By ETHAN GRIFFITHS

 

With the weather somewhat cloudy, dreary yet relatively warm, the opening night of the TSB Bank Festival Of Lights in New Plymouth was set to brighten (literally) the evening of thousands and put a spring in people’s step. It certainly did just that.

An estimated group of 18,000 people lined the Park of National Significance for the opening night of the festival – coinciding with the 50th Anniversary tour of Yusuf Islam/Cat Stevens at the Bowl of Brooklands – a mere 30 metres from the park. The roaring of the crowd and the grumbling of the ever returning Sleeping Giant, a traditional spectacle of the festival, made for a truly exhilarating atmosphere.

Pukekura Park holds a lot of history in its 52 hectares of land, smack bang in the centre of the city. With the world’s “Most Beautiful Cricket Ground” (a quote from the legendary late Martin Crowe) and the Bowl of Brooklands which has seen acts like Sir Cliff Richard, Fleetwood Mac, Sir Elton John and Jack Johnson, the park certainly isn’t just a lake with a few trees.

Pukekura Park’s fantasy with lights started in 1955 when a fountain was built on one of its two lakes to celebrate Queen Elizabeth’s visit to the park. In 1993, the true festival was founded with the then Taranaki Savings Bank as its principal sponsor. The festival celebrated its 20th Anniversary in 2013, the same year it won multiple awards, once seen as a mirage. Now in its 24th year, the festival continues to delight over 100,000 guests throughout the summer and bring millions and millions of dollars into Taranaki’s already thriving economy.

With the park filled to capacity, wearing a pair of Nike slides and foggy glasses, I stepped into the realm of colourful lighting, with nothing but a selfie stick and an iPhone. The goal was to make a video showcasing the park and try and come up with as many metaphors and similes as I could to make a fairly decent journalistic piece. I don’t know about “fairly decent” but I certainly tried.

I was greeted by a massive cube of LED lights hanging five metres above the ground, synced with 80s dance music. The colours were so bright and changing so frequently, it would have given any epileptic a seizure (I escaped unscathed). I thought I’d have a go at counting the lights. I figured if it was a cube, I could count how many LEDs were in the top row and multiply that by something to end up with the sum. I tried to find out how much to multiply it by, by counting all of the rows. In the end, I got bored and was confused by this ever-changing cube of lights, changing color and swaying in the wind. In the end, I decided to come to the conclusion that there was no piece of art or breathtaking work here. It was just unexplainable magic.

Video created by Ethan Griffiths.

I walked down towards Poets Bridge. First built in 1884, it is one of New Zealand’s oldest bridges. Just like 2016, the bridge was transformed into a light tunnel, where thousands of LEDs light everything above, below and next to you. It was truly breathtaking in every sense of the word. I genuinely bumped into someone and fell on the ground due to its magnificence. (I came out fine but my selfie stick didn’t).

Walking down beside the lake I found the Pukekura Waterfall, a spectacular man-made waterfall during the day, but something that looks like it is straight out of another dimension at night. The serene moment was short lived when I heard intoxicated friends who had just left a party yell out my name. I removed myself from the area as soon as I could. I’m not about that life.

The night continued just as I expected. I bumped into more friends, old classmates from primary school and even someone I met on my cruise across the Tasman Sea in 2015. I took photos of more lights, accidentally tripped over a duck (hope you’re okay buddy) and almost broke my Nike slides after hooking them on a branch while walking. It can be surreal, yet an evidently very dangerous place.

I figured that I wasn’t here to look at lights, I was here to get information and get opinions on those hard-hitting controversial topics. I approached a guy sitting next to me, knowing it was a big moment. I was finally writing a real journalistic piece, for a real journalistic organization with real journalistic people. “How do you like it?” I asked. Only assuming he was a tourist, he replied swiftly with a tough German accent and the smell of cheap alcohol on his breath. “Zis is zucking beautiful”. He summed it up better than I ever could, even in a ten paragraph piece.


You can visit the TSB Festival of Lights in New Plymouth yourself from now to the 5th of February. Entry is free.

ETHAN GRIFFITHS is a 16-year-old Taranaki lad who loves writing, rugby and cricket. Don’t bring up politics if you are not super bored and don’t want to chat for hours on end. Check out more of his work:

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