Get hitched in Hawaii

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By Sarah Sekula, published in Destination Weddings & Honeymoons

Hawaii has the rare distinction of being fully American and fully exotic. You don’t change currency, but the landscape changes from beach to jungle to volcanic desert. And you don’t need a language translator, but you’ll leave with a warm sense of aloha. Here’s where to stay, play and party.

BIG ISLAND
The Big Island (aka Hawaii), as one might guess, is rather large, which means it’s a massive canvas for some show-stopping natural wonders. Geographically unique, it has 11 of the world’s 13 climate zones. This means, couples wed on the beach with snow-capped mountains in the distance and entertain guests with treks through the rain forest or excursions to the fire-spitting volcanoes. That said, the varied landscapes provides a variety of backdrops for weddings full of whimsy and play.

STAY
To the north on the Kohala Coast is The Fairmont Orchid, Hawaii, a luxe 32-acre resort. Here, an afternoon wedding at the Victorian-style Turtle Pointe Gazebo comes with a dreamy mountain backdrop, black and white coral and sea turtles basking in the sun. The event staff will even arrange for the bride to arrive via outrigger canoe. Be sure to reserve Saturday night for the impressive luau celebration, a full-on feast with music, dance and history. Rooms from $339; weddings from $3,500.

On the west shore, Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel has a courtyard surrounded by Hong Kong orchid trees and a hyper-manicured lawn with plenty of space. A rehearsal dinner at Ocean Terrace’s (one of the hotel’s four eateries) is a crowd pleaser thanks to the sprawling seafood buffet. Rooms from $440; weddings from $1,500.
If historic is what you’re after, Courtyard Marriott King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel, delivers. Centrally located in Kailua Village, it marks the spot where King Kamehameha spent his final years. Weddings on the luau grounds have views of Ahuena Heiau, Kamehameha’s temple to the Hawaiian God of peace. (Note: Avoid October when the hotel hosts the Ironman World Championship.) Rooms from $219; weddings from $1,000.

PLAY
The Big Island’s primordial landscape will beckon you outdoors each day. Start with a trek through Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, where molten lava flows into the sea, thanks to active volcanoes, Kilauea and Mauna Loa. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is home to seven ecological zones and endangered species like the hawksbill turtle and the Hawaiian hoary bat.

To the west, The Original Hawaiian Chocolate Factory has guests (up to 30 people) nibbling on chocolate samples while learning how cocoa beans morph into chocolate bars.

Come nighttime, don snorkel or scuba gear and make friends with manta rays (some with 14-foot wing spans) in the calm waters off the Kona Coast. Using spotlights on the sea floor, outfitters like Kona Diving attract loads of plankton, which the rays gracefully scoop up while doing back rolls.

CELEBRATE
If saying your vows at a resort is not your cup of tea, consider Upcountry Puakea Ranch for a heavy dose of Old Hawaii. In other words, don’t be surprised if you hear farm animals in the background at this cattle-ranch-turned B&B. On the Kohala Coast, Pakalana Sanctuary is a luxury vacation rental made almost entirely of bamboo complemented by Asian landscaping and Balinese decor. In Waimea, Anna Ranch Heritage Center, with its rustic buildings, flower gardens and ranching culture, will have you at aloha. They even have a blacksmith and saddle maker who provide demos and craft horseshoe-key chains to mark the day.

As for favors, look to Kona Natural Soap Company for small bottles of kukui nut oil and handcrafted soaps or Wings of the Morning for pure Kona coffee in cute coin-cloth bags.

For another authentic Hawaiian touch, book hula dancers from Tihati Productions (so good, they’ve performed at the White House).

EXPERT TIPS
Enoch A’ana is the owner of Pele’s Wedding & Events at the Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort & Spa. Enoch has designed weddings for the past decade.

HIDDEN VENUE “Anaeho’omalu Bay, or protected mullet, is a sacred area where Hawaiian royalty once roamed. Sitting on the edge of this magical pond is King’s Knoll and Lindsey Beach, which are two of the most beautiful ceremony sites with breathtaking views.”

FOR THE WELCOME BAG “Big Island Candies give you a variety of local favorites all dipped in chocolate. Not only is it delicious, but the packaging is also a highlight. Very unique and designed specifically for them.”

PLANNING TIP “Waikoloa sits in between our three mountain ranges: the Kohala Mountains, Mauna Kea and Hualalai. Although we get sunshine about 360 days of the year, we are known as the windy city or Waikoblowa. So when planning for a outdoor wedding in Waikoloa, my suggestion is to to wear your hair up. Then you won’t have to worry about the wind.”

LOCAL WEDDING TRADITION “There are lots of traditions in Hawaii, but when it comes to your ceremony, a traditional Hawaiian ceremony is always the way to go. Start off with the blowing of the conch shell and either a Hawaiian chant or prayer, then proceed with the exchanging of the leis to one another.”

PHOTO OP “Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort & Spa has many photo opportunities. Especially our beautiful beach with the sun setting behind you.  The breathtaking sunsets that we have are unmatched with our surrounding areas.”

MAUI

PLAY
The Valley Isle is overflowing with activities. In the misting forest district of Kula, for example, take the O’o Farm tour where guests forage for herbs and veggies in the meticulous garden and watch as the chef whips up a dazzling gourmet feast of farm greens, local fruit, fresh fish and hand-rolled, dark-chocolate truffles.
Equally appealing, the 10,023-foot Haleakala volcano should definitely be on your short list. But bring your jacket (it’s chilly at the top). Pack breakfast to go (there are picnic tables) and head over for sunrise to take in views of the landscape, reminiscent of the moon’s surface. On clear days, you can see four other Hawaiian islands.
Cool off with an outrigger canoe ride and snorkel session off the shores of Makena Beach, where colorful reefs abound and buggy-eyed turtles swim alongside.

CELEBRATE
Olowalu Plantation House is one of the most popular places to host a Maui wedding soiree (even ABC’s The Bachelorette has filmed a romantic getaway here). Located on an old sugar plantation, it has a slew of acacia trees and a wrap-around porch. It’s also a short drive from the best hulu shindig on the island, the Old Lahaina Luau. To the south, Kukahiko Estate, a custom-designed home, has a palm-lined lawn and covered lanai perfect for alfresco dining (max 50 guests) while Gannon’s hosts ceremonies on a seaside grassy knoll. Reception meals include Hawaiian favorites like Pacific crab cakes, macadamia-nut crusted fish and guava-flavored wedding cakes.

For favors, Dan’s Greenhouse crafts pre-packaged and customs-certified plumeria clippings to tote home. And guests will swoon for coconut-flavored Maui Macaroons.

For a true Hawaiian vibe, the ukelele and guitar-strumming duo called Barefoot Minded is a local favorite and once opened for Third Eye Blind.

EXPERT PICKS
Carolee Higashino, owner of White Orchid Wedding, has orchestrated Hawaiian weddings since 1991.

HIDDEN VENUE “The White Orchid Beach House is located on its own private sandy beach cove on the remote southern shores of Makena. This venue can hold events for up to 50 guests and is one of Hawaii’s only white-sand beach oceanfront estates.”

FOR THE WELCOME BAG “We create a lovely beach bag welcome filled with island goodies, such as Maui potato chips, tropical juices, local organic pineapples, Ali’i Kula Lavender farm products, logo water bottles, logo flip flops and Maui cookies.”

PLANNING TIP “Remember to allow a fews days prior to your wedding day to acclimate and relax. There is nothing more stressful than landing and rushing prior to your special day. Set time for yourself prior to the celebration with a spa day or massage.”

LOCAL WEDDING TRADITION “The sand ceremony. This is a newer solution to the unity candle. Our couples share this moment at the altar sharing two-toned colored sand poured into a lovely keepsake vessel in lieu of the unity candle, which will blow out with our trade winds.”

MOLOKAI AND LANAI
Most weddings take place on the major Hawaiian Islands, however, don’t ignore the smaller ones. Bill Gates sure didn’t. He married on the golf course at Lanai’s Four Seasons Resort. Consider Hulopo’e Bay if your guests are OK with a short walk. The clifftop perch there is known as Sweetheart Rock, a natural altar sculpted by the sea.
As for Molokai, since Hotel Molokai is the island’s only hotel, many couples opt to have their ceremony at a private home or right on Papohaku Beach, one of the prettiest beaches in all of Hawaii. The best part is: You won’t find a lot of foot traffic. (Note: Be sure to check on permits and seasonal weather first.)