One very gorgeous engaged couple from Germany, an Africa-loving-London-based wedding photographer and one heck of an incredible safari wedding in Botswana. Welcome to Dennis & Phaia’s wonderful wedding in sub-Saharan Africa.
Before I get into the details of their beautiful wedding day I need to give you a bit of background of how I connected with the lovely couple. I had actually met Phaia briefly years ago in 2013 in Maun, a little, dusty safari-town in Botswana, where I had been flown out to photograph another wedding.
Yes, I seem to have become the safari wedding photographer of this particular part of Botswana! It was a wonderful surprise when she called me out of the blue 5 years later saying she’d just got engaged to Dennis and they were going to get married in Botswana the following year however the date hadn’t yet been set. Since we first met she’d loved my photographs, especially those from my many shoots in Africa, and had always dreamed about me photographing her big day.
With such excitement and enthusiasm from a bride-to-be when a date hadn’t even been set, I vowed to do all I could to ensure that I was available to photograph her wedding day.
A lot of to-ing and fro-ing was done with dates being pencilled in the diary which was a challenge for me and my busy photography schedule plus the couple had to take into consideration so many factors for their African wedding. These ranged from logistics, weather cycles, road conditions, temperatures to water levels and we eventually got there after tonnes of WhatsApp messages and video chats. It came to pass that they flew me out from London to Botswana and bestowed on me the honour of capturing their incredible safari wedding!
As always, I love going above and beyond for my wedding couples and it seemed so silly to travel all the way to Botswana just for their wedding day so I was able to give them a whole week which was fantastic. In that time I was able to capture and enjoy all the wonderful celebrations from the hen do, big pre-wedding dinners and BBQs, time out on safari at a stunning safari lodge, the wedding day in the bush as well as another big wedding party in Maun town and it was all so fabulous!
It was all hands on deck in the morning. The camp staff set everything up for the day so beautifully with many of the guests helping too.
Seeing Phaia transform from an already gorgeous lady into a radiantly-stunning Bride was magical and oh her hair… definitely the locks of dreams! She had managed to keep the dress a secret so it was a real delight to capture the applause and excited squeals from her bridal party once she was ready!
The ceremony took place out in the bush, just a short drive from the lodge, situated on a little island surrounded by water with hippos and crocodiles – of course we didn’t venture too close to the water’s edge!
The couple had kept things as simple as possible which worked so perfectly with the African bush with just white wooden chairs placed in neat rows for the ceremony. You’ll notice from the photos that all the guests wore pale, safari-coloured clothes, which again worked so sympathetically against nature’s lush, green backdrop.
Dennis waited patiently for Phaia to arrive with his best men doing a sterling job of helping to keep his nerves at bay. Much excitement hit the guests as soon as they could see the olive green safari 4×4 approaching with the bridesmaids, the radiant Bride and her father. The elegant Phaia made such a grand entrance as she emerged from the far side of the vehicle, escorted by her father to come and be married. She looked incredible, so much so that Dennis wasn’t able to hold back his tears of joy.
The ceremony was simply exquisite. Their celebrant was Phaia’s uncle and the heartfelt service was beautifully delivered with a special blessing read by Grandma.
Their wedding was held at the stunningly-stylish safari lodge, Sable Alley in Botswana’s Khwai Private Reserve which was an eventful 5 hour journey from Maun with a couple of vehicle breakdowns and animal encounters – yes, most long drives in Africa are filled with challenges!
Located right on the banks of a lily-covered lagoon, home to harrumphing hippos and a favourite drinking spot for elephants and buffalos, the big game quite literally comes to you at Sable and it was the perfect setting for Dennis & Phaia’s wedding.
For many of the guests, it was their first trip to Africa so safari-time was scheduled throughout our 5 days at Sable Alley, of course with one day off for the wedding! The game-drive vehicles headed out to the bush in the mornings and afternoons and the wildlife didn’t disappoint: lions, leopards, elephants, giraffes, zebras, antelope, colourful, endemic birds and so much more. Everyone was blown away by the sightings and as an experienced safari-goer myself, it was a delight to see the excitement of first timers.
The wedding day was absolutely perfect! Dennis and his two best men got ready in one of the tented rooms whilst Phaia and her girls were in a neighbouring one which meant I didn’t have to walk too far along the wooden walkways in the heat.
Once they’d made their vows and were showered in confetti the reception was held on the island with chilled tunes played from a speaker connected to the battery of one of the game drive vehicles. It certainly helps to be resourceful in the bush!
There was such a fantastic vibe. Yes, here we all were celebrating the marriage of the gorgeous Phaia and Dennis on an island in Botswana… it really was the stuff that dreams are made of! The lovely Sable Alley bar staff kept the glasses topped up with champagne and the guests were giggling and mingling whilst swaying to the tunes.
As the light was fading, everyone headed back to the lodge for the wedding breakfast. A long table, with each place setting beautifully decorated for the diners, was positioned in front of the lodge leading down to the hippo lagoon. The twinkling of the glass hurricane lanterns and candles matched the magnificence of the starry night-sky above. This was the perfect setup for alfresco, safari-wedding style dining.
A sumptuous, gourmet dinner was served, followed by speeches from the groom, best men and two bridesmaids. So much love, laughter, wit as well as many funny stories were shared. An unexpected highlight occurred when a herd of breeding elephants emerged from the darkness and walked past us just a few meters away. The whole wedding party fell silent and motionless as these giant creatures plodded by. It was a truly unforgettably magical and memorable experience!
The evening celebrations were fun-filled and WILD and didn’t wind down till gone 4am! Partying in the lodge with booze flowing freely, the pile of empty Amarula bottles growing rapidly, everyone dancing their little socks off and bouncing around to the fantastic tunes. A particular favourite Euro pop tune Mama Laudaaa by Almklausi und Specktakel was repeated several times!
Dearest Phaia and Dennis, your safari wedding was phenomenal. All your family and friends were truly lovely and it really was such an honour photographing every moment of your wonderful wedding celebrations. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for having me as your safari wedding photographer!
I know I’ve kind of written an essay already but thought it would be nice for you to hear a bit from the newly weds about their story and more from their brilliant Botswana wedding so over to the happy newlyweds….
“The best way to answer this is to share this excerpt from Dennis‘s speech which sums it all up well…
“…I think it would be fitting to tell you all the story of how Phaia and I first met. This took place at my house and I have to say it was very brave of Phaia to meet me there, as she didn’t know me yet as we’d met online. It is clear, that even back then, she must have known that I was a cool guy who could be trusted.
Well, when she arrived, we shared bits of our lives with each other…as you do on a first date. As befits a gentleman, I gave Phaia the opportunity to tell me all about herself first. She started with the story of her childhood in Botswana and how she had lived in Germany, then in Namibia and South Africa. She mentioned her pilot’s license, her photography and told me stories about growing up in the African bush. That went on for ages. It was an impressive way to introduce herself. I just thought: shit, just now it will be my turn, and when it came to my big moment, it lasted about 15 seconds. I was 30 years old and had lived in the same place for 30 years. I was eight years into the same job aaaand…well that was all actually. That’s it, goodbye you beautiful woman. That’s how it felt. Soon after that, Phaia mentioned that it had gotten late and she would like to go home. For me that was a definite sign that there would be no future.
Being the gentleman that I am, I was of course kind enough to drive her home. The entire time thinking to myself: What a pity, she’s such a beautiful girl. When we arrived at her house we chatted for a short time and then hugged each other goodbye. Phaia then turned around and opened the car door to leave. As she was about to get out, she stopped, closed the door again, turned towards me…and then she kissed me. People always talk about this instinct we have…but…apparently, I don’t have it….
So it all turned out pretty good, but now Phaia had missed the most romantic and touching moment of her life. I would never have let that woman leave like that for my plan had been different….she would have gotten out of the car and walked away. I then would have opened my door, jumped out and run after her…Phaaiiiiiiaaaa… All of this in slow motion of course. She would have turned around and theeeeeeeeen I would have kissed her. It would have been theeee moment of a lifetime…”
Dennis proposed, in Holland. It was just after sunset on a very dark night, when he summoned me to the beach. As I walked over the last sand dune, completely unaware of what he was planning, I saw the flicker of fire. And there he stood, amidst flaming tiki torches. He took me by such surprise that I was unable to form an actual sentence for the rest of the night.
The dress is Galatea by Willowby Watters. Indecisive as I am, I probably tried on an average of about 60 dresses in 11 different wedding dress boutiques between Cologne and New York. All without luck. Close to giving up hope, I booked one last appointment…and then there it was. There were no tears and none of the “tummy feelings” that fellow brides had always told me about. But a few nights later, I dreamt about it instead.
The ceremony took place 20 minutes from the lodge, on a little island surrounded by water, hippos and antelope grazing in the distance.
It was a typical African summers day, so hot our guests were literally melting away. But then moments before the ceremony began, clouds covered the island and a breeze came up. Not only did the temperature drop but the skies changed into a picture painted by the gods. As the I do’s left our lips, raindrops started to fall from the sky. This would be any bride’s nightmare. But not on this island. Here rain is so greatly treasured, and rain on your wedding day is the biggest blessing of all.
Back at the lodge we dined under the starlit sky, next to a pool of hippos, with thunderstorms lighting up the darkness around us.
The most incredible part was without a doubt, the fact that the wedding speeches were interrupted by a herd of elephants, who calmly ambled past only few metres from our dinner table.
Botswana is my favourite place in the entire world. It’s where I grew up and has now taken up a huge part of Dennis’s heart too. There was never a question of ever getting married anywhere else. We have been fortunate enough to visit Sable Alley a few times over the last few years and we both immediately fell in love with its mesmerising lodge and incredible people. To be able to celebrate our wedding here was our biggest dream and we both still are so overwhelmed that we were lucky enough for this dream to actually come true.
The catering was done by the executive chefs at Sable Alley.
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We spent 5 days living the African safari dream in the Okavango Delta. Game drives and bush walks in search of the Big Five kept everyone entertained for 5 days surrounding the wedding.
It was incredibly special to show all of our guests the magic of Botswana and to watch how quickly they fell in love with the raw beauty of it all.
Seven years ago I had absolutely no prospect of getting married, let alone an idea of what this day might one day look like. Then I met Juliet and I decided in that very moment, that if there was such a thing as a dream wedding, it would have to be her who would be there to take the photos.
Little did we know that a wedding could go far and beyond any expectations we could ever have had. We are so grateful for a decision I made so many years ago. Thank you Juliet for capturing every magical moment exactly how it was. Looking at your pictures now brings back every feeling we felt then. Thank you for being such a huge part of what will forever be the best day of our lives!
Big thanks to all the fantastic wedding suppliers that worked so hard to make their day perfect!
Safari Wedding Venue: Sable Alley
Safari Wedding Photographer: Juliet Lemon Photography
Bridal hair: Svenja Hupp
Wedding Cake: Anita Lindstrom
Ceremony Music: Børge Petersen-Øverleir