No booze, glass or dogs. Nigel Gearing goes along to a strangely peaceful Gathering on top of Takaka Hill.
Sunshine and laughter, excitement and nonstop dancing left no time for fighting. Police said this year's Gathering was more tranquil than 1997 with nothing more than a couple of thefts reported.
Can 9,000 young people gather in the bush on New Year's Eve without fear, aggro and broken glass? They did 8000m [that should read 2,500ft!! WebEd] up on top of Takaka Hill, at the northern tip of the South Island under a full moon in that strange contradiction: a peaceful trance frenzy called The Gathering.
Welcome to planet electronic dance where there's no place for alcohol, glass, dogs, pollution of the river, or violence. The only ask of ravers by organisers is to be nice humans.
In the dying hours of 1998, Canaan Downs becomes a tent city. From as far as London, New York, Brazil, Australia, Whangarei and Invercargill the army of ravers came, be they backpackers, hitchhikers, carloads of friends, busloads of performers, or housetrucks of alternative lifestylers making the pilgrimage, four hours by bus from Picton, 24 hours from Auckland.
The dance pilgrims, mostly in their 20s and 30s, were greeted by the trance and techno zone, the size of a football field. Down each side rose four walls of huge speakers.
Ahead was the video wall which continuously showed the latest work by more than 40 local video articts. Surrounding the main zone were six other dance zones, dub / hip hop / drum&bass and roots; happy hardcore / industrial / handbag; tribal; jazz / classical and world with walk-in movies at night; house / funk / garage; and last but not least the ambient lounge, set in a crater, a place to chill out.
Huge silver balls spun overhead in the trance / techno zone and lights and strobes cut out designs on the surrounding bush, while the packed hot black plastic-lined hardcore tent was lit by synchronised strobe lights.
There were even trampolines dug into the ground to put that extra bounce into your dance in the house tent.
Many tried to bring in booze despite The Gathering's no-alcohol policy. The Nelson Evening Mail reported that security had confiscated 3,000 cans of beer and hundreds of bottles of spirits from the long queues of cars waiting to get into the site at Canaan Downs.
If not alcohol there were other mind-altering substances consumed, something organisers readily acknowledge.
"While we do not condone drug taking, it would be naive to assume it does not take place as it has always been a part of dance culture," co-organiser Alison Green says. "We feel totally responsible for the welfare of those on site and that includes those who take drugs."
To that end organisers hired counsellors to wander through the crowds offering advice and, on New Year's Day, water and oranges for revellers who had danced through the night and into the next day.
They reported a higher level of youth in distress than 1997, citing the combination of drug-taking and dehydration through full-on raging without taking breaks. For some the experience of being surrounded by so much humanity - 8,000 ticketholders, 1,000 crew and performers - in an unfamiliar environment was enough to cause problems.
On the other hand police said the event was more tranquil than 1997, with nothing more than a couple of minor thefts reported.
Among the throng were Aucklanders David Stone and John Stewart, flatmates and Auckland University arts students from Ponsonby.
"Auckland is a place where you live for career and work. But this is escape on a grand scale. It's the closest we'll ever get to Woodstock in our lives."