This post is part of The Art of Living series from Bacon and the Art of Living. Chapter 99, where this is posted, is an addendum to the book. In the “Art of Living section, I write about family and the many great experiences we had as part of “the art of living.” Most of these experiences make it into the main body of the work.
Our Amazing Wedding on Manuka Beach, Cheviot, New Zealand
I wondered if it was right that we do it alone. Our engagement was well organised with many friends and family present. If we get married in NZ, I knew it would be a different story but like our best adventures, it would just happen naturally and, in a way, we would be spectators as life puts on a grand show! This is actually what happened and in the end, it was amazing!!
We planned to travel to New Zealand where I would spend time with a pork producer to get inspiration for my future and we would have a short holiday. A week before we left, I got the mad thought – why not get married there! Planning had to be quick! Luani, Minette’s sister liked the plan and gave me a dress and a ring to use. I picked the dress up the day before our flight. I did the application to the government online, two days before our flight out. In between the quick arrangements, I found time to call her parents and her brother and told them about the plan.
In NZ, to select a marriage officer, one must also choose a location and all these have to be done well ahead of time. I was completely out of time! I was looking for a place outside Christchurch, somewhere remote. Christchurch is to city-ish for our liking. My first choice was Te Anau in the south, but I knew we would not have time to drive there. I did not like the look of the places south of the city. I wrongfully thought an old buddy of mine, Brendon and his family lives up in the Cheviot area and remember him telling me its the middle of nowhere. It turned out that I was wrong in thinking that he lives there, but right that it was the middle of nowhere and a beautiful and unspoiled location (in retrospect, I realise he was not even talking about Cheviot!) It is an amazingly wild area and the best thing about it is that it has a marriage officer, Ange!
I contacted Ange and the scene was set for the most remarkable set of events where time and time again we would be blown away by how life brings us in contact with just the right people, at just the right time, in the most amazing (and unlikely) place, creating an amazing tapestry of a mind-blowing wedding, better than we could or would have planned if we spent months on it!
THE PLANE DESCENDS
Up till this point, Minette knew nothing about the plans. Ange strongly suggested that I tell Minette sooner rather than later. As the plane came in for landing I told Minette, “How about us getting married next weekend? In Cheviot? On the beach?” In a clear sign that we belong together, she was immediately insanely excited!
Ange turned out to be 100% the right person for our union! She is in touch with what really matters in life, mature, outgoing and a keen outdoors, mountain person! A true inspiration in her own right, she has sumited Mr Cook, the highest mountain in New Zealand that stands at a height of 3,724 metres. This peak is on Minette and my wish list which means we know exactly what skill it requires. She has done the Kepler hike which Minette and I did two years ago in two days! We love the same things; emotionally and spiritually we connect; she was perfect!
SCRAMBLE IN CHRISTCHURCH
Not much hiking was done in the week leading up to the big day. I was at the bacon company while Minette did dress shopping. Her dress-lady of choice was herself as inspirational as any of the amazing people who guided us through this adventure.
Part of the ceremony required rings. No sooner did we start shopping for it when we realised that even a basic ring in NZ is the cost of a small Mediterranean Island! We opted for token rings with a promise to re-visit this back in Cape Town with Free Range Jewels! After fruitless attempts to even find basic rings, the universe destined us to meet up with the most inspirational lady, daughter to a truly remarkable entrepreneur. Both him and his daughter exemplify triumphing against all odds. We spent a long time swapping stories and the matter of rings was concluded. Not only rings but rings with deep meaning in how we got it and from whom.
Concluding the legal requirements was another story. We had to do it all in a certain way to make our wishes binding under SA and NZ law. This proved to be much more difficult than I envisaged and it all came to a great end with an elderly Oscar, a veteran senior advocate, and one of the only notary’s public we could locate on the Friday afternoon to sign our marriage contract before we set out for Cheviot. Our wedding was on the Saturday morning. Oscar, a grandfather figure, gave us sound advice, looked out for Minette’s interests in a final wording change in the contract and sent us on our way. The next morning we would get married!
THE TREE HOUSE LODGE
We did a last minute booking in Cheviot at the Tree House Lodge of Sanna and Ellis. Unlike any other place, we have ever stayed, our home for the next few days was a small and very cozy room with a private bathroom, showers and a bed, suspended close to the ceiling with a ladder to climb up and down. Our own hobbits cove with a very friendly dog, a cat with a slight attitude and receiving a scrumptious breakfast every morning in a small basket, waiting for us outside our door with Gore Bay Kanuka Honey, homemade peanut butter, freshly baked bread and cereal from the amazing hosts on earth!
A friendship formed between us and Sanna and Ellis. We were scheduled to go on a hike after the wedding ceremony, but bad weather set in and they messaged us to say that they prepared the room for us again and we are welcome to spend the next two nights with them if we decide against the hike. That arrangement suited us brilliantly and Sally Handyside, our host for the hike graciously agreed to refund us our booking money! She will definitely see us on a future trip!
Over the next few days, we spend hours visiting, listening to Ellis and Sanna’s adventures and sharing ours. They are a famous couple but I don’t want to mention who they are. The thing that bonded us was not the National Geographic persona of Ellis, but their love for nature and the outdoor, their indomitable spirits and their belief that if one is going to do something, it should be done excellently. I told Ellis that builds his house and creates his documentaries in exactly the way I believe food should be produced. Naturally and with care and excellence! This couple set the right tone for Minette and my life together and perfect inspiration for our new venture!
THE BIG DAY
The rainy weather was setting in fast. Skies were dark and the wind picked up. Temperatures dropped. Around 9:00 on Saturday morning, the 28th, the bubbly Nike Newton showed up at the hobbits cove to do Minette’s hair. The brief I gave her telephonically on what to do was completely inadequate, but between Minette, Sanna, and Nike, they managed and Minette was looking beautiful! I got dressed in the pants I bought for our engagement and never got to wear on account of getting back from the mountain too late, I white shirt that we bought that week in Christchurch and off we went to Gore Bay Beach. Ange text me to say that the next beach is even more remote than Gore bay and we should meet at Manuka Bay beach.
We did not immediately find the beach, but an old man directed us further down and opened the gate. The storm was about to hit with full force. The skies were even darker. He jokingly asked if we are going diving and we shouted back in the wind, “We are getting married today!” “I will be your best man,” he replied. “I have a suite in the camper.”
The scene was one from a movie. In the cold, we took off our shoes and walked across the black pebbles to the small party of 4 awaiting us on the beach. Minette’s blue dress was beautiful against the dark background if the black beach, the skies, and the waves. I looked at her and thought how amazingly beautiful she is! There was not a single person on the beach beside us. It was perfect!
What follows is the actual content of the ceremony which I wrote with major input from Ange over the previous few days; between flights; during flights; in an airport lounge in Dubai; in between rushing. Finally, the moment arrived. Ange had to raise her voice to be heard over the waves and the wind.
She started by welcoming us in the native tongue.
“E tu ake ana ahau ke te tautoko I nga mihi ki te Kaihanga.
E mihi ana ki nga maunga, nga moana, nga roto, nga awa me nga wahi tapu o tenei rohe.
Tenei te mihi ki a tatou katoa e hui tahi nei. Tena koutou, tena koutu, tena koutou katoa.”
“I stand to support the greetings to our creator. I also greet/acknowledge the mountains, sea, lakes, rivers and sacred areas of this district.
I greet all of us gathered here together. I greet you. I greet you all.”
Kia ora, and Haere mai. Welcome. Today, on this beach, you are to be married.
“Minette and Eben, your true church is the mountains and valleys, the rivers and the deepest forests. These are the cathedrals where you worship. Every stone and insect, the content of the sermons you hear; every sunrise you witness from a mountaintop, the opening prayer. Each glorious sunset, the closing hymn.”
“Here, in nature, you hear a subtler music and see wider visions and are inspired by a loftier spirit. The tempest and the calm day alike is the inspiration and voice of the living god who empowers and revives you. Inspires you to live more fully. Love more completely. Lust with even greater fire! Embracing each, to breathe this great air together.”
“Your union happened without any ceremony or by human will. The powers that unite you are the same powers that we see and hear and feel around us here this morning. It is therefore fitting that nature should witness your formal union today. Not in a city or a man-made shelter, but in the bleak and cold autumn coastline of New Zealand. As Browning put it: “Here, here’s their place; Where meteors shoot; Clouds form; Lightnings are loosened; Stars come and go.””
She gave each of us the opportunity to re-tell the story of how we met and fell in love. “Where is it that you first noticed him and her”, “When was it that you started to fall in love?” “What makes you soul mates?”
“Minette Bylsma, do you choose Eben van Tonder as your husband, and promise to do everything in your power to create a loving and lasting marriage?”
“Eben van Tonder, do you choose Minette Bylsma, as your wife, and promise to do everything in your power to create a loving and lasting marriage?”
“As chosen life partners, do you both promise to support and enhance each other’s unique identity through love and nurture, and allow each other individual freedom within this marriage?”
“Who is carrying the wedding rings?”
“These wedding rings serve as a symbol of the vows you have just taken. As circles, they are the symbol of the sun, the earth and the universe, and of whole and perfect unity. They are an outward and visible sign of the inward and invisible love which binds your hearts together. In your marriage, may you enjoy the wholeness of life, spirit, and purpose. “
“As you place these rings on each other’s fingers, repeat these words”
“Eben, please repeat after me:
“I give you this ring as a symbol of my love and trust, and the promise that we have made today. “
“Minette, please repeat after me:
“I give you this ring as a symbol of my love and trust, and the promise that we have made today.”
“This morning, many mountains and valleys from around the earth bare testimony of your love. I now call them as my witness with the spirit of your parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents, your brothers, and sisters, the children you love, and your dearest friends. These are witnesses of your eternal union and hear me when I now declare you husband and wife.”
“In the presence of all these many witnesses, Eben and Minette, please seal your union with a kiss.”
“Here are two cloaks. Wrap each other in these as the outward manifestation of your love always folded around the other. Feel the love, the warmth, the security, and strength. Wear these as we sign the official marriage papers.”
They sang a beautiful traditional love song. Angel voices in harmony with the waves and the wind! In my arms, my beautiful bride!
“Minette and Eben, you have declared your love for each other and exchanged your vows. Now you shall say to the world, this – is my husband, this – is my wife.”
“May the love that has brought you together, continue to grow and enrich your lives. May it give you courage, wisdom, and peace in your future together.”
It was magical! Words fail! Life became complete in that moment!
Anna took photos. It is a week after our wedding and we have not received it yet. I was getting impatient. Ange messaged me that Anna’s mom had a stroke a month ago and is without speech and cannot walk and she scheduled to do our photos this coming week, I was feeling silly. She can take another month for all we care. Only does it when your mom is taken care off and you have time. Immediately we thought, what are photos compared to this? If there is anything we take back from our wedding, strangely enough, this time around, it is not only the amazing nature of New Zealand but the incredible people.
As if nature and life itself taught us that we are gifts to each. Minette and I to each other, but broader to people around us.
The ceremony all done, we settled in for the wedding feast. The setting was not a grand banquette hall, but the grass and flowers next to the beach. Our chairs were wooden stumps and the blankets spread out over the grass. Here we shared stories and got to know our amazing witnesses and new found friends. As we walked back to our cars, it started raining. Everything was perfect!
The New Zealand adventure was a celebration of nature and the best of humanity. Every single person we met along the journey was exceptional. The lady in our favourite Cheviot coffee shop who herself got engaged on Table Mountain many years ago. The supermarket cashier who offered us her car to drive to the next town when she told us there are no cash machines in Cheviot and the supermarket cannot give us cash from credit cards. She offered for us to stay with her and her young son until we are able to make other plans. Of course, this was not necessary. We had a car and a very cozy hobbits cove to stay, but the fact that she offered! What a way to get married and to continue our life together! Every person we met touched our lives!
When we were alone, after the wedding, when Ange, Anna, and our witnesses were gone, Minette gave me two poems. One is Nuptials by John Agard. The first two stanzas stand out.
“River, be their teacher, that together they may turn their future highs and lows into one hopeful flow
Two opposite shores feeding from a single source. Mountain, be their milestone, that hand in hand they rise above familiarity’s worn tracks into horizons of their own Two separate footpaths dreaming of a common peak.”
I re-read the last two lines again. “Two separate footpaths, dreaming of a common peak!” Such a perfect description of our separate lives, united by shared love!
The other is Us Two by AA Milne
“Wherever I am, there’s always Pooh, There’s always Pooh and Me. Whatever I do, he wants to do, “Where are you going today?” says Pooh: “Well, that’s very odd ‘cos I was too. Let’s go together,” says Pooh, says he. “Let’s go together,” says Pooh.
“What’s twice eleven?” I said to Pooh. (“Twice what?” said Pooh to Me.) “I think it ought to be twenty-two.” “Just what I think myself,” said Pooh. “It wasn’t an easy sum to do, But that’s what it is,” said Pooh, said he. “That’s what it is,” said Pooh.
“Let’s look for dragons,” I said to Pooh. “Yes, let’s,” said Pooh to Me. We crossed the river and found a few- “Yes, those are dragons all right,” said Pooh. “As soon as I saw their beaks I knew. That’s what they are,” said Pooh, said he. “That’s what they are,” said Pooh.
“Let’s frighten the dragons,” I said to Pooh. “That’s right,” said Pooh to Me. “I’m not afraid,” I said to Pooh, And I held his paw and I shouted “Shoo! Silly old dragons!”- and off they flew.
“I wasn’t afraid,” said Pooh, said he, “I’m never afraid with you.”
So wherever I am, there’s always Pooh, There’s always Pooh and Me. “What would I do?” I said to Pooh, “If it wasn’t for you,” and Pooh said: “True, It isn’t much fun for One, but Two, Can stick together, says Pooh, says he. “That’s how it is,” says Pooh.
I cannot imagine life without Minette! We started separately and had many issues to work through. Over the years, what kept us together has always been stronger than what pushed us apart. Five years later, I can say, “So wherever I am, there’s always Pooh, There’s always Pooh and Me. She is my greatest adventure, my highest passion, my most intimate moments.”
Sincere thanks to the special people who are part of our lives and whom we met on this remarkable trip; who made our wedding beyond description; and unforgettable! To the Creator who arranged things better than we could have planned and given us a send off like no other. To our friends and family, especially the kids and Minette’s parents, her sister, and brother, who encouraged us, thank you for allowing us to do this far away and for all the love and messages. I will post every message we received from friends and family at the bottom over the next few days. We love you guys and will treasure your words forever!
Finally to my lovely wife, friend, lover, and partner, “Wow! You blow me away! I’m madly in love with you! The fact that you were game for this tells a story in itself! This was not for other people. This was for us! It was perfect!”
Good Wishes from friends
Adriaan and the Woody’s staff did this one! Thank you, guys! This means SO much! Hanro Rossouw, Charl Le Roux, Valery Cloete, Debbie. Meneer Adriaan Oberholzer – wow! Baie dankie!
My friends Oscar and Trudie Oscar En Trudie Klynveld and Trudie sent us this beautiful message.
Willem Klynveld, sent us this beautiful message.
The video from our friends in Nepal, Ayush Rajbhandari and Silika Shakya Rajbhandari did not want to play, but we really appreciate the message! We were thinking of you guys!
Another friend of ours, Dawie Hyman sent us a mad message which for some reason I can’t download but will keep trying and post it here.
Elmar and Juanita sent us a beautiful voice message which I will also try and combine into one message and post here.
There are the many friends who sent us messages through other media. Kokkie Kok, Oom Jan, ek sal Oom s’n soek en ook hier post. Baie dankie. Oom se woorde het soveel beteken!
Last, but not least, my old friend and colleague, Ehrhardt Meyer.
From Tristan and Lauren:
Congratulations Eben van Tonder and Minette Bylsma on getting married yesterday!! I’m so happy for you two and it’s about bloody time !
You two have been through so much and it’s truly amazing to see how close you two have gotten over the years . I know you make each other super happy and Im glad I could be around to see it ❤️ welcome officially to the family Minette ( even though you’ve been apart of it for so long 😏) , really glad you’re in Lauren van Tonder and mines life❤️
I hope you two are having an amazing time in New Zealand , but hurry it up back so we can celebrate! Love both of you big time 🔥