The Trippy Trees of WOMAD

Tree Lights WOMAD

WOMAD stands for World of Music and Dance, a massive hippy festival held in New Plymouth every March. My favourite thing about it isn’t the music, or the food, or the stalls selling endless floaty dresses. My favourite thing is the lights.


You see, WOMAD takes place in a park – Brooklands Park, to be precise – and when it gets dark, all the trees get lit up in weird and wonderful colours. Some have quirky decorations hung in them…

Tree Lights WOMAD

And some are merely part of the psychedelic scenery…

Tree Lights WOMAD

But this year, one tree out-did them all. It actually had moving images projected onto its branches.

Tree Lights WOMAD

As I stood before it, entranced, I slowly realised that there was music coming from inside the tree. I mean, obviously there was a speaker concealed somewhere, but I don’t know what I’d have done if I’d been stoned, as some festival-goers were!

Tree Lights WOMAD

Each image projected onto the tree was beautiful in its own way…

Tree Lights WOMAD

Except maybe this one – those things were crawling down towards you!

Tree Lights WOMAD

Even in daylight, however, some of the trees seemed rather trippy. Take this one, for example…

kids in creepy tree

The kids were having a grand, old time playing amidst its branches, but it kind of looked like the branches were grabbing them.

creepy tree

Maybe I’ve been playing too much Call of Cthulhu.


How I Caught a Kiwi Accent

The last two weeks have been bad. They found cancer in my mum’s lymph nodes, they sent her for surgery, and we visited her in hospital. That was covered in my previous post. Since then, my body has gone and decided that my mum really shouldn’t get all the attention.

Certain problems that have been developing in the background for some time have suddenly jumped to the fore. On Thursday, I woke up in agony and ended up in hospital myself. That was the day before we were due to travel to New Plymouth.

You see, I was expecting this post to be a happy one: a return to the traditional travel blog format. My partner, Tim, and I had been planning this trip to New Plymouth for a while. It was the weekend of our fifth anniversary.

We were supposed to travel down with our mate, Ems, meet up with Tim’s family, spend a day at WOMAD, (a hippy music festival,) a day at my favourite museum, and then head back to Hamilton. Even with the day in hospital, it still looked like this was going to happen.

I was sent home from hospital loaded up with painkillers. (They can’t do anything until I have an ultrasound; it will be weeks before I get an ultrasound.) Ems joked that it would be okay – we could just share her wheelchair at WOMAD! And it would have been, but… then came the flu.

By the time Ems came to pick us up, I had lost my voice. It was still fine. I realised I must have caught it visiting my mum in hospital, because my mum had it too. (On top of recovering from surgery!) I was just a little frustrated sitting on my own in the back seat, unable to communicate.

The drive down from Hamilton to New Plymouth takes three and a half hours. Once you’re past Te Awamutu, a small town just south of Hamilton, mobile reception becomes practically non-existent, so make sure you have physical maps available.

It was late when we got to where we were staying, and my illness had worsened. My body couldn’t decide whether it was hot or cold. I was barely aware of my surroundings. In the morning, I felt thoroughly beat-up, but it was time to go to WOMAD.

I was drenched with sweat before we’d even entered the park. I volunteered to push Ems’s wheelchair because I needed something to lean on as I walked. We joined the growing line of aging hippies eager to get into the festival.

I’d been to WOMAD before. I knew it wasn’t really my thing. I mean I don’t mind the interesting music from around the world. I don’t mind the exciting variety of food stalls. I don’t mind the market filled with beautiful, hippy clothing. It’s just that being in a crowd makes me uncomfortable.

I get panic attacks. And now I was battling a steadily worsening bout of what I was coming to realise wasn’t just a cold.

It was bearable at first. We got there early, so there weren’t so many people. They were still setting up, much to the confusion of these two geese:

We got breakfast from one of the food stalls, (a gorgeous Polynesian raw fish salad,) and I was able to join in the conversation, albeit in a whisper. At some point, Ems asked me why I was speaking in a Kiwi accent.

I’ve lived in New Zealand since I was a child, but I still have a British accent. I find it difficult even to fake a Kiwi accent; whenever I try I sound Australian. The reason, I think, is this: the Kiwi accent is incredibly lazy.

Seriously. As soon as you put any effort into a Kiwi accent, it becomes Australian, and it’s difficult to fake an accent without putting any effort in. Now, however, here I was, speaking Kiwi. Whispering Kiwi.

I realised that, because it hurt so much to talk, I was putting as little effort as possible into making my vowel sounds.

“You’ve caught a Kiwi accent,” Ems laughed.

Whatever I’d caught, it became harder and harder to endure as the day wore on. The whole thing’s kind of a blur. Here are some photos I got:

That was funny. Can see what the sign below it says? PLEASE DO NOT CLIMB ON HISTORIC CHIMNEY.

And oh yeah, that was where I bumped into someone from the same obscure, little town in England as me, but couldn’t say anything to him, so he wandered off awkwardly.

I’m dying in this photo. Like just take it. Please, just take it. I’m about to collapse. No, please, no more, just let me die.

Pretty trees. Can’t breathe. Can’t go on…

And that’s where the weekend ends, pretty much. We couldn’t go to my favourite museum. I couldn’t. I just couldn’t. Besides, by now Tim was getting sick too. We just had to go home.

The last few days I’ve been drowning in the worst flu of my life. I’ve been coughing up blood and, well, I won’t say what else. Tim’s bad too. What an anniversary weekend! I pictured us lying in bed together, but not like this. Not like this.

An English Paradise in Taranaki

This is a rare sight in New Zealand: a beautiful English-style mansion surrounded by perfect gardens – complete with gardeners’ cottage – on a hill overlooking a river. It really is wonderfully twee. It’s called Tupare and it’s located just outside the city of New Plymouth. Built in the 1930s by a rich business man and his wife following an architecturally inspiring honeymoon in England, it’s now owned by the Taranaki Regional Council and is free to enter for everyone.

Tupare Garden StepsI came across a leaflet for Tupare at the Tawhiti Museum, whilst holidaying in Taranaki this summer with my parents and grandfather. My whole family loves nice gardens, so it wasn’t too difficult to convince them to go. My dad, at least, wasn’t expecting much, though. After all, how could somewhere in New Zealand live up all those National Trust houses and gardens we used to visit in England when I was a child?

Well, I don’t know whether we’ve been too long deprived of English historical sites, but Tupare more than surpassed our expectations. We were quite enchanted.

English Country House Tupare

The gardens were gorgeous. Seeing the Tudor-style gatehouse made me feel quite emotional, like I was a kid again, visiting an old country manor. Many paths snaked down to the house and on to the river. I had visions of Mary Lennox in a white dress and straw boater running between the manicured flowerbeds and quaint archways. I think if I lived in Taranaki I’d go there all the time, just to sit and read.

English Garden Tupare

Tours of the house are free too. They don’t run every day, but, quite by accident, our visit coincided with one. Seeing the antique furniture was delightful, but the best part of the house was the playroom: tucked away at the end of the upstairs corridor, all but concealed behind a narrow gap between two walls, only a slim adult would be able to squeeze into it. The children of the house must have found it magical, a hidden world all to themselves.

New Zealand Wood Pigeon Tupare

The only downside of Tupare is part of what makes it special: it’s on a steep hill. The walk back up to the car park was torture! But without the steep hill, there would be no views down to the river. There were a couple of teenage boys swimming in the river when we got there. Just imagine what it must have been like growing up there. It’s like a little bubble of old England. Only the tree ferns at the edge of the garden give away that it’s in New Zealand.

Upon leaving Tupare, we drove to the nearby Pukeiti, an enormous garden that’s been in development since the 1950s. It’s apparently renowned for its rhododendrons, but it was the wrong time of year for us to see them in all their glory. If you want to explore the whole garden, it will take you a few hours, but there are walks of different lengths to choose from. We had lunch at the café, which turned out to be quite nice, and set off on the one-hour Valley of the Giants Walk.

Pukeiti Flowers Taranaki

For us, Pukeiti suffered in comparison to Tupare, but it’s a different kind of garden, surrounded by native rainforest. During our walk, we came across a magnificent, dizzyingly tall hollow tree and some strikingly beautiful flowers. Like Tupare, Pukeiti is owned by the Taranaki Regional Council and is free to enter, as is Hollard Gardens, which we didn’t have time to visit, but which looks rather nice too.

Pink LillySo if any British immigrants to New Zealand find themselves feeling homesick, a road trip to Taranaki may be in order. The old English house and gardens of Tupare filled me with warm feelings, but it’s a great place to visit for anyone. (Unless you have walking difficulties, of course. The hill really is steep.)

I’d suggest taking a picnic with you, along with a blanket to put it in. Oh, and swimming gear might be a good idea too.

The Goblin Forest

Goblin Forest, Taranaki, New Zealand by Abigail Simpson

Before I went to Hogwarts, I spent my childhood exploring Enid Blyton’s Enchanted Wood. A few weeks ago, on the slopes of Taranaki, I felt like I’d returned.

Taranaki is a dormant volcano on the west coast of New Zealand’s North Island. When the clouds clear, it’s truly spectacular to behold. I went there with my family this summer – my mum, my dad and my grandpa, who’s visiting us from England. We didn’t want to actually climb the volcano, also known as Mount Egmont, but we drove up to the visitor centre to look around.

Though we were standing right below the peak, it was completely invisible, shrouded by stubborn clouds. Disappointed, we entered the building to see if there were any short, easy walks we could do. There were plenty to choose from, of course, and there were many mentions of a ‘goblin forest’ – apparently the bush surrounding Taranaki was not your typical New Zealand bush.

Goblin Forest Taranaki New Zealand

I don’t know what I was expecting, but as soon as the forest swallowed us I knew it was different. Amazingly so. I’d never seen a forest like it – not in real life. You really could imagine goblins scampering beneath the gnarled roots, swinging on the frayed vines and bouncing upon the verdant moss.

The trees looked like towering hags, decaying robes hanging in tatters from their twisted, emaciated frames. Yet they weren’t ugly. The golden sunlight filtering through their branches cast a glamour upon them.

The narrow, winding path was bordered by plush carpets of moss so luminously green they seemed almost artificial. I was careful to stay on it. I had the funny feeling that if I left it the forest would play all sorts of tricks on me. That I’d wander for days through a fairy world, led astray by false visions, taunted by sights of sumptuous feasts laid out in clearings ahead, only to have each one vanish just as I reached it.

Goblin Forest Taranaki New Zealand

The path was not always properly formed. It was often left to the tree roots to act as staircases. Some of them were courteous about it.

The walk we were on was called the Ngatoro Loop Track, which takes an hour to complete, starting and ending at the visitor centre. It got quite steep in places – I had to use to my hands and occasionally my bum. Luckily my grandpa’s very fit for his age! All the up and down might have been unpleasant were it not for the cool mountain air and our magical surroundings.

There are shorter, easier tracks on the slopes of Taranaki than the one we did. We also went up to the Ambury Monument, which has a beautiful view of the summit. At least it does on clear days. We got there and the peak was still shrouded, but we decided to wait, just in case. We sat there for about twenty minutes and were on the verge of giving up when the veil began to part. This is what we saw…

Taranaki New Zealand

I’ll be writing more about my adventures in the Taranaki Region soon. The main reason we went was to attend the Festival of Lights in New Plymouth’s Pukekura Park, (which I’ve written about here,) but we found so many other wonderful places as well. I’d definitely recommend Taranaki to anyone planning a New Zealand road trip.

Taranaki New Zealand

New Plymouth’s Festival of Lights

Festival of Lights, Pukekura Park, New Plymouth, Taranaki, New Zealand

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.

Festival of Lights, Pukekura Park, New Plymouth, Taranaki, New ZealandI’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.

Festival of Lights, Pukekura Park, New Plymouth, Taranaki, New ZealandWe 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.

Festival of Lights, Pukekura Park, New Plymouth, Taranaki, New Zealand

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.

Festival of Lights, Pukekura Park, New Plymouth, Taranaki, New Zealand

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.

Festival of Lights, Pukekura Park, New Plymouth, Taranaki, New Zealand

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.

Festival of Lights, Pukekura Park, New Plymouth, Taranaki, New ZealandThere 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…

Festival of Lights, Pukekura Park, New Plymouth, Taranaki, New Zealand

The Festival, the Campervan and the Cyclone That Wasn’t

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.

WOMAD 002The 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.

WOMAD 030croppedThe 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.

WOMAD 010It 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.

WOMAD 017Back 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.