed by the attention to detail and that every corner is a potential photo opportunity.”
Villa’s gardens have been dubbed the Jurassic Park of the plant world, and with its rare, waterfront location, sweeping ocean vistas, rainforest walks, stunning architecture and even its own quirkily beautiful Cactarium. Villa Botanica really is in a world of its own.
Janet: “While it’s the beauty of the venue that initially attracts couples, what they rave about post-wedding is the service. This I believe is the main reason Villa has won Best Reception Venue and Best Ceremony location at the QLD ABIA awards with a record breaking score of 99.75. It’s as if all the love and care that went into the creation of Villa Botanica has flown through to our amazing team. Their dedication to making each wedding truly amazing is what our couples value the most.”
Image by Iconic Bride Photography
What is your promise to bridal couples?
The philosophy behind Botanica Weddings is that done properly, your wedding day creates the greatest foundation for married life going forward. Janet and Ralph Hogan have themselves been married for over 30 years and are passionate promoters of what they believe is society’s most valuable ritual.
Ralph: “Apart from the fact that I can now justify to Janet why I should invest in even more horrendously expensive plant rarities, it’s a privilege to host for our couples, the most important day of their lives. At Villa Botanica our mission is to make every wedding absolutely unforgettable.”
Is there a room available onsite for bridal preparations?
We have created a separate styling room where our very talented hair and makeup team are based. It’s a sumptuous space complete with romantic Venetian glass mirrors plus salon standard chairs and lighting. The bridal party also have their own bridal villa to relax and prepare in, with a private verandah overlooking the Coral Sea, the perfect place to take time and contemplate the significance of the day.
Please describe the ceremony location options?
We offer 3 stunning ceremony locations:
- The Ceremony Pavilion was designed by Ralph and hand carved using the finest merbau timber and ironwood. The space features a custom made teak and marble topped altar and two matching signing chairs. The pavilion is situated in one of the most dramatic locations in the venue, overlooking the Coral Sea and its black granite foreshore with adjoining sweeping lawn terrace and sunken garden. The ideal location for post-ceremony drinks and photos.
- The Sea Deck is a 117 square metre deck framed by a beautiful aloe garden; vivid red flower spikes contrast with the aqua sea, creating a more contemporary and dramatic setting for a waterfront ceremony with breathtaking 180 degree views.
- Untouched Mast Beach, a 100 metre stretch of sand adjoining Villa Botanica and accessed via buggy. A most romantic and private cove that is home to sea eagles and sea turtles and offers a beautiful “away from it all” environment, for a maximum of 50 people.
Image by Iconic Bride Photography
What is the Sea Deck mainly used for?
We know that one of the biggest pressures for every couple is ensuring the wedding is special enough to justify everyone taking time off work to travel to it. To really make this an “OMG” experience for every guest, we move them around the venue, so that it unfolds in stages rather than all at once. The Sea Deck is where we bring everyone for cocktail hour while the bridal party are on their photo tour. Here they get to experience a breathtaking sunset while sipping on a martini and taking in a view that rivals the best of Santorini or the Amalfi Coast.
Where is the reception held? Why is this area perfect for a reception?
Many brides dream of having their balmy tropical reception outdoors under starlight. However the chance of wet weather, even in our dry season, makes that too big a risk to take. Our Seaside Verandah is the perfect solution, it overlooks the sea, under a roof of magical fairy lights and totally protected from the elements.
Do you have any suggestions for wedding décor to make the most of the elegance of the surroundings?
I would definitely not go down the painted dried starfish and sea shell route that feature in so many Whitsunday weddings!
The surrounding setting and colours of Villa Botanica are so rich I would suggest something quite simple and elegant, by way of contrast. You can never go wrong with whites/creams and greens. Normally a profusion of flowers and draping is essential to dress up a bland space, but here the role of decor is only to enhance the environment that’s already here.
Please describe the food you serve? Is it important to you to source local produce?
Climatically, the Whitsundays is in the dry tropic zone, in other words it’s generally warm with lots of sunshine and not too much rain, the perfect weather for growing fresh produce and why, just north of here, you will find the Burdekin Basin, the famed salad bowl of Australia. Our local produce, from the land and sea, is world famous and that’s why it features so heavily at the core of our menus.
“Local Coral Trout fillet and micro herbs with a star anise and shellfish broth.”
“Tropical pineapple cloud with mango gel and coconut essence.”
Our chefs, Todd and Sophie, really are culinary super stars, and as you can see by their dishes, fuelled by the same degree of perfectionism that drives our whole team.
Image by Iconic Bride Photography
What other special touches/extra services do you provide to the bride and groom?
Lots, but that would spoil the surprise!
Please describe the gardens and places for photo opportunities around the estate?
Ralph’s background in advertising and graphic design, combined with his love of tropical vegetation has resulted in a range of photo opportunities you would normally have to travel to six or so different locations to find.
From water walls of maidenhair fern, to vivid, manicured carpet grass lawns; stone frogs spouting water over water lilies framed by bougainvillia to a luxuriant palm forest and right next door, Mast Beach, a magical 100 metre stretch of sand tucked away in the Whitsunday wilderness. Plus, the breathtaking 180 degree view of the Coral Sea and Whitsunday islands from the Sea Deck; the shabby chic Lover’s Gazebo – an Indian antique; the black granite boulders of the foreshore and too many to mention hand carved stone plaques referencing the fabulous botanical rarities around the property.
Do you have a team of wedding specialists on site to help plan the wedding?
Standard industry practice is for the venue coordinator to contact the couple 6 months out from their wedding day, hand them a list of recommended suppliers and leave them to fend for themselves. For a bride getting married away from home, without the luxury of being able to simply wander down to the local florist or hairdresser, this is a recipe for stress and sleepless nights.
We believe planning your wedding should be as much fun as the big day itself. That’s why we’ve developed a guided wedding planning process that is as unique as the venue. From day one, every couple is assigned one of our highly trained, professional planners who takes them, step by step, through the planning phases which we have carefully crafted over the 9 years we’ve been organising destination weddings. For example, we make sure the bride has chosen her dress before embarking on décor or floral decisions which may otherwise have to be all redone. And we give her advice on the best dresses to wear in a tropical climate.
To really keep our couples in the loop, we have created a unique Personalised Online Planning tool. POPPY gives couples 24/7 access to all aspects of their planning, helping them make easy choices online about which suppliers to choose and organising seating plans etc. It’s fun, easy and makes planning an absolute breeze.
There is no other wedding venue in the Whitsundays – or the world – that offers this level of service or IT sophistication.
How do you plan the couples’ wedding journey?
Everyone talks about the wedding day, but in fact in most cases it’s a year long, sometimes two year long, journey. Only in hindsight do brides actually appreciate the 200 or so separate tasks that are involved in the lead up. To give you some idea, POPPY delivers:
- 41 pages of information and images
- 33 how to videos (and climbing)
- 28 interactive pages that help you do everything: load up your guest list, hair styles, music, even do your seating plan.
- Plus 27 pages where you are choosing all the various services: your hair and make up/flowers/cake and any added extras like fireworks and photo booths.
Image by Playback Studios
What are your expectations of the bride and groom during the journey?
Couples need to take care of anything that is not directly related to the wedding day itself or that we can’t organise for them, e.g. bridal attire, rings, organising their bucks and hens nights and liaising directly with guests. That said, guests also have access to POPPY to rsvp and give us their dietary requirements etc. It takes a huge load off the bride’s shoulders.
Are you able to recommend accommodation for wedding guests?
Absolutely. We have carefully pre-selected the best accommodation options based on location, service and value of money which we list on POPPY. And there’s no nepotism, only the best make it on our list. The great thing about getting married on the Whitsunday mainland versus the islands, is that everything: accommodation, restaurants, groceries are all much more affordable. And with the direct flights now available from Brisbane and Sydney, attending a wedding in the Whitsundays does not have to involve a huge investment of time or money. In fact Jetstar are introducing their direct flights from Sydney for $69! And of course it’s an enforced break which family and friends inevitably end up thanking the couple for.
What do you most love about pausing & taking a moment during the wedding celebrations, in this very personal & meaningful space?
Ralph and I love the fact that the kind of couples who choose Villa Botanica are those who tend to take their commitment to each other seriously. We feel that by showing them how beautiful and grand life can be, it sets the standard for their marriage going forward. Many couples already have children and I particularly love seeing the joy on the little one’s faces as they watch mum and dad commit to each other, I’m sure it gives them a great feeling of security. I’ll never forget the little girl who said to me: “When I grow up I want to be a princess like mummy and get married here as well.”
Offering a beautiful space like this to your loved ones is also a way of acknowledging the effort they’ve made to attend the wedding. One of the things couples like about Villa Botanica is they know everyone will be really well taken care of; “we’re being treated like royalty” is an expression that comes up a lot.
What is Botanica Weddings?
Botanica Weddings is the overarching company that organises weddings at all our selected venues, including the two that we own: Villa Botanica and the soon to be launched, out of this world, Saratoga in Bali. Plus 4 other Bali wedding venues that make up the Botanica Collection, that we have exclusive agreements with: the Royal Pita Maha, Taman Bagawan, Ayodya and the Edge. We have carefully hand chosen each venue for its world class location, photo opportunities and standard of service. Villa Botanica set the standard and this is what we seek out, but rarely find, in other venues. It takes us between 18 to 24 months of checking and negotiating to decide if a venue is good enough for us to put our reputation behind.
Are your wedding planners specialists in Bali weddings, knowing all the best local suppliers, and can they give advice on any tips and tricks to make the most of a Bali wedding?
Our Bali planners are all based in Bali plus we have a separate Supplier Liaison division whose role is to source the best suppliers and oversee quality control. We have written many blogs about what not to do in Bali…most certainly you wouldn’t want to organise a wedding yourself unless you had a strong masochistic streak and didn’t mind being stressed and distracted every minute of the day. Our Planners are scarily into detail and knowledgeable – if you visit our Youtube channel you can hear from them direct and sample some of their advice first hand.
Image of Villa Botanica – image by Studio Impressions
What are the things a bridal couple should consider when planning a wedding in Bali?
The 3 most important areas to focus on are: Venue, Planning and Finance.
- The venue will make or break the entire feel of your wedding. Make sure wherever you choose provides 3 – 4 changes of scene for your guests; what you are aiming to achieve is a sense of an epic and glorious adventure for you and them.
- It has been known for so called “professional” Bali wedding planners to disappear without a trace taking all their couples’ hard earned deposits with them. You need to engage a wedding planner but make sure it’s not a one man band but someone with a team backing them up. Do lots of internet research to make sure the person you are entrusting with your most important day has a licensed business in Bali and preferably a registered company in Australia as well. That way you do have some recourse if anything goes wrong.
- Get an all inclusive quote up front. Too often couples are lured in by a too- good-to-be-true price, only to see the costs go through the roof 6 months from their wedding – when it’s too late to cancel. Also, we’ve seen currencies fluctuate by as much as 30% in the space of 6 months – a huge impost on couples and the reason why we quote in AUD, not USD or rupiah. The Australian dollar is strong right now but it may not stay that way so be sure to pay for as much as you can in AUD. Finally, be careful of hidden charges and taxes. In Bali hotels and restaurants can charge up to 21% extra in government taxes which aren’t always revealed at the time of quoting. We have either included them or had them legally waived.
How do you help a couple plan a wedding in Bali – some steps you go through?
Janet: “We adore Bali but everyone’s heard the horror stories: ministers not turning up on the wedding day, guests getting lost on their way to the venue, not to mention all the things that can get lost in translation: “Sorry, we thought you wanted to yellow roses not pink”, then pulling out the spray paint to fix the mistake! We saw there was a real need for a professionally run wedding service, accountable under Australian law, one that takes away all the worry of something going wrong. And that’s where Botanica Weddings comes in.”
With most Bali wedding organisers, the planning consists of an initial call then lots of emailing back of forth, which is very inefficient for everyone including the planner, but particularly stressful for the couple because it often entails questions being left unanswered for days or even months.
Our system is much more structured. First of all, we assign the couple a wedding planner. In the first phone call, she steps them through the process and approximate timings of what happens when in the lead up to their wedding. The planner also gives the couple their POPPY log in codes and instructs them on what they need to do before the next call. There are 24 different areas where a couple needs to make decisions but with POPPY it’s a lot of fun, not a chore.
What time frame is needed to plan a Bali wedding?
We prefer a minimum of 3 months. Generally 12 months is ideal, mainly to give guests enough time to plan time off work and secure any suppliers, e.g. photographers and celebrants, who may otherwise get booked out etc.
What are some special features/ceremonies that may be incorporated into a Bali wedding?
The ceremony can really fall flat if the person delivering it doesn’t speak good English and guests are left struggling to understand what’s being said.
A meaningful ceremony is essential to the success of the day which is why we only use Western celebrants. Therefore, any special inclusion or ritual such as a sand ceremony that a couple could have in Australia is also easy in Bali. We also offer traditional touches like flower girls dressed in colourful temple gear to throw petals representing good luck at the end of the ceremony as well as umbrella boys to head up the procession to symbolically protect the couple against evil spirits. Some entertainment in the form of a Kecak/fire dance is a great way to keep guests entertained between the ceremony and reception.
Image of Villa Botanica – image by Studio Impressions
Please describe the four venues in Bali you provide exclusive services to? What does each of these venues offer that is unique?
At Botanica Weddings, our promise has always been to create “the world’s most exquisite weddings.” In Bali, that meant combing the island to find any rare and perfect venues that qualified as exquisite. Months of searching revealed one hidden gem that far outshone all the others. The Royal Pita Maha, located in Ubud, the island’s fabled spiritual heart, is the most beautiful, authentically Balinese and luxuriously appointed wedding venue you will find – not just in Bali but probably anywhere.
This amazing luxury resort is a no-expense-spared cultural masterpiece, built by none other than the famous Royal family of Ubud. A palatial complex which is a work of art in itself, the Royal Pita Maha provides a succession of intricately carved stone walls, luxuriant gardens, natural spring fed pools and spectacular architecture. To quote Ralph: “It’s a complete knock out.”
Perhaps just as importantly, it is one of the few resort venues laid out in such a way as to make a fabulous wedding also private and exclusive, so there are no intrusions or onlookers to spoil the privacy of your marriage.
Occupying an entire hidden valley carved by a giant loop in the majestic Ayung River and surrounded by towering walls of jungle, the Royal Pita Maha offers the best of all worlds: total luxury, dazzling natural beauty and an authentically Balinese experience that your guests will be raving about for years.
Taman Bhagawan (meaning Sacred Garden) is unique because like Villa Botanica in Australia, it’s a dedicated venue right on the water. And best of all, it’s offered on a totally exclusive basis and situated on a great stretch of white sand beach so you really can have that tropical beach party celebration you always dreamed of, without being compromised by onlookers or an insanely expensive bill at the end of it.
The venue is landscaped to provide endless photographic opportunities including a monumental Balinese temple facade, vintage tuk tuks, flood lit fountains, whimsical statues, century-old Javanese doors and of course the beautiful beach itself.
There is so much that we love about this venue, not the least of which is that the owners are passionate about food and have recently hired a brilliant Australian chef who has compiled an exceptional menu. Most exciting are the live food stations…so couples can entertain their guests on a private tropical beach under coconut palms with the smell of a spicy BBQ wafting through the air, and a free flow bar serving their favourite martinis. They can lend it their personal touch with great options like aerial fireworks, chopper landings, fire dancers, magicians, live bands… it really is the ultimate beach party venue.
A totally stress-free, easy, laid back beach wedding plus the convenience of all your family and friends staying in the one place?
This is where Ayodya comes in. The iconic Ayodya Resort Bali is famous for its breathtaking architecture, white sand and crystal clear water. Located on the best beachfront in Nusa Dua, this sprawling estate was designed as a traditional Balinese water palace, hence its huge lagoon pools and beautifully landscaped gardens. Best of all, from your guests’ perspective, the party doesn’t stop on your wedding night. Thanks to well priced luxury accommodation and the convenience of 7 onsite bars and restaurants, everyone can enjoy a very laid back recovery day (or week) together.
We’ve had lots of couples asking us to include a clifftop venue in our collection and finally here it is…
The Edge is perched on a soaring clifftop in Uluwatu, Bali – the southern tip of the Island of the Gods where you are greeted by jaw-dropping 180 degree views of the Indian Ocean. This world famous enclave of four (soon to be eight) private villas, sits on 3.7 acres of spectacular clifftop. Nowhere else has won so many awards so quickly; in 2016 alone The Edge was voted Conde Nast Johansen’s “Best View” Worldwide Award as well as 2016 “Best Hotel View” and “Best Destination Wedding Retreat, Indonesia” by Haute Grandeur Hotel Awards. The Edge is the first choice of superstar weddings in Bali and comes complete with 5 star facilities and service including 24 hour butler, private pool, lounging gazebo and spacious living areas, all seemingly suspended in air.
Image by Playback Studios
Are you able to offer us any tips on respecting the Balinese heritage and culture and using the best of Bali in your wedding?
Being culturally sensitive and aware isn’t difficult for most educated Westerners. It’s a simply a matter of observing correct temple dress and protocols; not being loud, offensive or inappropriately dressed. A bare chested male or scantily clad woman on display anywhere other than at the beach is accepted, but not seen as appropriate.
Here are some basic pointers to follow if you find yourself anywhere in Indonesia and want to demonstrate what a polite and culturally sensitive person you are.
- Try not to use your left hand for anything. Don’t touch anyone with it, eat with it, pick things up with it, as it is considered the hand which familiarises itself with going to the loo. (If you’re left-handed and suddenly everyone looks at you with mild apprehension, relax, that’s all that’s going through their minds!)
- Remember to remove your shoes or sandals at the door to a house, and don’t show the soles of your feet to anyone.
- Use your right thumb to point at things – pointing with the index finger is considered rude.
- Always bend slightly when meeting or greeting an Indonesian older than you or in a position of authority.
- If someone bows lightly to you with their hands in front of the chest in prayer position when saying goodbye, they are being polite and honouring you. Simply respond by doing likewise.
- Don’t touch anyone on the head, even children. The Balinese believe the soul resides in the head, making it the most sacred part of the body and off limits.
- Religion is the most important part of daily Balinese life. You will see elaborate offerings, temples and Balinese Hindu symbols everywhere you turn. Please respect these by not damaging property and try not to step on the offerings, even if chickens and dogs are walking off with them!
- Respect the slow pace of processions, be patient and if in a car, don’t beep your horn.
- When entering a temple, wear a shirt or top that covers your shoulders and upper arms plus a sarong (past your knees) and a sash around your waist. Most major temples will have sarongs available to hire at the entrance.
- *Note. The swastika symbol you may see on someone’s front gate doesn’t signify an Asian sub-branch of Neo-Nazis; it’s actually the Hindu symbol, from time immemorial – of prosperity.
Image of Villa Botanica – image by Iconic Bride Photography
What do you love about Bali and your connection to this country?
Janet: “I have never felt so instantly at home, yet I can’t imagine a place more different from my home.”
This is where we might be a little biased so instead we’ll give the last word to the world’s most famous traveller, Sir David Attenborough. When the man who has visited everywhere was asked by Australia’s Andrew Denton to name his most favourite country in the entire world, he replied Bali.
The fact that every year a staggering 8000 couples from all around the world choose to tie the knot on the Island of the Gods, suggests that he is not alone in that opinion and that there’s more to Bali than swaying coconut palms and friendly locals.
On the surface, it’s the extraordinary fusion of vibrantly colourful, animistic Hindu culture and brilliant arts and crafts set against a backdrop of spectacular natural beauty. And then of course there’s also the affordability. But all that would mean very little if you and your wedding guests weren’t also totally seduced by something closer to the heart; the sheer warmth and emotional embrace everyone experiences with Balinese culture and people.
Bali’s greatest asset is not in fact spectacular jungles, rare artistic mastery, or fabulously carved temples, but as David Attenborough went on to explain; simply the wall-to-wall smiles and friendliness of the people, it’s always present, from the moment you take your first tentative step into their amazing world, to the moment when you most reluctantly board the plane to return home.
Little wonder Bali is now the number one choice for Australians getting married overseas.
Thank you Janet and Ralph for sharing your story. A truly magical place right in the Whitsundays – let some of that magic rub off on you right here, or in Bali. To find out more about Villa Botanica and Botanica Weddings visit the websites.