To celebrate the New Year, I went on a festival road trip with my mates to bring in 2019 in the best way possible. Three mates, one car, two state highways and nine whole days travelling up and down the South Island ahead of us. It’s the freshly graduated student’s rite of passage, and we were about to leave behind responsibility to embark. First up was three days camping at Rhythm and Alps before finishing up at Bay Dreams in sunny Nelson. Now that we’ve done it, we wouldn’t trade it for the world. Here’s what I did, what I learned as a first-time festival goer, and how you can do it for yourself next summer to become the wild thing that you are.

First up, the mighty festivals themselves. Rhythm and Alps: three whole days of camping, dancing and drinking. Be prepared to live like a hippie. Believe me when I say, it’s one hell of an amazing experience. First note of advice? Get your crew together. Even though you tend to meet people and your neighbours over the three days (or two, or one), the more of a crew you have the better. There is plenty of time in the mornings to chill, to sleep or to get out and explore Wanaka or Queenstown as the first gig isn’t up ‘til about 1pm. With a whole group of you first-timing, you can make a little community right in the middle of the campground – we coincidentally ended up camping next to some high school friends. When we weren’t dancing, my mates and I headed to Lake Wanaka at the start of every day to get that morning dip. There’s a real vibe in Wanaka over the festival period, and I recommend getting out and about if you can for a bit of a tiki tour.

Note number two? Pack all of the snacks – and I mean everything you can fit in your chilly bin that isn’t glass (rip the Pic’s jar). If you’re on a tight budget like I was, then snacks are a godsend not just for camping, but for the entire road trip. Aim for one substantial meal a day, and the food stalls are stellar in the campground – there’s plenty of healthy and greasy options depending on what floats you or your hangover’s boat.

Third and most vital note? Embrace everything. Go to the artists you haven’t heard of, yell over the music to the people you’re dancing next to and go for a groove at every stage and rave. Remember this is a chance to discover new music. People are nice if you’re nice to them, say sorry when you’re pushing to the front of the mosh, and get your freedom on. If you’re not a drinker, then don’t drink. I didn’t drink heavily every single night, and I got buzzed on the caffeine instead on New Year’s Eve – take what takes your fancy. On the second day of 2019, we left Wanaka for Nelson, stopping off in Canterbury to sleep.

Half the fun is getting there, so make the most of the road trip itself. Be sure you pay your way, pack a good feed, stop off for photos, and do everything you can. On the way to Wanaka, we spent the first afternoon at Mt Cook and camped nearby overnight. On the way to Nelson, we took the new coast road for the views. If you have the time, make the time to enjoy being on the road as the road trip is as much as the festival roadie as the festivals are.

Up next, Bay Dreams: one intense day of dancing, drinking (mostly water this year, let’s not lie), and one impressive line-up. Take everyone you can, avoid heatstroke, and organise your accommodation way ahead of time. Buy the t-shirt, make sure you have a solid plan on how to get home, and enjoy every minute. Because it’s only one day, it’s easy to feel out of time. The secret? Live in the moment, and don’t let it pass you by.

Now that I’ve conquered it I can say I’m living proof that you can survive on peanut butter and granola bars for a week, and that yes we all smashed out twenty km’s worth of dancing on New Year’s Eve. Here’s the takeaway: embrace everything, get up on someone’s shoulders at least once, and have the time of your life. It’s never too late to live out the great kiwi summer. Get your tickets, get the car sorted, and be prepared to play The Butler’s ‘91 Unleaded’ on repeat.


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HANNAH POWELL is your local film and theatre gal gone hippie, complete with bangs and at least one pair of Docs. Music festival enthusiast, green tea drinker and avid horoscope reader. Will most likely be found at the next gig.


Check out Hannah’s other pieces:

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