Escape to the Wild - Poronui Elopement


When you're in the business of being front and centre at dozens of big white weddings every year, how do you decide to exchange your own vows? For Taupo celebrant Samantha Johnston, the answer was simple; very differently. With only eight guests (plus me tagging along in lucky 9th place), Sam and Brad eloped to exclusive New Zealand hunting lodge, Poronui, tucked away in the crisply beautiful Taharua Valley.

About half an hour from Taupo and a world away from real life, Poronui Lodge represents heartland New Zealand at its very best. Famous internationally for trophy stags and trout, it's also a great place to slow down, soak up nature and reflect on what really matters in life. After nine years together, Sam and Brad wanted to cement their relationship more by getting married but weren't so sure about doing this in front of a hundred guests.

"We wanted a party but wanted the ceremony to be a bit more intimate. It's a personal thing reading vows out. It wasn't very traditional but it was perfect for us," explains Sam.

And so they rented Poronui's Blake House, spent the morning making ham sammies and getting glammed up with just their immediate family, and then exchanged vows in a ceremony that had more laughter and tears than some of the biggest weddings I've been to. I got to pick the spot for the ceremony (frosty backlit deep shade beside epic views down the valley) and that was that.

Typically the weddings we shoot involve lots of meetings, plans and timelines. Which is all really important when you want an amazing day with all of your friends and family beside you. But the great thing about staying small is that we just roll with whatever feels right at the time. After some hugs, bubbles and family photos, Sam swapped her Louboutins for Uggs and the three of us went for a wander down to the river beside the lodge, where frost still covered the ground and low winter light gave everything a really magical feeling. 

I'm a total wedding junkie and pretty much always feel that the wedding I've JUST done is the most awesome I've ever been to. Even after 14 years and about 500 weddings, I still feel this way. But I suppose after seeing so many 'I dos',  I've had a good chance to reflect on what I feel matters most, and for me it's making sure a couple has time alone together to soak up the massiveness of what is going on, to be mindful of every fleeting moment, and to laugh heaps and be close and intimate in a way that reflects them. So the creative session alway involves a bit of time away from everyone where I shoot with a long lens, tell bad jokes and just encourage my couples to snuggle and hang out in a way that's natural to them without too much direction or 'posing'. Sam and Brad definitely had their own way of being intimate....including congratulatory fist pumps which I loved.

I spent only a couple of hours with Sam, Brad and their crew, but it was such a powerfully intimate time that I almost felt like I became a part of the family while I was there. After I left, a 'mystery location' party under the guise of an engagement saw all their friends and family brought out to Poronui, where the newlyweds flew in by chopper and jumped out sporting wedding bands and a truly great story about how they did it 'their way'.


Photographer: Eva Bradley // Venue: Blake House, Poronui Lodge // Dress: Astra Bridal // Flowers: Bloomin Flowers, Taupo // Hair & Makeup: Beauty on Location, Taupo // Celebrant: Belinda de Latour, Taupo. And Sam herself can be found at: Marry Me Sam