At Haiku Mill, the perfume of jasmine and gardenia fills the air. Walk between the crumbling, vine-covered walls and you’ll find secret corners where waterfalls tumble down and Parisian flea-market finds rest against mossy flagstones. Like a page straight out of a fairytale, this hidden oasis on Maui’s North Shore is surely one of the most romantic wedding venues in the world.
The former sugar mill was built in 1858 and worked for just 20 years before being left to ruin, the Hawaiian landscape slowly but surely reclaiming the stone structure. When the mill’s current owner Sylvia Hamilton Kerr came across the land over 25 years ago, banyan trees were growing up through the walls and the invasive hale koa plant was taking over. Sylvia felt compelled to own the place, though she had no intention at the time of turning it into a wedding venue, rather she was concerned with preserving this slice of Hawaiian history.
Sylvia moved onto the site and lived in one of the other structures, as she set about the task of fixing up the mill. She shored up the original stone walls but left the roof open to the sky above. As the restoration continued, friends began to ask if they could get married between the tumble-down walls. Word began to spread about this fairytale secret garden venue, and so the formal business of hosting weddings at the mill began. For the past six years, Haiku Mill has hosted up to 52 weddings per year, but never more than that. “We try to maintain the exclusivity of the property,” says Kimiko Hosaki, Director of Business Development. “It takes a day and half to prepare the grounds for an event, so that everything is pristine, and the same afterwards.”
On the grounds there is former sugar-cane house turned into a charming space where the bride and her attendants can get ready for the big day. But as beautiful as Haiku mill is during the day, the real magic begins at night, when the flicker of candles suspended in jars blends with the soft glow of antique chandeliers and the sparkle of the moon and stars overhead to create a truly magical atmosphere. The ethereal surroundings are a photographer’s dream, and indeed pictures from weddings held here often end up on inspirational blogs like The Knot and Style me Pretty. A search on Pinterestreveals hundreds of photos of the mill, and Kimiko says the explosion in Pinterest’s popularity, along with that of wedding blogs has had a big impact on people’s awareness of the venue. “Pinterest is bringing the mill all over the world, but people cannot always get here,” she says.
With all this attention, the venue has attracted a number of high-profile couples in the past five years, including Gossip frontwoman Beth Ditto, F1 driver Jenson Button, and rock royalty Gene Simmons, who renewed his vows at the mill in 2013. At the Simmons event, says Kimiko, “They wanted hundreds of ribbons draped from ceiling to floor, in different shades of pink,” while Ditto dreamed of a walls made entirely of roses, which the team at Haiku turned into reality. “Everything is possible – if you can dream it we can make it happen,” says Kimiko, adding, “If you have the budget!”
The venue costs $7,000 for the space alone – for that you get 12 hours of access, plus all the existing lighting – the chandeliers under the mango tree, and the uplights over the mill, plus of course the lush gardens filled with flowers. Everything else must be brought in – from chairs to cocktail glasses, canapés to coffee. “The idea is to start with the bare bones and work with your coordinators to plan your dream event,” says Kimiko, adding that Haiku has an in-house planning team if couples don’t already have a professional planner in place, the fee for which is 20% of the total cost of event.
Kimiko knows the space intimately; in fact she had her own wedding here back in 2011. At the time she and her fiancé were living happily in their home city Toronto, but even before planning her own wedding she began to fall under the spell of the stone ruins. “When I first came across Haiku Mill, it was before I got engaged,” she says, “and I thought ‘this is where I’m getting married’. I had been working in the luxury world for a while and I’d never seen anything like this.” During the planning process she ended up working closely with Sylvia, after the wedding planner at the mill left halfway through the process. “At my wedding Sylvia put it out there – she said ‘you have to come and work for me one day’”.
At the time Kimiko was not intending to move, but she says “Hawaii was a special place for me, I had family here and I wanted to bring the family name back here.” Working in the events industry already – for top liquor brands – after the wedding Kimiko began to consider Sylvia’s proposal more seriously. “When the time was right I reconnected with Sylvia and ended up coming out here [last year]. It was very surreal.”
Looking around at the flower-covered tendrils hanging from the walls and the lichen-covered statues that parade through the grounds, you begin to understand the almost magnetic draw this place has on people, and why someone might move thousands of miles to spend their days at the mill. The draw of the location is only matched by the strength of vision that Sylvia possessed in turning this once dilapidated ruin into a truly special place for couples on their special day.