There is this gathering in the depths of the New Zealand bush, there are no fliers advertising it, no tickets available for purchase and it isn’t written about on the world wide web(until now). It is known as Rainbow Gathering and it is a word of mouth, month long camping gathering that revolves around the moons cycle.
My friend here in Christchurch, April, had known of it and then was recently invited to come check it out by a person who had attended one of her workshops she held on the North Island sometime ago and he recognised her at one of Christchurch’s farmers markets last weekend. With an adventuresome American Girl(me) staying at her place for the next few week it felt like the right time to explore this thing they call rainbow gathering.
With no real expectations, perhaps a few assumption of what it might be like, we got to packing. A day backpack, a few days worth of food, cooking gear, a mattress, tent, and all the standard self sufficient items a person would need for a few nights of camping. The weather was finally looking up after a few days of rainy skies and we hopped in the car with music going and feeling excited to be going on a spontaneous road trip.
A long ways from civilisation and any sort of cell phone service we pull up along side a narrow gravel road lined with a smorgasbord of hippie camper vans. We were definitely in the right place. Because it is a month long event people come and people go. So we were lucky enough to run into a few fellow campers leaving as we were coming. After a short chat we found out it was a 3k, 1 hour long walk into camp. Due to the rains the past few days the river had risen making it an unattainable drive for anything less than a massive 4 wheel drive vehicle, and even then because of the sketchy nature of the path you couldn’t have gotten all that much closer by car. There were 3 river bends you had to walk across (two had fallen tress you could use as a make shift bridge) and a massive swamp like marsh you had to trudge through.
It was already almost 7pm so we would only be able to make one trip that night. Realising pretty quick our proper backpacking backpacks that we left at home would have made our lives much easier, April and I looked at each other in a, Guess we are doing this, Sort of way and then we started to prioritise, What is essential??
Food for the night, Tent, blankets, warm clothes, yoga mats, pillows. Anything else?
Relatively loaded down and leaving behind all the finer things(cooking gear, mattress, extra blankets) we started our mission. I mean mission. Following the pink ribbons tied to tree branches here and there ensuring us that we were in fact on the right path we trekked on.
After crossing the second fallen tree over the creek we reached what seemed to be the final leg of the journey, for on the other side of this field in the far distance there was a big banner that read “Welcome Home”. It also seemed to be just a field of tall grass. Oh no my friend, this was anything but a field of tall grass. This is where you earned showing up to this gathering. It was at least 200 meters of swampy marsh and ankle deep in gooey mud was the driest it got. Laughing to tears at the ridiculousness of the situation and sweating heaps we trudged on. About halfway through the marsh we here ‘ow ow ow owww!’ and from behind the banner far off in a warrior goddess like way a naked woman comes out with her arms reached out to the sky greeting us.
As we approached the fiery naked goddess she mentions, “You haven’t made it yet!! I am just here to let you know you have almost made it!! You need to walk up the river and take the path on the left.” I needed clarification because the river I already knew was icy cold. “Do you mean cross the river to the other side walk up and then cross to the path on the left?” She replies, “No, the river is the path, you walk in the river up the river.”
I laughed and hopped in the river trying to keep our only bedding dry and focusing on my breath because I am sort of a sissy with cold water.
Finally we made it.
We were warmly embraced by a clan of about 30 pungent smelling hippies. Kind hearted, happy, frolicking, seriously stinky, Hippies.
Sorting out where we were going to set up tent and watching from the upper camp sight while they all joined hands and LITERALLY sang Koombyya. I thought to myself, well damn I wasn’t aware this actually happened!! But I guess if you were to find it somewhere in the depths of the woods, across the river, and through the marsh lands is where it would go down.
As the evening got darker and colder everyone started drawing in closer to the fire. One girl opens a book and story time began. YES, Story time! People around the fire listened intently. A boy comes up to the fire speaking loud saying something I don’t remember what and someone near by says “SHHHHHH, Its story time!!” He falls silent sits down and tunes in. It was adorable. Honestly, I felt like a fly on the wall witnessing this whole different way of life. Some of the people out there were staying the whole month. In it for the long haul.
At one point before April and I called it a night a few people started howling and a guy near us started looking around the sky frantically, “Where is she?” he asked knowing the howls were directed toward the moon. This made me laugh.
At a ripe 11pm April and I zipped the tent up. I layered three jackets on and cuddled down. I think I managed to get a little sleep somewhere between being quiet cold all night long and the bizarre night mirrors.
Upon deciding it was light enough and maybe warm enough outside to leave the tent in the morning I grabbed my yoga mat and went on a walk to find a good place to get some morning practice in. This began my first real run in with sand flies.
While the set up was lovely and the scenery was grand. The only portion of my flesh showing was my hands, feet, neck and face. Within seconds of standing on my mat there was a minimum of 30-40 sand flies swarming my vulnerable exposed extremities. THE NERVE of these little buggers!! They were relentless. I tried to be yogi. I tried to breath through the gnawing. But alas I called it quits and trekked back up the hill and laid down in the tent.
When April was up we decided to make a morning mission back to the car for the few things we hadn’t got the first time out, like plates and another blanket or two if possible. Bearing in mind that we wouldn’t want to make two trips back again to haul everything out.
This is where our adventure takes a slight change in direction. When April went to grab the keys they were covered in wet squished banana. She wiped them off and we carried on.
The walk back I was able to notice more of the beauty since I wasn’t loaded down with gear, bear foot just like I like to be swapping life stories, we voyaged.
Well when we got back to the car we realised the banana key thing was more than just a sticky mess that took a mere wipe up. Aprils car has a safety feature that doesn’t allow the car to be started unless you unlock it with that button. Once we got to the car we learned that the wet banana had seeped into the mechanics of the button pusher and broke it. We could use the keys to get into the car, but the car would not start. No service. No people around.
We got out the cooking gear and made breakfast while sifting through our possible options.
We decided that if we go back into the bush we wouldn’t be making another trip in, we were only going to stay two nights to begin with and now we had a car situation on our hands. So we trekked back in and thankfully there was a group of people with room enough for us in their camper bus making a trip into town, RIGHT NOW. Which is exactly where we needed to get in order to have cell service to call AA. We scrambled to break everything down, pack it up, clean up the banana mess and turn our fannies right back around. It was a blessing that since we headed back with a group of people we had a few extra hands to help with the load!
A few hours later, a successful call to AA, and a pit stop at a road side plum tree later we were back at the car and being told by a toe truck driver that he didn’t know how to solve our problem. What he could do was bring the car back to civilisation. By civilisation I mean a gas station, closed cafe, and a dodgy seemingly closed motel. Perfect. Toe truck driver told us his guy who knows stuff about this stuff is currently on a 4 day weekend and he himself couldn’t help us out until tomorrow. So it was 9pm getting darker, and we were in a gravel lot about to pitch a tent for the night in a gas station where semi trucks haul in and out kicking up dust all night long. UGH.
We found out bus tickets to Christchurch at 9 am the next day were $50, and then we noticed the semi truck that was currently filling up had Christchurch written on it. I looked at April and without saying anything she signalled a thumbs up to me and I said YES. We promptly skipped over to the man at the pump and much to our delight , Arthur(truck driver), was in fact on his was to Christchurch and naturally didn’t mind giving us a ride. He was headed to the airport, Aprils mom lives by the airport and would be able to pick us up late that night when we pulled in.
So one extravagantly elaborate attempted camping trip later I sit here back in ChristChurch to tell you about it. While April borrows her moms car to go to the Toyota dealership in hopes to sort out this car button malfunction. Lets cross our fingers that it is a simple, non-costly endeavour.