Festival fever sweeps the land
In the dying hours of last year a helicopter hovers above an unlikely scene. At the base of Takaka Hill a throng, reminiscent of Woodstock footage, has spread out onto the road outside the pub, dwarfed by the hill they need to ascend. A steady stream of vehicles of every description inches past them, up the winding, 800-metre road. At the summit there's a further 12-kilometer grind ahead, between the boulders and scorched tree stumps, leading to the Canaan Downs farm that for the next 48 hours will be home to some of the most sophisticated sound equipment in the country.
Back on the track, as far as the eye can see, in front and behind, a whole cloud of dust rises from the final leg of the pilgrimage. Counterculture meets middle class. One of three buses containing the bulk of the more than 100 DJs and video artists and 40 live acts appears, having travelled through the night from Auckland.
As the brow of the last hill is cleared, a sprawling tent suburbia greets the eye. More than 8000 ravers from as far away as New York, London and Brazil, and 1000 crew and performers, have set up for the annual New Year's party, something that has grown out of the famous Entrain trance parties. Lessons have been learnt. Alcohol is banned, and security people and counsellors are on hand. A marquee serves cappucinos, lattes, Red Bull and quality vegetarian food. City centre is composed of seven sound stages from house to techno, tribal to world to drum and bass and hip-hop.
As 1998 faded into history, the full moon ascended, casting its approval down on the ravers who tranced themselves into a frenzy on a field shielded by beech trees, dwarfed by a sound system that would be the envy of any touring Ericsson Stadium roadshow. Close by, hippies danced with fire, got high and chilled out. You could hear the sonic boom in Golden Bay. But, like the bus drivers who worked around the clock ferrying ravers up the hill, locals are not complaining. Each year The Gathering gets bigger by about 2000 people.
"The money the festival brings in to the community is in the seven digits. And it brings heaps of people into the district who stay to pick fruit, as it's the season, or to continue holidaying here," our driver beams.
Two days later as they stream back down the hill, the local media reports on the peaceful nature of the whole spectacle. Welcome to a nineties phenomenon.........
THE GATHERING. Awesome 48-hour dance pary for ravers of every musical style, held from New Year's Eve in one of the most beautiful parts of the country, Takaka Hill, Motueka. Tickets were $65 for the most recent Gathering. There are no gate sales.