Words by Salina-Pearl Nigro. Photos by Jason Burgess.
It was clear from the moment I arrived at the tenth anniversary of Splore festival, that I was in for more than just your average dance party experience. It was a blistering hot Saturday morning as we drove through the hills with the ocean rising up towards us. Our destination was a beautiful Pohutakawa lined beach 70 km southeast of Auckland at Tapapakanga Regional Park.
As we continued along the gravel road and reached the top of a steep hill we were greeted with a myriad of sights and sounds. It was bustling like a market place. Dust rose into the air as jeeps and trucks crawled along the steep gravel roads. Stalls lined the streets with a variety of wares, tastes and flavors from all over the world. A sea of tents flanked the hills as we slowly made our way through the chaos into the camping area. I’d heard there were approximately 6000 people attending the festival this year but seeing it laid out like that was a sight to behold.
At our campsite we were saved the hassle of having to unpack and cart around gear thanks to Hook Us Up, an onsite shop, which provided us with all our camping needs. The pillows, blankets and mattresses were really comfortable and the best part was knowing that we had only to drop the gear back to her before we left the next day.
After settling in we made our way down to the Splore festival itself. With sustainability and love being the main themes of the festival, the message came through loud and clear. Love was all around us, displayed in the beauty of the landscape, the nature of the people that greeted us and the interactive stalls and artworks people had created in celebration of the festival. Never had I seen such an eclectic mix of culture, colour and music. Various artworks were installed in and around the landscape and it seemed there was no boundary between the music, people, art and the land. Sounds and sights merged and stretched the imagination to create one living, breathing community.
We trailed around the waterfront past the very impressive main stage, which was exceptionally close to the water and featured giant pink tinsel ‘Bauble’ that extended out from the left hand side of the stage roof. It caught the sunlight beautifully as it danced in the wind. As I rounded the corner I found myself in the Old Mout Cider Love Shack. An oasis amongst the hustle and bustle of the festival, this was a contained licensed area to chill out in a beanbag or on the grass and enjoy the entertainment. Our drinks were served in unique New Zealand made cups called the Globelet. This was a reusable polypropylene drinking vessel purchased for $2 that could be reused at all bars and drink stations during the festival. The $2 was refunded when the cup was returned at the end. This helped contribute towards the festival’s ‘zero waste’ policy. Children were collecting discarded cups and returning them for a small profit. Yes, children were allowed at this festival!
Off the shore from the main beach I noticed an array of boats dotting the harbour and decided to explore some of the boat culture. We were granted permission to board a few boats in the harbour. The people on the boats had got into the swing of Splore by decorating themselves and their boats for the festival, they were definitely having their own Splore experience.
Back on shore I had a bite to eat from the marketplace in the centre of the festival. I chose to eat from the ‘Jamaican Me Hungry’ food stall where meats were being cooked in a wood fire oven. The food had a unique flavour and as I sat eating, a man came over and covered my head with a parasol to protect me from the sun. These acts of kindness are what has made Splore the unique immersive experience and that has kept people coming back for more than sixteen years.
As I met and chatted with other Splore-goers I realised how genuinely everyone cared about each other and our world. As well as a festival of beauty, art, music and love, it was also a platform for teaching and spreading the word about sustainability.
At sundown I checked out an area sponsored by Red Bull called The Art of Camping. This was a section where entrants won themselves an exclusive camping area - complete with own bar, toilets and showers - by creating an interactive tent site as part of the festival. A crowd favourite was an artwork by Bright Calm City titled ‘Sit with me, remind me I’m great.’ It was a giant park bench accessed via ladder, which encouraged people to sit down and be in the moment. The space and alien themed ‘Tasty Tea Space’ poured a lovely feijoa tea for us, which we sat down and enjoyed while chatting. I also loved ‘Love is the Drug’, where beautiful smiling ladies applied free tattoos for us.
In the evening Splore really came to life. There were artworks that lit up in the dark, light displays and interactive visuals everywhere. There was a surprise around every corner. It became apparent that there was no real headlining act; the whole festival was the main event. The people were as much a part of the attraction as the electronic dance acts and world entertainment. People dressed up in full body suits covered in flashing lights danced along the beach. Sculptures and trees alike were lit up beautifully. A fairy light rope wound its way down and around the goat trail where people walked from the campsites to the festival. A random art installment on one of the hills featured a fire projected into a tent with blankets and pillows on the ground. A giant bubble machine blew glow in the dark bubbles.
Music took a backseat to the beauty and the fun environment. There were five different stages sprawled across the venue. DJ sets of note were The Orb, a dance floor favourite from the 90’s, and the closing set by Adam Freeland on the main stage. Sal Valentine and the Baby Shakes did an awesome job of providing the soundtrack for a unique themed event on the Living Lounge stage, which featured dance competitions, corsage making and circus acts.
Sunday was a chilled-out day by the beach. Many campers left and everybody was covered in dust, worn out and wet, but full to the brim with love and satisfaction. New Zealand can be proud, setting an international standard for eco-sustainability. The regional park was left in pristine condition. Splore is a festival that is about coming together as a community to provide a platform for teaching about the most important thing in all our lives - looking after planet earth. I most definitely drove away feeling like I’d had a life changing experience and will definitely be returning to this biannual event for more exploring at Splore.
Visit Splore online here for more information on this amazing festival.