This isn’t fairyland. This is Pukekura Park in New Plymouth. Every summer, from mid-December to late-January, it’s festooned with thousands of magical lights. It’s called the Festival of Lights, and people travel from all over New Zealand to see it. That’s what we did last week.
I’d been wanting to go for a while – ever since I got a small taste of the lights at WOMAD a couple of years ago. I like pretty lights, so I definitely expected to enjoy it. I didn’t expect to be blown away by it, but I was. We all were.
We entered the park just as the sun went down. (Not that we could see it. Taranaki is notoriously cloudy.) We were confronted by a lake filled with glowing spheres that flashed and changed colour. Swimming around the spheres were several confused ducks. They created wonderfully artistic silhouettes against a large, illuminated fountain.
We walked around the lake until we came upon an otherworldly waterfall. This was the waterfall I’d seen at WOMAD, but it looked even more amazing now. The long drive down to Taranaki would have been worth it just for this, but more wonders were in store.
Further around, the lake was crossed by an elegant bridge. Dangling above it were many dazzling mirror balls, and drifting below it were people in little boats. The sterns of the boats were decorated with peacock-like frills, each lit up a different colour, so that the rowers became works of art themselves.
As we walked between the enchanted trees, we became aware of jungle sounds filtering down through the branches. There was obviously a speaker somewhere. We also heard a strange, intermittent beeping that turned out to be coming from a rather unusual art installation.
Suspended far above our heads was a sleeping giant. He was snoring and clutching an extremely oversized cell phone. A sign below him encouraged people to text him; the phone beeped every time he received one. I didn’t know whether it was annoying or brilliant.
We passed more pieces of art, including a collection of floating jellyfish, until we came to an area where quite a crowd was gathered. It was bathed in black light, so everyone was glowing, but, more importantly, so were the paper planets and squiggles and birds that were hanging overhead. Every child there adored it. Even the stones on the pathway were glowing.
There was live music too, and a guy selling cinnamon roasted almonds. I clutched the warm packet as we explored the charmingly lit fernery. The whole thing was so romantic. Unfortunately, the lights were turned off at 11pm. I would have liked to have stayed longer.
So if you’re touring New Zealand during January or the latter half of December, it might be a good idea to drop in on New Plymouth. The Festival of Lights won’t disappoint, and there are lots of other great things to do around Taranaki as well, as we found out last week…