5 Types of Wedding Reception Venues

  1. If you’re looking at a function where all the work is done for you, menus and service and dedicated wedding set-up, choose a reception venue where fabulous parties are their thing – somewhere like Dunbar House at Watsons Bay.Dunbar House
  2. All the work will be done for you if you choose a reception in a restaurant – you can devise your menu with the chef and co-ordinate with a wedding stylist for your décor – The Potager in the Mt Tomah Botanic Gardens, for example.Mount Tomah Restaurant
  3. If a rustic wedding is your thing you can pitch a huge tent, a marquee, in the of middle of a paddock or any panoramic space, hire a caterer and a stylist to create bounty and luxury – and a dance floor!Marquee Reception
  4. If you would like to cater for your guests but have too many to entertain in your home, consider hiring a community hall. It has professional facilities and you can create a theme and decorate it yourselves.Community Hall
  5. A very on-trend style is to hire a disused, barely converted industrial space for a huge wedding reception and decorate it in an equally industrial style. Outside caterers brought in to prepare food and waitstaff could serve drinks.Industrial Space

5 Great Harbourside Wedding Locations

When couples think of a Harbourside location for their wedding they often only consider Port Jackson (Bridge and Opera House) - but there are plenty of "suburban" spots with stunning harbour views.

Here are 5 I've conducted weddings at recently:

Harbourside Wedding Locations

1. Robertson Park at Watsons Bay

Robertson Park

2. Kelly's Bush at Woolwich

A Heritage listed waterfront park on an abandoned industrial site, this was the first triumph of "green bans" from 1971 to 1983 to be rescued from developers. It has views of the Harbour Bridge. Home of the Wallumedegal clan, aboriginal engravings remain in the area.

Kelly's Bush

3. Chowder Bay and Clifton Gardens

This stunning precinct has bay and sea views forever. There is a naval station nearby, and Ripples and the Sergeants Mess are beautiful reception venues.

Chowder Bay

4. Bradley's Head

Bradley's Head is a headland protruding from the north shore of Sydney Harbour National Park. Home of the Borgegal clan, an amphitheatre perfect for weddings was built here in 2000. The views are too good to be true and you can have your reception at Athol House.

Bradley's Head

5. The Q Station

The Q Station is sprawled across 30 hectares at North Head. Home of the Garangal people, it was used in white settlement from 1830 to 1984 as Australia's first Quarantine station. Heritage -listed, it has been transformed into a conference and event centre with sensational harbour views.

Q Station

Cosy-Up to a Wedding in Winter

Following the tradition of “Christmas” in July, it makes perfect sense to organise your wedding in the winter months in the mountains. The allure of settled weather, crisp mornings, noondays when the air is frosty but the sun is warm, the invitation of crackling open fires and warming winter feasts and wine … what’s not to love about the prospect of cosying up for a marriage ceremony in June, July or August?

Outdoors until around 3pm works beautifully for these weddings – even with the prospect of snow as the temperature dips somewhere like Mount Victoria! If you customise your ceremony to meet these conditions – timing, dress and paraphernalia, environment and food … the proceedings can be enhanced by the season. Choose your panorama – perfection!

And if you are forced indoors or choose to have your celebrations inside in the first place , you can’t go wrong in one of the hotels in the Escarpment Group (Echoes, Lilanfels, Parklands, The Hydro Majestic), The Fairmont, The Carrington, The Mountain Heritage or in any number of guesthouses which cater to the winter tourist market. After all, winter is what the mountains do well! Take advantage of it!

Autumn and Easter Weddings

After the heat of summer, March and April are glorious months to be married in the mountains. It is always a busy time of year for the wedding industry, coinciding as it does in Australia with Easter.

Yet to be married during Easter is a civil, not a religious wedding tradition. During Lent, weddings don’t happen in the Catholic and Anglican churches ( religious festivals being uppermost), nor in the Greek Orthodox Church.

If you want to be married in a civil ceremony though the climate is perfect – warm days, crisp clear evenings and the wondrous burnished colours of autumn. Easter delivers you a theme: reds, gold, copper, ochre, orange… and chocolate! You can gift your guests with Easter eggs upon arrival – they can even hunt for them while waiting for the bar to open after the ceremony. If cute animals are your thing, you can use bunnies or chicks as motifs in your décor. Easter / Autumn gives you are starting point, an inspiration!

Fairmont, Escarpment, Sebel

Driving up the mountains and through the Hawkesbury on my way to conduct a wedding at Allview Escape at Blackheath,  I stopped off to deliver some Christmas cheer to three of my most frequented ceremony venues.

I am grateful to have been working at these venues for over two decades now. Each has fine-tuned its service as a total wedding destination over the years, and it’s an honour to be a preferred celebrant to them.

First I stopped to see Maddie, function co-ordinator at the Fairmont resort – a mountains icon! It’s vast, a world unto itself in a sensational location. The lobby view carries you out and into the Jamison valley … yet you are inside amongst luxury appointments which change to welcome you for the season. Most weddings here though are held outside on the lakes, amongst fountains and gardens.

On to Lilianfels in Katoomba to catch up with Sam, the function co-ordinator for the Escarpment Group – with four divine properties under its banner. Each of them quite different from the others; it just depends on the tone and style you are envisaging. The Hydro Majestic was recently re-opened, in fact I conducted the first new ceremony there in front of the Boiler House restaurant. The view is of the Megalong Valley, stunning – but if you want to be married indoors, the opulence of a bygone era takes your breath away. Lilianfels itself is a 5-star hotel with the charm and personal attention of a guest house, while its boutique cousin, Echoes, just over the road, boasts fabulous views of the Jamison Valley. Inside, the décor upstairs is contemporary tones of black, the essence of sophistication!  Parklands Cottages in Blackheath is the other property, private, luxurious – a real escape from the city.

My third stop was to see Kai and Krista at the Sebel Resort and Spa at Windsor.

There are so many options for weddings on this property, which again is a total escape – accommodation, ceremony, reception, morning after party – all catered for here. There are two lakeside outdoor options at the Sebel, but what makes this location unique is its gorgeous non-denominational chapel, where a bride can truly walk down the aisle even if she is not being married in a church!

I love working at all these venues and personally recommend them all.

Scenic Wedding Venues: Mountains, Slopes and Plains

Three diverse wedding venues up the mountains are Solitary on Cliff Drive, Katoomba, Jemby Rinjah on the way to Evans Lookout at Blackheath and the Waldorf Resort in Leura.
Solitary is a restaurant perched on the bend of Cliff Drive heading up to Katoomba – it used to be “ Sophie’s Fork and View” in the legendary ’80s. The food is fantastique and weddings are held in the garden overlooking the valley. It always seems quiet and intimate here despite the road winding just beneath.
Then Jemby Rinjah – this is an ‘eco-resort’ right in the bush on Evans Lookout Road – it is very friendly and accommodating, rustic and natural… I’ve done weddings on the verandahs here, or at the look-out with the reception at the resort afterward.
The Waldorf is really just a huge motel complex in Leura but it has one of the most charming and suitable wedding gardens around – couples can be married “ Unter den Linden” – under the stunning lime tree in my photo.

Wedding Ceremony
The Waldorf Resort in Leura

Weddings in public parks are a nice option too – but you run the risk of a public spectacle depending on the day and time you choose – the Rhododendron Gardens at Blackheath have been popular for generations and stunning in late spring, while Buttenshaw Park at Springwood is a huge garden with natural, floral terraces making perfect wedding aisles.

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Rhododnedron Garden at Blackheath

If hiring a hall for your wedding (and bringing in your own catering) appeals you couldn’t do better than Castlereagh Hall on the road between Penrith and Windsor – there is a lovely wedding area behind the hall and the stretch of bucolic pastureland before the foothills is stunning and peaceful. Speaking of stretches of green, a wedding at the Hawkesbury Race Club is a lovely experience in the late afternoon – shadows across the track – and Nepean Shores is a riverside resort and residential complex with a wedding garden and facilities for a reception.

Mountain Wedding Venues: Charming, Intimate and Majestic

If you want to take your friends and family a world away in the upper mountains, take them up through Bell to Mt Victoria –The Victoria and Albert is a renowned venue preserved in a charming time-warp, Closeburn House is smaller and more intimate with beautiful gardens and The Manor House is quite majestic: it even snowed here one day while I was conducting a “Jane Austen”- themed ceremony! Mt Wilson also falls into this category. Here the air is crisp and the vegetation ferny and lush, a total contrast to the Aussie bush along the way – in these shadows it can be chilly all year round. Mt Wilson avoids the commercial, popular world and guesthouses with English gardens abound.

cathedral ferns mt wilson
The Cathedral of Ferns Mt Wilson

And of gardens, almost as far away is the Mt Tomah Botanic Garden. Of course this is a public space and you have to share it, but there are enough private corners available for weddings here – I've done many weddings at Mt Tomah, from the manicured garden at the top, to the “beach” half-way down, and to the gazebo right at the bottom, to which you are conveyed by groundsmen in a little bus.

mt tomah botanical gardens
Mount Tomah Botanical Gardens

Further down the mountain you will find Loxley on Bellbird Hill at Kurrajong – that’s a gorgeous property with views across the plains towards the city – it has accommodation, superb restaurant and designated wedding terrace – even an in-house violinist: it is the perfect one-stop wedding experience.

Blue Mountains Wedding: Natural Settings, Nepean River

If you don’t want to venture all the way up for a wedding in the Blue Mountains  but still want a natural setting, you need go no further than the banks of the Nepean – the Nepean Weir along from the rowing club is a very popular location – you would have to book it with Penrith Council, as you would any spot along the river, such as Tench Reserve on the other side of Victoria Bridge. Anywhere along the bank is lovely – but you can always leave it and tie the knot as you roll down the river on the Nepean Belle paddle steamer!

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Yester Grange Blue Mountains

However, it was becoming a regular at more of the fine properties in the upper Blue Mountains that made me feel I had made it as a celebrant in 2000 : Yester Grange at Wentworth Falls – a unique heritage-listed property with grounds and a view like no other – couples who married there were indeed privileged. In that family of properties is the Mountain Heritage, also with lovely views and a cosy, beautifully appointed ambience. The Carrington Hotel is an icon of Katoomba and has options for indoor and outdoor weddings – on a warm afternoon the front terrace is ideal; on a winter day the lounge with its lead-light windows makes a fine informal chapel. Another icon with a rich history of luxury and weekend escapades is the soon to re-open Hydro Majestic (as a matter of fact I am doing the first wedding after the re-opening!) – I did a lot of weddings there in the early days : in all its forms, the Hydro at Medlow Bath has always had a nostalgic, magnetic charm. Less nostalgic but also luxurious is the Fairmont Resort - over the years the options for weddings there have expanded to include garden, gazebo, lakeside and indoor contingencies. As a matter of fact there is a Bridal Expo at the Fairmont on October 12th this year – do come and have a look at it, meet me and its other recommended suppliers!

Stunning Wedding Locations: Blue Mountains and Beyond

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Govett's Leap at Blackheath

By the time I'd been working for 5 years as a celebrant with A Ceremony by Design Travelling to Locations in the lower and upper mountains were becoming regular haunts. Nonetheless, I found myself travelling to the city to do weddings in the Botanic Gardens or on the harbour or in big hotels; across the city to Bondi or to Lane Cove and Curzon Hall at Ryde - or the many spectacular options on the northern beaches. Back in the mountains I'd had the privilege to officiate in private homes – be they ever so humble under a suburban Hills Hoist, in charming cottages or in grand properties with opulent interiors and grounds.

I’d done dozens of weddings at lookouts in the mountains – some more remote than others – Tunnelview Lookout at Glenbrook, Govett’s Leap, Gordon Falls, Narrowneck, King’s Tableland… I quickly learned that high heels could easily be ruined in such locations! Being married at a lookout usually has a sentimental motive and is a romantic notion in the literal sense – I've seen many weddings become nerve-wracking from a guest’s point of view: grandparents negotiating endless rough stairs into the bush, children cavorting on sheer clifftops, high winds, inappropriately clad and shod attendees… Remote wedding locations are beautiful if they are chosen to commemorate a return to a sentimental, personal spot and as such are most moving when the wedding party is intimate – maybe just the couple and their witnesses – and moi, of course!

Perfect Blue Mountains Wedding: Evan's Lookout Story

You might like this little story if you are thinking of having a Blue Mountains Wedding. The weather this early summer has been unseasonably cold, yet for today it was perfect. Not in fact too cold, it contributed to the perfect stillness of the setting at Evan’s Lookout. Not a leaf moving, not a ray of sunlight to impose on the majesty of the cliffs and the bush. Just a collective awareness of nature and man, a reverence, quiet and pervasive. Around 50 guests of all ages assembled at the lookout, silently, silently grouped, catching glimpses as the bride and her mother, not a young mother, carefully wound their way down the stairs toward me and the groom. No grandiose music or the pomp of a bridal party – just the sweetness of John Lennon’s “ Oh My Love” on a single guitar.

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View of the Grose Valley from Evans Lookout

We started by acknowledging the traditional owners – how could you not? This was a borrowed space so completely ours for the time, and so appropriately invoked in the introduction: “… Pulpit Rock where Loretta and Dan go with their Irish friends to explore the glorious depths of the Grose Valley; the Blue Gum, sitting at the fulcrum of three valleys, as close as we get to a sacred site…; Mt Hay, where they went for their first walk… the beginning of many journeys along the beautiful trails of our beloved mountains…”.

Many weddings take place in magnificent settings, which remain a backdrop. But the setting was essence to this wedding, and fittingly articulated in the ceremony. The reading of Denis Kevin’s poem captured the spirit and silent mystery of the bush and the timeless indestructibleness of true love. About life, and joy and heartache, it was perfect.

Other weddings will have music to fill the space when the signing of the documents is taking place - after the vows, after the marriage, in fact. People will chat and celebrate through it. However at this wedding, the guitarist sang before the vows were taken, his song “Hallelujah”, an integral part of the ceremony. More than this - guests were caught up in the event: I recognized the disintegration on the face of a stranger and knew her bereavement; as if the song were not moving enough, someone joined in to the chorus, starting a reaction of spontaneous choral singing I have never before experienced at a wedding.

No church or cathedral could have brought such an atmosphere of awe and connectedness. The hearts of the couple would have been full to bursting. All of this, for them.

When I told my mother about this she said “And did you sing up too, darling?” I said, “No Mum – I have to stay composed, but inside I was singing. People need you to keep it together as the celebrant, you can’t clap your hands with joy or burst into tears, but you can still feel it.”

Home-Like Wedding: Guesthouses and B and Bs in Mountains

If you'd like to be married at home but can't bear the idea of getting the place – house and garden - ready for guests, the catering and the cleaning up – you might consider having your wedding in a place like home such as a guesthouse or a “Bed and Breakfast”.. I've done some really lovely, personal and relaxed weddings in properties like this. The mountains are scattered with them. Depending how tourism describes them these properties invite you to make yourself at home with every luxury appointment at your fingertips.

Sometimes the owners are in residence and hang around in the background, but often couples I have married have hired a country cottage, complete with fireplace in autumn or newly-blooming garden in spring, and move in for the weekend. Some of these weddings have been very small and intimate – just the couple and their witnesses, and they have self-catered and settled in for a weekend getaway. In places with a number of bedrooms, couples have organized a big weekend party for family and friends, brought in caterers and even a band.

In any case, they had the run of the venue with kitchen, lounge areas, bathrooms, outdoor terraces … every comfort of home but with no preparation or cleaning up! Just the joy of breezing in as two people and out as a married couple with all their favourite people in attendance. Places such as Avonleigh, The Glenella, The Little Company Retreat, The Hideaway, Kubba Roonga, Balquhain, The Chalet are all guesthouses I conducted weddings in when I first started – and they are still going strong. Recently I've been impressed by the grace and charm of Silvermere at Wentworth Falls and the remoteness and breathtaking views of Allview Escape at Blackheath – both quite different from each other, depending on the number and taste of your guests.

Grose Valley as seen from Blackheath

Timeless Wedding Elegance in the Blue Mountains

From time to time over the years I've been fortunate enough to do a handful of weddings in the RAAF base at Glenbrook – usually the general public can’t get a look-in there – the views down to the city are stunning and the officers’ mess is steeped in timeless elegance and tradition. But you have to work in Defense to use the facilities: yes, I am talking men (and women) in uniform. Actually I've conducted a lot of weddings of men in uniform – one a Canadian Mountie – his wife-to-be asked me if I'd mind him wearing the full regalia! Really? Did I mind ???

everglades gardens
Everglades Gardens, Leura, Blue Mountains

Anyway then I moved up the Blue Mountains to venues in Leura – places like Leuralla with its stone amphitheatre on the edge of the valley and the Everglades Gardens so beautifully crafted around the historic Sorensen home… such an elegant venue with a choice of manicured lawn and garden areas. These places are really a world away, and so private for a wedding.

I've been conducting weddings steadily at Lilianfels in Katoomba for 20 years: it is an amazing luxury property with the feel of a guest house, so personal is the attention of the staff – especially if you are celebrating your wedding there! The usual venue is the Oak Garden – a triangular shaped hedged English garden – again so private and stylish.

Lillianfels Hotel, Katoomba, Blue Mountains

And then if you cross the road there is Echoes – a boutique hotel with a stunning valley view… I've conducted many weddings there too, where couples can book out the whole property with their accommodation and settle back to be wined and dined in its fabulous restaurant! So many options… but if you really want your own space, next time I can talk about private guest houses…

Freedom of Choice: Creative Civil Ceremonies in Australia

Norman Lindsay House
Norman Lindsay Gallery, Faulconbridge, Australia

One of the main things a civil ceremony had going for it in the 70s was the idea of choice – the couple’s choice as opposed to the church’s decision. Choice of location being the thing that allowed for the first time so much freedom for creativity and design. A Commonwealth authorized celebrant can marry a couple anywhere within Australia or its territorial waters. So unfortunately you couldn't fly me to Bali to do your ceremony!

Nowadays I do a lot of weddings in the Blue Mountains, the Hawkesbury and the Northern Beaches, but looking over my register from 20 years ago, I conducted my
first ceremonies in private homes and gardens on the Western Plain – Nurragingy Reserve at Doonside is still an extraordinarily busy spot to be married, with a reception centre and various gazebos and garden areas from which to choose to celebrate your nuptials. Settlers at Mulgoa and Mamre Homestead at St Marys also provide unique, intimate wedding venues, and it is good to still be visiting them after all these years. Another favourite was the Log Cabin until it burned to the ground a few years ago! Weddings on the Nepean Belle, at the Weir, at Lewers Gallery – all showed and continue to show off the backdrop of the river as perfect for weddings: the river often more reliable than the mountains.

Galleries are ideal for smaller weddings – I started to do ceremonies at Norman Lindsay’s Gallery at Faulconbridge – I was told that we even were doing the signing on Norman’s own little escritoire and that we should be careful not to scratch it!
In my next post I’ll take you further up the mountains and talk about the many stunning options up there for your wedding…