With clear blue sky, crystal waters and stunning stretches of beach, Rarotonga is the picture-perfect spot for a white wedding. And as Zac Franich and Viarni Bright stare adoringly into each other’s eyes on their romantic island break – her in an ethereal ivory gown and him in a smart sleeveless shirt – the Bachelor New Zealand lovebirds could certainly be mistaken for a couple of newlyweds.
Viarni is even sporting a sparkler on her ring finger! “The secret’s out – we’ve eloped!” teases the 23-year-old, who admits she absent-mindedly slipped the piece of jewellery on her wedding finger.
“When you know, you just know, so we thought, ‘Why the hell not? Let’s combine the wedding and the honeymoon in one!’”
As if it wasn’t clear she was joking, Viarni dissolves into giggles. The smitten pair – who fell head over heels on the third season of the Three reality series – aren’t quite ready for marriage. But they are on the verge of another very exciting commitment.
“We’ve talked about love, but we’ve not said the word quite yet,” Viarni smiles bashfully. “We don’t want to say it just for the sake of it and we’re really happy with what we’ve got going on. Put it this way – I like Zac very, very, very, very, very much!”
It’s been six months since surf-lifesaving coach Zac and his flame-haired sweetheart made things official. And while you won’t always find the contented couple flaunting their blossoming romance on social media, they couldn’t be happier, telling Woman’s Day they’re still very much together.
“V and I love what we have,” beams 28-year-old Zac. “We’ve really found our rhythm as a couple. We are always laughing and smiling when we’re together, but at the same time, we don’t need to be in each other’s pockets to know that we care very deeply for each other.”
The adventurous, young adrenaline junkies have bonded over snowboarding trips and quad biking, and share a love of indie music and alternative rock. Both foodies, they also enjoy any occasion where they get to sample something new and delicious.
“But we could sit on the couch and do nothing, and we’d find a way to make it fun,” tells Viarni. “On The Bachelor, it’s these sorts of intimate moments we craved. Lately, we’ve had to make a concerted effort to actually get out of bed on a Sunday because all we want to do is lie around and cuddle.
“That’s why our time in Rarotonga – our first international trip together – was so special. It made us stop and really appreciate everything we enjoy about each other.”
Zac’s habit of leaving wet towels on the floor is the only complaint from Viarni these days, but the couple are candid about the challenges they faced when they first got together.
Viarni admits, “When I think back to the day the show ended, and Zac and I were doing our very first interviews as a couple, I was happy and excited, but there was still an element of the unknown. We found the first month quite overwhelming.”
Zac nods, “There was this expectation of what you think your relationship should look like and what people think it should look like. There were always going to be comparisons to the outcomes of previous seasons, but we are Zac and V, and it took us a while to figure out what worked for us.
“It was a little weird to start with, but I know me and V are committed to each other and in this for the long haul. That’s a pretty powerful foundation
to work from.”
While their idyllic getaway to the Cook Islands – where they sipped on cocktails, swam with turtles and paddle boarded under the stars – might look and sound absolutely perfect, they insist their lives are far from glamorous.
“We’ll always be thankful to the show for bringing us together, but gone are the days where my hair was perfectly curled and I had a face full of make-up,” smiles Viarni.
“Now I’ll wake up looking completely cooked in my trackies and Zac doesn’t bat an eyelid. You know you are truly comfortable with your boyfriend when you can fart in front of him!”
Clearly not put off, Zac – who’s sporting some new facial hair that Viarni reckons is “hot as” – still goes the extra mile to make his girl smile, leaving notes around the house for his girlfriend and regularly surprising her with her favourite flowers, proteas and sunflowers, just because.
“I always want V to know she’s special to me,” he tells.
“I always want her to feel loved and valued, and to know there is no other girl for me.”
His romantic declarations leave Viarni with little doubt she is dating the sweetest, most supportive man on the planet. This was reinforced when the former model’s battle with Crohn’s disease – a chronic inflammatory disease of the bowel – took a turn for the worse in August.
“The day after I posted about celebrating two years of no hospital admissions, I got my MRI results back, which showed the Crohn’s was active again, explaining the return of my symptoms,” tells Viarni, who takes a daily steroid and immune suppressant, and has fortnightly injections of a biolage drug derived from living cells to avoid further operations.
Side effects include headaches, nausea, lack of energy and occasional insomnia – but Zac has been there every step of the way.
“I guess I always have a fear that someone I enter a relationship with won’t understand or support me as much as I need them to, but Zac does – in all aspects of life – and with my health struggles especially,” says Viarni.
“Crohn’s symptoms can be so on and off – one minute we have a dinner with friends planned, then I go downhill so we have to reschedule. But Zac is so chill about it all and always looks after me. When I feel crook, he’ll do anything to make me feel better.”
Grinning, Viarni adds, “And it goes both ways. I’m there for him no matter what. We are always there for each other.”