Kaikoura hitch: Our wedding jitters; Tania putts away the pain
Most couples consider their wedding to be one of life’s milestone moments, but Sheena and Michael Mercer have more reason than many to remember their big day.
The Kaiapoi couple had intended to marry in Kaikoura on December 3 last year. The east coast township has long been a regular summer holiday haunt for the former teen sweethearts, as well as being a favourite diving spot of Michael’s.
Their perfect day had been planned down to the finest detail. The ceremony would be held at spectacular Ohau Point, overlooking a nearby seal colony and with an unrivalled vista of the coastline. Koura Bay Lodge, with its views of the peninsula and ocean, was booked for the reception.
But a fortnight before the event, the deadly 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit on November 14. The main roads into Kaikoura were buckled and ruptured, there was no power or internet and no-one was sure how long recovery might take.
The loving couple were distraught. Michael’s stag do was scheduled to be held in Kaikoura the following weekend and the best man lived there. They had friends
and family flying in from Australia and they had their three adorable daughters – Georgia, eight, Harlow, five, and three-year-old Mia – excitedly waiting for their fairytale moment as Mum and Dad’s flower girls.
“We were all devastated,” tells Sheena. They discussed postponing the wedding, but decided they had reached a point in their relationship where they felt ready to really commit to each other.
“We’ve been together for 11 years and have three children. It was a bit like, if we don’t do it now, when are we going to do it? So we decided to go ahead but move it all closer to home.”
Michael managed to get in and out of the quake-struck town, taking food and helping relocate some of the 56 tonne of paua stranded after the seabed was lifted by around 1.8 metres.
Aisle sort it!
Sheena, with just a fortnight to reorganise what had been almost two years of planning, stayed home and posted a plea for help on a local brides’ Facebook page.
“We had a Christchurch photographer and celebrant who were going to travel up to Kaikoura, so that was OK. But we had to get a caterer and a venue. Trying to find a venue at short notice was the main stress.”
But the community rallied. They were contacted by wedding planner Emma Newman, who put them on to Lacebark, a renovated barn-turned-function centre not far from their home in Kaiapoi. It had only just opened so was available for their day. Then Eaton Drink Co. came on board to do the catering, offering to replicate the menu and provide free canapés.
Meanwhile, the couple never lost sight of what was happening to their friends in Kaikoura. “We don’t have family in Kaikoura,” explains Sheena, “but we just love the place. We’ve spent a lot of summers there and a lot of our friends have moved there. Our first thought wasn’t the wedding, but whether they were OK.”
She and Michael asked Koura Lodge to donate the $1300 deposit they had paid for the venue hire to the recovery effort. “They were lovely people,” explains Sheena. “They had plenty to worry about – we just told them to distribute it as they saw need.”
And then it was December 2, the day before the wedding. Best man Nathan Jolly was still stuck in Kaikoura. There was talk about chartering a plane to pick him up. But luck was with him and he managed to make his mate’s big day after a carload of other wedding guests found an “off-road” route through a farm.
After all the disruption, the day itself went off without a hitch. In fact, Sheena credits the earthquake with making it even more special.
“It made us really look at what was important to us and what the reasons we were getting married actually were,” she explains. “We had an incredible day.
“When I look back on it, it seems like it was meant to be ... Everything just fell together. I’ll never forget it.”
She says she and Michael are thinking about renewing their vows at some stage – in Kaikoura.
When the earthquake hit, Sheena and Michael (with, from left, Harlow, Georgia and Mia) realised their vows were more important than ever.
Love triumphs! With their gorgeous daughters as flower girls, the bride and groom said “I do” on what turned out to be “an incredible day”.