New site for Gathering

Site "impossible" says organiser

Nelson Mail, 1 Jan 98

Difficult access to Canaan Downs on Takaka Hill means the Gathering will not be held there again, says an organiser, Jose Cachemaille.

It's a beautiful site but it's just impossible for an event this size. We'll be looking for somewhere else," she said this morning.

Vehicles carrying just under 8,000 ticketholders to the remote site caused major headaches for other road users and police yesterday. While the 48-hour New Year dance party started at midday, hundreds of cars were stopped on the Takaka Hill road for 21/2 hours from 7pm and banked back for kilometres.

The delay was because the unsealed one-car width road from the turnoff 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, on 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," he said. Many were being dealt with by a public welfare and support team, a new addition to the event which 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 woman had a bad cut to her face from broken glass. A man gashed his leg in a fall, and another man had a suspected dislocated elbow.

Ms Cachemaille said a lot of alcohol was confiscated at the gate but advertising the event as drug and alcohol-free couldn't stop some people.

"Our whole philosophy is harm reduction, but people are always going to do things like drugs."

She said a lot of effort had been put into trying to encourage under 16-year-olds without their parents to stay away, but again that was proving difficult to police. Security supervisor Joe Bartle said the crowd had been well-controlled and only a few disagreements had occurred. No one had been ejected from the series of natural amphitheatres used to stage the huge event, which has drawn people from all over New Zealand and overseas.

"The reality is, it's a laid-back crowd. They've come here to enjoy themselves and not to have trouble," Mr Bartle said.

Problems with radio communication from the isolated spot caused some confusion yesterday, with cellphones and radios experiencing blackouts from some parts of the site and the hill road. Senior Sergeant Eric Stretton of Motueka police said the traffic had been chaotic - "far worse than last year" - and cars lining the Takaka Hill road were a major risk. Some were stuck in traffic jams for five hours and only got onto the site by about 10pm. Several police officers were assisting traffic to get over the hill and past the traffic jams. The road was reduced to one lane for kilometres. It was reported to be clear this morning.

As the temperatures plummeted last night the crowd danced hard late into the night, with thousands concentrated on the outdoor techno-trance area. Many wore outrageous clothing, with fluorescent tubes and body paint prominent.

A short but spectacular fireworks display was staged at midninght, with firedancers performing throughout the night. Other dance music on offer in five marquees and outdoors included house, dub, hip-hop, drum and bass, reggae, ambient and tribal. The music is non-stop for two days and at 9am today some were still dancing, with most resting up for later in the day and tonight.

A tent city sprung up overnight. Some people slept in makeshift shelters and others had a dewy night under the stars. Many types of food were available from stalls. There are also 60 portaloos on the site, a huge basin dotted with rock outcrops and sinkholes and surrounded by bush-clad hills.

Deirdre Mussen, Nelson Mail 1 January 1998

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