It was the wedding Kiwi bride Aveael Webb had dreamed of – marrying the man she loves on a romantic Fijian beach. But it took more than 10,000 fellow Kiwis to get Aveael and her partner of two years, Murray Armstrong, there.
The Auckland couple triumphed over nine other brides and grooms in a contest to win a dream wedding and honeymoon package on Turtle Island. They’d uploaded a video to the Turtle Island website which reenacted Murray’s gorgeous horseback proposal.
Thanks to Kiwis voting for the couple’s video, Aveael and Murray’s dream came true and they could marry on Turtle Island on Valentine’s Day.
“New Zealand won us our wedding,” Aveael (37) says. “And we don’t know where to begin saying thank you, we are extremely grateful.”
The couple met by chance in The Wolf and Beaver pub in Waiuku almost two years ago after Aveael locked her keys in the car. Then a year later Murray, an electrician, proposed to lawyer Aveael on horseback on a South Auckland beach.
Ever since Aveael can remember, she’s dreamed of tying the knot on Turtle Island, but never thought it would be possible.
“I watched The Blue Lagoon when I was younger and the idea was firmly placed in my subconscious. I’ve always thought, ‘It’s the perfect fantasy’ but I never thought it would happen. It wasn’t a financially feasible option!”
So when the big day arrives, there are tears from both Aveael and Murray (38) as they realise their wish is about to come true.
“I’m pretty nervous,” Murray says as he looks out across the water from his bure where groomsmen Alan Dawson and Hayden Setchfield, and parents Paul and Sandra Armstrong have gathered.
Murray’s promised Aveael he won’t drink before the ceremony – “I want us to say our vows without alcohol, I want them to be pure,” she’s told him – so he’s sticking to fizzy drink and water, although he looks as if he could use a beer as he paces and re-reads his vows.
“I won’t drink too then,” laughs Hayden. “Brothers in arms, and all that.”
Over at the resort’s spa, Aveael and her bridesmaids Kerra Ingles and Anna Reed are having their hair and make-up applied, though the 35ºC heat is making them worry about its sticking power.
“We’ll melt!” says Kerre laughing. “Ah well. It’s a beach wedding!”
After an hour’s delay – “Fiji time,” the smiling resort staff explain – the couple is ready to make the five-minute journey to the other side of the island to Long Beach, where much of The Blue Lagoon was filmed.
However, as Murray and his groomsmen swelter under the intense sun in their black pants and now see-through white shirts, the tide is creeping closer to the elaborate altar that’s been set up and it is threatening to wash away the ceremony venue.
So Aveael, who is due to meet Murray at the altar on horseback, decides to gallop the 500m to the beach, sky-high heels and all.
“Thank God I know how to ride,” Aveael laughs as she slows the horse to a walk and falls in behind her bridesmaids, who make the trip in a golf cart.
As the resort’s choir starts singing traditional songs, Kerre and Anna emerge from the trees and make their way down the beach, closely followed by beautiful bride Aveael.
As Murray sees her, tears start to flow and he quickly tries to brush them away.
“I was holding back a few of them!” he says. “She just looked so beautiful.”
Aveael is lifted off the horse by two Fijian warriors and set down next to her husband-to-be. After a few brief instructions from minister Reverend Timoci Nakama, the couple is led to the altar and the ceremony begins.
The Reverend reminds them marriage is a sacred and eternal bond. Murray and Aveael then recite the vows they’ve written without the other seeing – and as they read them out, it’s clear they’re remarkably similar.
“Aveael, from the moment I first saw your smile, I knew you were the one with whom I wanted to share the rest of my life,” Murray says, tears now flowing freely down his face.
“Call it luck, fate or destiny, the way we met that night, it was meant to be. Happiness for me is lying down next to you at night and knowing that next to me is every dream I ever had.”
“Murray, the moment I saw you, I knew there was something amazing about you,” says the bride. “I cherish, adore, respect and trust you. Because of your love, I now feel for the first time in my life safe, content and secure, and also confident and independent. From this day forward, I belong to you.”
After they exchange rings, Reverend Timoci pronounces them husband and wife and they share a passionate kiss.
After they make their way down the shell-strewn aisle to a Fijian version of Pokarekare Ana, Mr and Mrs Armstrong celebrate in the most Fijian way – with a kava ceremony.
But as they sit on the kava mat with their family and friends, Aveael and Murray’s thoughts turn back to all the people in New Zealand who have helped them get here.
Their engagement video had almost 3000 votes more than any other and the couple will forever be grateful to those who rallied behind them.
“We’re really humbled,” Murray says. “We can’t believe so many people helped us win. Thank you.”
“This was the most amazing day,” Aveael adds. “It was everything we imagined and more. I can’t believe it. Not only did I get Murray, I got my dream too.”
About Kelly Bertrand
“I started at the Weekly after a two-week internship in 2011, which was part of my journalism studies. Basically, I hung around and annoyed people long enough to land a job as a staff writer, and I’ve been here ever since. I’m lucky enough to get to write stories ranging from the Kardashians through to the Queen, but my real passion is telling the stories of New Zealand’s sporting stars. Sometimes I can’t quite believe it’s my job to hang out with All Blacks and Silver Ferns! I absolutely love working at the Weekly, and feel really privileged to be part of this 83-year-old Kiwi institution. I’m also fond of Instagram, coffee and animals dressed as humans!”more of this author