All last week, New Zealand lived in dread of Lusi. The massive tropical cyclone had already killed people in Vanuatu and would hit us at the weekend. The very weekend my family was to attend WOMAD, the World of Music and Dance, a three-day open air festival.
The festival was in Taranaki, a part of the country I’d never been before, a long drive from Auckland. We’d booked three nights in the WOMAD campground, a racecourse-turned-city of tents right in the shadow of Mount Taranaki, and hired a campervan from Wendekreisen. We packed our umbrellas, (even though we feared it would be too windy to use them,) and set off.
The campervan we’d hired was a six-berth. It had a solar panel on its roof – not that it’d be any use this weekend – and a full-length mirror on the bathroom door. It also had a proper gas oven, not just a hob, and more room than any other campervan I’d been in. The furnishings were a bit worn, but I had no complaints.
I was amazed how many bugs got splattered on our windscreen on the drive down to Taranaki. It took us about seven hours, including a break. It was during the break that I appreciated just how convenient it was to have a campervan. Here we were at the side of the highway, sitting round a table next to a nicely stocked kitchen with a fridge, grilling some ciabatta and boiling water for tea.
By the time we’d got to WOMAD and settled in at the campground, it was dark. I had no idea what to expect at the festival. As we walked towards it, the sound of African drumming heightened my anticipation. Then we entered: I hadn’t expected it to be beautiful, but it was.
WOMAD takes place in a large park. The trees around the edge were lit up all different colours, and the main stage was on a lake. Next to the main stage, upon the lake’s surface, were some statues of elephants and the illuminated letters of WOMAD. They looked amazing reflected in the water.
Now as you can imagine, WOMAD is a haven for hippies. There were signs everywhere that told you not to smoke, but let’s just say the night-time air was laced with something else. It wasn’t unpleasant – far from it – and if you felt you needed a detox, there was a stall selling shots of wheatgrass juice.
The market was great, marquee-after-marquee selling hippie dresses and incense. There were even some people selling handmade leather notebooks with Celtic designs on them. They were wonderful, but too expensive for me.
Then there were the food stalls. All sorts of yummy food from around the world – I wanted to try everything! That first night, I ended up with falafel and goat curry and crepes. (I stayed away from the wheatgrass.)
If I’m honest, I enjoyed the environment more than the music. I liked some performances – this Scottish folk group called Breabach and a laidback Tim Finn, in particular, but I got a bit bored with most of the others. The park the festival was in – now that interested me.
It had a Chinese garden that looked magical all lit up at night. There was a bar there, and a kitchen stage where various artists from around the world could demonstrate how to cook food from their home countries.
Best of all, if you crossed the lake behind the main stage, you came across a light trail through the forest. All around the edge of the lake and through the trees, different coloured lights were strung up. It was enchanting. That first night, I only did half the walk, but I promised myself I would do it all the next night.
Back to the campervan we went, and the weather was still perfectly pleasant. It was muggy and cloudy, but that was it. On the way back through the campsite, I passed a tent that had a thick halo of pungent smoke around it…
The wind picked up through the night. It was raining slightly by the time we got up on Saturday morning and we thought, well, it’ll be here by tonight.
It wasn’t. Throughout the day, we barely had need to put our coats on. Far from the mud bath the media had predicted, the grass was fine to sit down on. With evening came almost scorching sunshine. Then sun set and I headed back for the light trail.
This is what I found.
For me, that waterfall was the highlight of the festival.
The next day, the last day, the weather got a bit wetter and windier, but in the park, which is a sort of natural bowl, you hardly felt it. It was a case of, “Cyclone? What cyclone?” All that panic for nothing.
All in all, WOMAD was a highly enjoyable experience. The atmosphere was excellent, as was the food and the location. I personally didn’t need three days of it, but lovers of live music would be left wanting more. This festival was definitely something New Zealand can be proud of.