Luminate, set atop a crystal mountain called Canaan Downs half way between the Nelson region and the magical Takaka and Golden Bay, is New Zealand’s largest festival of its kind. The kind which offers a sustainable way of creating an event on a huge scale, with hundreds of wellness workshops, epic worldwide musical acts running continuously over three stages from dawn till, well dawn, celebrating the time of the year known as Lughnasadgh or Lunasa in the southern hemisphere which is the point midway between the summer solstice and the autumn equinox. The marketplace and village stage offer a beautiful community vibe which is strong and vibrant after the week long festival has run. Tent City springs up on the valley floor with the most elaborate camping-in-style set ups such as bell tents and house buses to a hammock slung up on the edge of the ancient forest which is out of bounds for camping.
We arrive the day before with our 15month and 3.5yr old girls – both having been to a local festival before, the older one – Milly, having been twice. We felt we were ready to do Luminate, in a large tent, armed with the low expectation that if we made a gig or two or even one workshop each we would be winning. We aimed to treat it as a camping experience with a bonus festival thrown in. We were in it for the atmosphere and to be with the other families we were camping with. Unexpectedly, this aspect of the festival, being with others for a week of camping in insanely extreme conditions, was the most treasured and what I will remember out of the beauty of it all. We made numerous workshops – well, I did mostly, as my partner and the other men in our camp were happy to play with the kids on the slack lines in the Circus Area as us Mamas belly danced, learnt about herbal remedies, cycles, did acro-yoga and other soul expanding activities. I liked this natural rhythm that developed between the men and the women. To acknowledge this, one night we said Go! Be wild and free…and off into the night they went for a blow out. I enjoyed mine with one of my friends one bright afternoon of absolutely golden liquid drum and base in the E-Zone. Go! He said, Be wild and free – I’ve got the kids! So I did.
So we far exceeded our expectations. But most of the festival was general mayhem as the kids ran wild and free ALL of the time, refusing hats and getting burnt, not sleeping, howling with the entire camp at midnight, covered in food and dirt, eating random bits of food off the grass around camp, hitting, fighting, yelling with the hoard of other children camped with us, peeing themselves – oh and that one night, early in unfortunately, where the baby rubbed her poo all over her bedding and portacot. That was Hell on Earth to clean up.
We used solar showers to stay kinda clean, with soap which doubled as shampoo AND bodywash. My man devised a way to get maximum shower stream by standing on the roof of the car and hosing the other one down below. Genius.
We spent tonnes on food before we arrived and blew our budget while there, but we enjoyed ourselves and made the most. Somehow we haven’t suffered too much as a result but our savings took a hit…..We did leave with a lot of our camping food although as we found that most nights our group contributed some food items and then took turns cooking up delicious curries, pastas, and rice dishes – we even had ice cream thanks to our new friends turning up with a fridge in a horsefloat! We also enjoyed buying some food there as it was a part of the experience, to eat little to no meat and fresh, organic foods. The kids did have a lot of snacks on hand which we had bought in the supermarket shop beforehand….they seemed to be ravenous all the time.
It was beautiful to see our two young children working stuff out with other kids, although sometimes heartbreaking for me, watching the dynamics between my 3.5yr old and another, older, strong willed girl child. She also fell in love with the little boy we had in our camp – declaring her love for him in front of everyone many times! I feel the whole experience, although a little Lord of the Flies at times, strengthened the kids resilience and built their characters. The baby eventually did sleep enough of the time in her pram and she delighted in the two other babies who camped with us. There was a great spread of kids in our camp alone and throughout the festival itself – the kids program had fantastic options and we managed to get along to a few of these workshops as well. The Aromatherapy Play workshop was a hit especially, as was anything circus related!
One big difference this year, was the fire ban – with very good reason. As the impact of climate change seems to show itself, the region suffered badly with fire damage in the weeks following Luminate. Even as we experienced a heat wave of 35 degrees in the day, it was still freezing at night and planning for warmth began as soon as the sun crept towards the edge of the tree line. This was by far the hardest aspect of the festival – these extreme temperatures. Especially with little ones. We were not prepared at all and were lucky to be given extra blankets by people. I definitely considered bailing. Our friends who were long time luminaries noticed the fire not being present in a huge way. Misty eyed they told of masses of bodies roiling and dancing, naked around the fire to celebrate Lunasa. I felt as though we had really missed out! But again, we could all understand why, especially those who came each year as they gazed about the stiff yellow grass steaming in the sun. It’s usually a giant green field here, one friend told me mournfully.
This brings the main overall message of Luminate into focus with more clarity as I integrated the experiences of connectedness with others, community, sustainability, honoring the natural state of things within oneself and within the planet context and the overall message of Hope. The festival represented a gathering of people interested in and striving towards finding a better way forward. Where a place like this, a place where one is accepted, supported, uplifted and given the opportunity to grow, is commonplace, everyday. A new reality.
Summary of Luminate 2019:
Bubbles flow through the air, to the lilting strains of a chant and the sitar as people laze on mossy grass. Rainbows reflect. Long talks and hard dances. Dust filled noses and pores – brown skin. Kids, running wild in tribes covered in dust, dirt, exhaustion and joy. Faces lit with a healthy glow as they sleep soundly, worn out from running, jumping, rolling on the burnt grass. The constant hum of bumble bees signaling the warmth of the sun has arrived, finally, gratefully after a cold, hard night, we drink it in. Clothing, optional and any take on clothing is embraced. Come to Luminate to embody who you truly feel you are, in any form that takes – unique beauty and shining personalities are on display everywhere you turn, people shine as themselves.