Wedding options on the wild side

Here couples can have elephant and cheetah in their pictures, Helen Crooks discovers

HERE are Art Routes, Mohair Meanders and even Sunshine Saunters. But now, for couples planning to tie the knot, there’s an innovative new addition to the concept in the form of Weddings on the Wild Coast, with at least five venues within a few minutes’ drive of one another offering facilities that ensure that the big day will be just perfect.

These venues, dotted along the Jikeleza route a short drive from East London, vary from intimate restaurants to huge affairs catering for up to 750 guests.

The first of the venues is the Inkwenkwezi Private Game Reserve which, two years ago, played host to the “South African wedding of the year” when President Jacob Zuma’s daughter Duduzile married her sweetheart, Lonwabo Sambudla.

Having scooped numerous awards, including best coastal wedding venue in 2012, the grounds at the reserve have ample space for a large marquee, added to which the gracious indoor restaurant can easily be transformed into a wedding wonderland, draped with white fabric topped with thousands of fairy lights – plus there’s the opportunity to pose for wedding photographs with tame cheetah and elephant.

Catering as it can for up to 750 guests it is not surprising that Inkwenkwezi is also a favoured venue for international weddings.

Furthermore, factoring into account sister accommodation at Umnenga Lodge (which is also a wedding venue) and Chinsta Sands means that family and friends of the happy couple can be accommodated when overnight stays are required.

There are 13 rooms (including, naturally, a honeymoon suite) at Inkwenkwezi with sister hotels taking the total of rooms on offer up to 50.

Quite often though, Inkwenkwezi and other wedding venues in the area are used as the base for a lavish white wedding, with guests later moving further into the Transkei to complete the proceedings in the traditional manner.

Sister hotel Umnenga Lodge has been playing host to weddings for 10 years now and has 19 rooms where the bridal party can continue the celebrations with a champagne breakfast the day after the nuptials.

This is a weather-friendly venue where the restaurant can be transformed into an intimate chapel should the need arise. And for those perfect Wild Coast days there’s a large deck with stunning views.

Umnenga Lodge can stage it all, from the ceremony to the reception, from catering to accommodation.

They even have their own in-house wedding planner who is available to ensure that the day goes without a glitch.

The lodge also has some lovely open spaces in its gardens, just waiting to be transformed into a romantic outdoor chapel.

With easy access to a host of scenic locations, newlyweds are able to get a variety of shots for their wedding album, from the beach to the bush.

Another venue which caters to the trend away from town and hotel weddings is Cypress Dale, with it’s stunning dam and deck.

Set in the African countryside with a tranquil dam, Cypress Dale is a venue to fit all occasions, from weddings to corporate functions.

Secure and away from the hustle and bustle of city life, it is close enough to East London to allow guests to stay in the city and it is a child-friendly venue, with a playground area.

For those who just want to relax after the nuptials, there’s plenty of bird life to watch on the dam.

The next venue is Two Swans, which is owned by former Warriors player Tyrone Henderson and which has its own chapel for 60 to 80 guests.

Two Swans is in a picturesque setting with a beautifully designed white marquee on the banks of a huge lake just 17km from East London.

They offer a specially hand-built gazebo for the ceremony, as well as their country chapel. The marquee holds from 80 to 350 people.

The venue has limited accommodation as well as a restaurant, The Cricketer.

The next venue visited by Weekend Post was the grand Gonubie Manor which is owned and run by Sammy Amos-Brown.

This venue offers large halls in a sound-proofed venue which can take up to 430 people with ease while smaller affairs are made more intimate by giving more dancing space

Gonubie Manor was erected by a Settler family, the Mackenzies, in the 1800s and was originally built as a hotel to accommodate guests from far and wide.

They would come from inland to the harbour to buy goods such as tea, sugar and spices. In those days it took six hours from the harbour to the manor to spend the night and rest.

This grand old lady of the Eastern Cape is ideally situated in close proximity to the N2 highway and offers bed and breakfast as well as self-catering units.

Another wedding venue in the area is the popular Areena resort which offers a romantic and picturesque setting next to the river and is suitable for a country wedding for up to 120 guests.

For smaller weddings, the upstairs thatched conference room is a cosy setting for the ceremony.

For more than 80 guests, the clubhouse area downstairs provides a view of the river and a backdrop of indigenous vegetation. There is also the option of an outdoor, open-air ceremony along the riverside.

With the main venue so close to the slipway and a long jetty, the bride can arrive on the river cruiser – or the “just marrieds” could wave goodbye and sail away into the sunset.

Areena Quays, a fully licensed restaurant at the slipway, offers flexible menu options to suit your budget.

With great photo opportunities, accommodation available for out-of-town guests and a honeymoon suite nestled in the natural bush along the riverside, Areena is another venue which has very special features for that very special day.

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