When the guest list for an engagement party got out of hand, a South Taranaki farming couple shifted gears to quickly transform their do into their big day.
All the stars aligned for Pihama dairy farmers Catherine and Simon Walker, when they used a date saved for an engagement party to share their nuptials instead.
The venue, dress, suit, flowers, cake, you name it, were all lined up and booked within three short weeks.
“We got engaged and were thinking about March this year to have our engagement party, but the guest numbers kept creeping up,” Si explains of the impromptu wedding.
With up to 150 guests flying in from as far as San Francisco and London, it made sense to make things official while everyone was making an effort to get there.
Making it an even more significant occasion, was the blending of two young families into one.
Catherine (nee Stevenson) and Simon Walker got together at the behest of mutual friends, Cat tells. “My friend just said, I want you to go out with someone cool.”
Cat and her young son Benji had not long returned to the home she grew up in to take over the family farm, combining two neighbouring dairy farms into one with a focus on sustainability.
Si was juggling solo parenthood of his three daughters while oyster farming on Stewart Island. The venture involved him commuting between the oyster farm, his Invercargill home and business in Bluff. He was planning a move for a simpler life back near his hometown of Manaia when friends also encouraged him to contact Cat.
The pair hit it off long distance while Si tied up his business and moved machinery up country. He drove through the night to bring his equipment to Taranaki in time for the nationwide lockdown of March 2020. Four weeks holed up in a farmhouse as a blended family of six sealed the deal.
Approaching Cat’s birthday last year, the couple’s combined four children were egging Si on about a proposal, he tells.
“The kids all knew and wanted to be part of the day.”
Si had already sought Cat’s father’s permission in the cowshed, the only place they could have a quiet moment, and was met with approval. Her dad was keen for the new family unit to become official.
Si suggested Cat choose a ring, though she had no idea when it would be paid off and picked up.
The kids had accompanied Si into Hawera the day before Cat’s birthday in 2022 to buy some flowers. They couldn’t find any and returned with a house plant instead which now lives in the bath so they remember to water it, he jokes.
Everyone was up early on Cat’s birthday and at breakfast time, Si stood hovering by the cutlery drawer where he had hidden the ring, making her wonder if he had gotten her a new knife, and was pleasantly surprised to be handed a ring instead, she remembers, laughing.
“I have farmer hands so I wanted something big!”
Is it what. A large diamond sparkler sits prominently between two smaller diamonds atop a platinum ring studded with brilliant diamonds.
A matching studded diamond and platinum wedding band curves gracefully around the engagement ring, all designed by Dalgleish Diamond Jewellers, who the couple found approachable and thoroughly enjoyed designing their set with.
With the original engagement party booked at Shining Peak Brewing for March 4 this year, the couple had to reluctantly let that plan go when they realised their numbers exceeded the venue capacity.
Crossing the road to Off Street – now called Go Street – for lunch, the pair found themselves discussing their dilemma with the staff there, who responded enthusiastically. Soon the couple were booking not an engagement party, but a wedding venue on the original party date of March 4.
Si’s mother Anne and her partner Vince Naus conveniently own the picturesque Riverlea Gardens which featured in the Taranaki Garden Festival this year, and which provided the perfect backdrop for a sunny ceremony and post-wedding nibbles and drinks.
Buses ferried guests from town to the garden and back to Go Street for the reception. Fortune continued to favour the couple with a last-minute gig cancellation for covers band Avalanche – their popularity normally sees them booked a year in advance.
The couple’s children Frankie, 14, Trixie, 12, Hettie, 6 and Benji, 6, had a great time dancing and joining in the band with their cousins. “They had a good energy, they were awesome with the kids,” Si says.
The couple’s laidback “if it’s meant to be” demeanour boded well for organising a lavish wedding on the hop. If they had felt stressed about coordinating an event in such a short timeframe, the couple didn’t feel it. Not until reality hit when they found themselves back on the farm just three days later.
“We were back in the thick of it. It was just the two of us after all that full-on organising,” Cat tells.
“I can see now why people have a honeymoon!”