This Kāpiti couple planned their wedding in 48 hours!

When Cyclone Gabrielle ruined her dream day in the Hawke’s Bay, mum-of-one Jenna Ambler-Johnston
organised a ceremony at home in breakneck speed

By Cloe Willetts
Jenna Ambler-Johnston is used to diving into damage control as a wedding and event planner, but the mum-of-one never expected she'd be scrambling to save her own big day in 48 hours because of a deadly cyclone!
The Paekākāriki local and her now-hubby Alex were set to tie the knot in Te Awanga, Hawke's Bay, on 17 February, just three days after devastating Cyclone Gabrielle hit.
Despite most of her suppliers pulling the pin due to flooding, damage, loss of power and road closures, the 31-year-old didn't give up. Instead, she moved her wedding to the couple's backyard on the Kāpiti Coast and rallied to find new suppliers at the last minute.
"I fell in love with Hawke's Bay when I was at university, and used to visit my brother and stepsister who lived there," says Jenna, who met her construction foreman hubby, 30, at a party in London. "It's made for events with lots of wineries and beautiful venues. When Alex proposed in Queenstown while I was pregnant in late 2021, Hawke's Bay was the first place we thought of for the wedding."
Everything was running to plan for Jenna last month, before Cyclone Gabrielle hit on 14 February and a national state of emergency was declared a day later. She hadthe Champagne ready and waiting from a winery in Hawke's Bay, and a food truck that made tacos from local ingredients organised. She'd paid thousands to her wedding venue, which the couple later lost, and had prepared a thorough run sheet for the day.
Alex was blown away by how Jenna managed to salvage their big day.
Jenna, who is mum to eight-month-old Archie, also had her dream 1940s-inspired dress, sourced by her sister-in-law, Auckland stylist Tori Ambler, from The OWN Studio in the UK, which was made from scratch and sent to New Zealand.
The first time Jenna heard anything about a possible cyclone was the week before her wedding, when she received a message from a friend who regularly checks the weather forecast for surfing. But she was told it would likely bypass Hawke's Bay.
"I thought, 'No worries', and pushed it to the back of my mind," recalls Jenna, who worked in events in Byron Bay, Australia, before returning to Aotearoa. "When we saw stories on the news about the rain, we thought it'd surely fizzle out, but it kept getting worse and worse.
"One of my bridesmaids was in Napier when the cyclone struck and she had to drive out to get phone service. She said there was no power or hot water and that all the bridges had been washed away. I started to think it was actually quite dangerous and the wedding might not happen."
As family and friends' accommodation started being cancelled, and suppliers dropped off one by one, Jenna accepted the heartbreaking reality that she wouldn't be marrying in one of her favourite destinations.
"On the Wednesday, I made the final call to move the wedding," says Jenna, whose Paekākāriki ceremony took place on Saturday 18 February.
Son Archie had a starring role!
"I gave the suppliers the opportunity to get out to the Kāpiti Coast if they could do so safely and we managed to keep two, but the rest couldn't."
Jenna lost her photographer, makeup artist, hair stylist, furniture hire, marquee, beer order, portaloos, lighting and sound, generators, and transport.
Although she was stressed, she had plan B up her sleeve, not wanting to push the wedding out another year since family and friends had spent thousands flying over from the UK and Australia.
"I love being organised and I get in this mode where if I can't do something, I tell myself I'm going to find another way," she says. "In this case, there wasn't an option not to have the wedding! We had to make it happen."
Jenna told her family she needed three hours to herself, then went straight to her computer and into damage control. She sent emails to local suppliers, explaining her situation, hoping they could help under such short notice.
"Alex was great and got everyone out of my hair," tells Jenna, who was able to keep her Palmerston North-based catering company Crafted & Co, who cooked the food in her home kitchen. "Even if people couldn't do it, they'd give me details of someone who could. I've never had that experience in my life where everyone I talked to just wanted to do well by us."
Luckily, their celebrant Patricia Robbie is based on the Kāpiti Coast, while a good friend who is a makeup artist jumped in at the last minute to glam the bridal party.
"We were pretty lucky and managed to get another company that's based out of Palmerston North called LL Hire to do our marquee and furniture, and they were amazing," Jenna enthuses.
"Our friend also got us beer last minute from Panhead.
"All the suppliers were so understanding and sympathetic, and I also managed to book in for my hair after explaining the situation. They quickly fitted me in before another wedding they had!"
Jenna's bridesmaids spent two days foraging for flowers in the wilderness and a friend dug up plants out of his garden for her to use as decor!
"Most of the suppliers in the Hawke's Bay were so accommodating too, when they didn't have to be, despite all the devastation they've gone through," Jenna reflects. "Having them still be so kind to us was amazing."
On the day of their wedding, the sun shone brighter than it had for most of the summer in the Horowhenua as guests gathered on the back lawn overlooking Kāpiti Island.
"The wedding was amazing and the speeches were beautiful, and we just kind of free-flowed it," says Jenna, whose Napier-based bridesmaid only just made it after waiting for a road to open.
"We went to Queen Elizabeth Park with our new photographer and got some really beautiful shots under the palms with
the native bush behind us."
Jenna admits that a silver lining of her whirlwind wedding was being able to show off her beachside hometown to overseas family and friends, who otherwise wouldn't have seen it.
"We're so lucky, and we definitely wouldn't have been able to do it without our family and friends," she shares. "Everyone was there with us in the end and having the best time, so I couldn't ask for more really."
Plan B panned out perfectly for the newlyweds and the bridal party.
Pictures: Shane Boulton. Hair: The Glam Room. Makeup: Olive Ogle.
  • undefined: Cloe Willetts (1)

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