“Jooyeon told me after the first week of dating that he wanted to marry me,” says Maia Tapsell, a Rotorua-based dentist who first laid eyes on her future husband over drinks at Auckland's dimly lit Caretaker bar in 2020.
“It was wild. Mostly because I knew he meant it, and because I knew it felt right. I think both of us are more traditional in the sense that we always wanted to get married, it was just a matter of who to get married to,” she says. “Jooyeon has told me many times that he had never known the feeling of when to marry someone. But we both agree that we felt it almost instantly, like we had met and married in a past life.”
Despite the early talk of their engagement, it wasn’t until a year later that Jooyeon actually proposed. “It felt like such a long wait, but we didn’t want to worry any of the family by moving too quickly,” says Maia.
On New Years Eve of 2022, the couple were in Auckland celebrating with friends. “We went out for dinner, and unknown to me, Jooyeon told our friends of his plan to propose. He made sure someone had the ring, and that they would guide us to watch the fireworks by the Viaduct without arousing suspicion. It worked.
“At midnight, amongst the crowds I watched the fireworks and when I turned around, Jooyeon was down on one knee. He asked me to marry him and I burst into tears. He had to ask me twice more until I could say ‘yes’,” she says. “Despite proposing in a very public venue, people were so wrapped up in New Years celebrations that no one gave us a second look – we had a moment of privacy amidst the chaos.”
When it came to planning their wedding, they quickly realised it would be an interesting affair. “I’m from an enormous Māori family – with 69 first cousins alone – and Jooyeon is from a smaller Korean family, most of whom live in South Korea.” The couple’s biggest challenge was finding a way to incorporate both of their cultures into the day.
“We had always planned to have a separate wedding in Korea, so we were stuck on whether we should do a traditional Māori wedding, or meet somewhere in between,” explains Maia.
Initially they planned to get married at Whakaue Marae in Maketu, the village where Maia is from. “However, it quickly spiralled out of control and we found that our guest list was ever-expanding. Also, due to the rural location, planning for accommodation, transport, even deciding who will be in the kitchen meant everything was getting too difficult too quickly,” she says. “There was a family reunion planned at the marae the week following their wedding, so it was quickly decided we could celebrate then, and have a smaller, intimate wedding somewhere else.”
So they circled back to where it all started, in Auckland’s CBD, in the renovated heritage building almost right above the cocktail lounge where they first met. Their glamorous vision at Hotel Britomart started to fall into place.
“The hotel had a tiny balcony where we could have a ceremony that looked out over the city, and a dining room with wooden floors, brick walls, large iron-framed windows that peaked over the city, and big, framed artworks by Shane Cotton. I think this is what sold it – the fact all rooms had ingoa Māori, and walking into the Papuke room with Shane Cotton’s artwork – it felt like the right place for us, a modern Māori wedding.”
The bride and groom had a lot of fun planning their wedding outfits. Jooyeon wore a custom-made suit by Working Style (“and the most sexy, squared Louboutin shoes”), while Maia wore a dress by Corina Snow with a trailing silk chiffon scarf and silk evening glove, and chunky white Nodaleto heels.
“For the reception, I changed into a long-sleeved and comfortable Shona Joy dress to dance. We also had our dressmaker create a simple neck bow for Jooyeon as he didn’t like the idea of a tie or bowtie."
The couple decided to both wear makeup on the big day. “We had heard that it comes across better in photos if we both are wearing it. We were lucky enough to have Rae Sacha – a super talented and lovely makeup artist. She focused mostly on ensuring our skin looked smooth and blemish-free.”
Fragrance was also a considered element, with the bride and groom deciding to layer their everyday perfume with new ones, a clever way to create special memories from the day. Jooyeon wore Cargo de Nuit by Prada layered with Diptyque Orpheon and Maia wore Diptyque Fleur De Peau layered with Penhaligons Empressa.
“We are lucky to have a talented jeweller as a friend, Tashji. Tashji made my engagement ring, a pale green emerald cut sapphire in chunky gold ring, and also our wedding bands. My wedding band is a set of five emerald cut diamonds. It matched a pair of small gold hoop earrings with diamonds that Tashji made for me, and also the single matching diamond in the middle of Jooyeon’s platinum wedding band. We both wore matching rings gifted by Jooyeon’s grandfather.”
The night before the wedding, the couple had planned on meeting for a cocktail at Caretaker, as an ode to their first date. “Sadly, it was full and so we went for a bottle of soju at Obar, a Korean bar in Chancery Square where we had our first kiss. It felt surreal and emotional, and we couldn’t stop smiling. We went back to the hotel and spent the night in separate rooms,” says Maia.
The ceremony, held on a small balcony off their suite and overlooking part of Auckland CBD, had a limit of 18 people while the ‘aisle’ stretched down the hallway and out in front of guests. “We didn’t have an entrance song. My sister sang a karanga from Maketu as I walked down the aisle with my dad,” says Maia.
“It was a piercing waiata that drew tears from everyone – intensely emotional and probably one of the best memories I have from the day. Sometimes we wish we had recorded it, but sometimes it feels like it is now a memory and a taonga for only our most intimate family.”
Maia’s dad, Petera, became a celebrant just for their wedding and officiated the ceremony in both te reo Māori and English (he has now gone on to officiate at other wedding ceremonies). “We were blessed to have my aunty, who sang a waiata at my own parents wedding, sing following my dad’s speech.”
They also had a translator so Jooyeon’s family could communicate with all of the other guests. “A very memorable moment of the day was when Jooyeon’s dad stood up and loudly projected his speech in Korean. He would pause between each line so the translator could speak, however we found many of the guests somehow understood what he was saying as his delivery transversed languages,” says Maia.
After the intimate ceremony, the newlyweds joined their 50 guests for the reception in the hotel’s Papuke room, which had been set with two long wooden tables with a wedding party table at the end. Vases of flowers and elegant candles adorned the tables, and hydrangeas were arranged in pots around the room – mostly all homegrown by Maia’s mum.
“The moment we were engaged, mum ordered bulbs and started a flower garden. It was beautiful: hydrangeas and dahlias and all my favourite flowers. But there was a big storm right before the wedding which wiped about half of them out so she had to go and buy some at the last minute. She drove her flowers up from Tauranga stored in buckets of water, and she spent the morning with her best friend creating vases of flowers and my bouquet.”
Guests sipped champagne and enjoyed food from Kingi, the restaurant at the hotel’s ground floor. The catering was a lush spread of paua tortellini, vegetable platters, wagyu beef and agria skins. For the cake: a two-tiered creation by The Caker with a sour cherry and matcha layer and a dark chocolate strawberry layer, all coated in matcha icing with freeze-dried strawberries and pink petals.
The couple had Maia’s sister and her partner DJ for their reception (“it was epic”), and asked one of their closest friends Israel to be the MC. “Israel is the most organised and hilarious person we know and he ensured everything went smoothly,” says Maia.
“I didn’t really know what to expect from an MC, but he created a whole spreadsheet, met with the manager of the hotel, organised furniture… I don’t know what we would have done without him. On top of that, he incorporated both Korean and te reo into his speech and finished in his native tongue, Spanish. It felt like the perfect mish-mash of cultures.”
Maia and Jooyeon embraced the tradition of the first dance, “as awkward as it was”, with You and Me by Penny & The Quarters – a song they both loved and that they say describes their love: ‘When love is real you don't have to show it / When it is true then everyone will know…’
“Originally, we did not plan for a traditional wedding, but looking back we think we mostly kept to the traditions,” says Maia. “We made sure not to see each other before the wedding day. It felt like the longest day for this reason alone… just waiting to see each other when we are usually inseparable. But it made it all the more special when we saw each other again for the first time.”
Maia’s wedding day must-do’s:
1. Have a date the night before the wedding and spend the night apart.
2. Spend the money on a good photographer - we had an NZ and German couple from Haute Weddings.
3. Have someone to help run the day .
4. Get someone close to you to officiate the wedding.
5. Make sure you have food while you’re getting ready!