Huge crowds jam road to Gathering

Evening Post, 2 January 1998

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Difficult access to the Gathering - a two-day New Year dance party in the Nelson region - means it will not be held there again, say organisers.

Vehicles carrying just under 8,000 ticketholders to the remote Canaan Downs site on Takaka Hill, west of Nelson, caused major headaches for other road users and police on Wednesday. The festival, which has attracted people from all over New Zealand and some from overseas, kicked off at noon on Wednesday but hundreds of cars were stopped on the Takaka Hill road for two hours from 7pm and backed up for kilometres.

"It's a beautiful site, but it's just impossible for an event of this size. We'll be looking for somewhere else," said organiser Jose Cachemaille. The unsealed one-lane road from the main road turnoff had had to be kept clear to allow an ambulance in to take out a 12-year-old Takaka boy with a suspected ruptured pancreas. A stuck vehicle also blocked the 10km access road.

Red Cross unit leader Mike Price said the boy was extremely drunk, had taken drugs and had an erratic heartbeat. He was with friends and his parents were not there. The emergency medical team from Motueka took him to the Motueka medical centre and he was later sent home with his parents.

Mr Price said there were more people using drugs and alcohol than at last year's inaugural Canaan Downs party. "There are plenty of spaced-out people drugged to the eyeballs." Many were being dealt with by a public welfare and support team, a new addition to the event that was proving excellent, he said.

Several people had been taken away by ambulance after suffering serious injuries. One woman had the liquid contents of a fluorescent tube splashed in her eyes. Another had a bad cut to her face from broken glass. About 200 people had been treated for other minor injuries such as ankle sprains and cuts, and for problems associated with drugs.

Ms Cachemaille said a lot of alcohol was confiscated at the gate despite the event being advertised as drug- and alcohol-free. "Our whole philosophy is harm reduction, but people are always going to do things like drugs."

Security supervisor Joe Bartle said the crowd had been well-controlled. No one had been ejected from the series of natural amphitheatres used to stage the event. "The reality is it's a laid-back crowd. They've come here to enjoy themselves and not to have trouble," Mr Bartle said. The music was non-stop over the two days.

NZPA, Evening Post, 2 January 1998

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