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.

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.