Finding My Feet In The Kootenay Mountains

There is nothing like camping out for a full week at an unimaginably loud and dusty electronic music festival, to make you feel like relaxing by a nice and quiet hot spring, somewhere deep in the Canadian mountains. At least when you know it’s an option, it can easily become a semi-serious obsession as the party progresses and you find yourself peeling your sleeping bag off your grimy back in the mornings. I am speaking out of experience, of course.

A snapshot from the Shambhala Music Festival by the Salmo River

A snapshot from the Shambhala Music Festival by the Salmo River

I had been volunteering my carpentry skills at the legendary Shambhala Music Festival in the Kootenay mountains of British Columbia, and it had been a most delightful and wonderfully intense week of hard work and elaborate partying, but now I was positively pooped and – as per usual – down to my last 100 dollars. More importantly, I needed a long, hot bath and a 24-hour nap. More

Tui Turns 30!

Almost 9 months ago, I promised you to write about my experience of living in one of New Zealand’s most remarkable communities – Tui. Then life happened and swept me onto new adventures and I forgot all about it. But as Tui is turning 30 this year, they have asked friends of the community to write a little something for the occasion and I realized that this was my chance to both give them my story and redeem myself to you, dear reader…

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Daylight full moon rising over a corner of Tui with the Abel Tasman National Park in the back.

 

Here is what I sent to the Tuis:

 

My name is Cornelius and I am a Danish globetrotter and community enthusiast who first learnt about community-living in the 1000-people strong Freetown of Christiania – a famous and controversial community in the middle of Copenhagen. From small grungy squats to large scale utopian projects around the world, I have since visited and studied a great deal of communities. Some of them – like Tui – I visited for the purpose of making a radio documentary. My focus with this is to document intentional communities that are long-standing and non-religious, in an attempt to uncover what makes an alternative and individually diversified community last through the generations, without succumbing to the all-too-common problems of fanaticism, commercialism and inter-personal conflict.

 

Stumbling Upon A Gem

I was hitch-hiking near Nimbin in Australia, when I first heard of Tui,  A lady who picked me up, turned out to be a fellow community aficionado and I told her about my community documentary project and that my next destination was New Zealand. Her response was to tell me about one of Tui’s founding members, Robina McCurdy, who happened to have just visited the Nimbin area to give a talk about permaculture. She then told me about Tui community and I decided then and there to visit the place, as soon as I got to New Zealand.

My second impression of Tui came from their website. I was curious to know a bit more about the community, and keen to arrange for me to stay there for a while, so I tried googling them. Having seen so many unkempt community websites over the years, I was very impressed with Tui’s home in cyberspace. Here was a community that, not only updated their website more than once every couple of years, they had also posted relevant information and up-to-date contact details!

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Me and my favourite three co-wwoofers; Ine, the Beast & Mari. A very special time that was for 4 strangers turned family.

I wrote to Tyson, the current (excellent!) visitor coordinator, and told him that I was hoping to do some work, in exchange for a few weeks of accommodation and possibly some food. I also wrote that I was interested in conducting a few interviews for my community documentary. Little did I know that I was going to spend 3 whole months there, working for the community as well as nearly every household, doing more than 20 interviews and no doubt winning some genuine friends for many years to come!

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Love & Loathing In Alice Springs

I had wanted her for years. I kept meeting her former lovers, still spellbound from her presence, and I knew that she was truly hot. She has golden red features and is passionately worshipped by black and white alike. So spirited is she, that yet no one has known her depth. So honestly, beautifully brutal and indifferent is she, that both women and men draw their last breath with her. And yet, I had to embrace her – I had to be inside her, if only just once: I had to go to Alice…

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What was I getting into this time?

ALICE WAS A GUY

There is no denying it; Alice Springs is a female town. And let’s be honest about it; as far as towns go, she ain’t too pretty. We love her and she will suck you in with her incredible charm, but her looks, well, they will just have to grow on you.

Her straight and barren streets get you lost in a grid of buttoned-up suburban houses and except for the feeble curves of the dry Todd riverbed, Alice is very straight and fairly boring to behold. But houses and streets and cars and shops, are only Alice’s latest layers. Before she got her name from a telegraphist’s wife, her name was actually Stuart.

That’s almost a hundred years ago now. She weren’t too pretty then, either. That was her pioneer macho phase, where suddenly thousands of desperate white men with guns and cattle and pieces of paper, decided to scratch out a living in the desert (and maybe a bit of gold).

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A landscape from just outside Alice Springs.

NO PROPERTY – NO PROBLEM

They needed a place for transport and trade, and as fate would have it, they put up a telegraph station for their “singing line”, right in the middle of a songline junction. Black fellas’ pathways have always crossed on this sacred site. White fella only slapped a bit of tarmac on them and proceeded to squat the place and call it theirs.

Trying to be a town in a desert is a pretty terrible idea. Maybe that’s why the original locals, the Arrernte people, never built a town in their tens of thousands of years of belonging to this place. They call Alice Springs for “Mparntwe” – ‘Meeting Place’ – and they don’t claim to own her, they only look after her.

On Arrernte land there are 8 different “skin-names”. Each skin is a tribe and a story about the country it belongs to. Each tribe has a right to travel, but it’s also the caretaker of it’s neighbours’ land, by way of their complex kinship structure. You are, so to speak, related to the land. No property – no problem. Different story now.

australia day

FRESH WOUNDS

The last Aboriginal family in Australia to be exposed to the wicked ways of the white man, came out of the Gibson Desert near Alice Springs only 30 years ago, in 1984. I presume they had been hiding from the slaughtering of their people and protecting their culture. When they finally came out, they encountered a world where blacks and whites live in the same place, yet in different realities.

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A Wide Open Weekend

 

Follow me on my first trip into the arid heart of Australia as I get my brains blown out at a small big festival and spit a doctor in the face before I finally understand what race an Australian doof’er belongs to…

 

THE REDHEADS MADE ME DO IT!

It was Ginger who invited me. I’d hardly ever spoken to her but I knew who she was and I knew she was a good one. Wired to the moon and family straight away. Voice like a cyclone. The Ghost by her side is another good one. Subtle smile, humble hat and a treasure-chest brain he has; music he simply is. More than performers, these guys together are passionate focus incarnate.

They were my neighbours in Sydney and they were playing their hypnotic show at Australia’s “biggest small festival” – the Wide Open Space festival. Since I both wanted to see Ginger & the Ghost as well as the famous Australian land mark Uluru in the desert, I decided to travel with them to the very middle of the oldest continent on Earth.

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In Australia they call redheads for “rangers” as in orangutang. Here are my two favourite ones, Beautiful Ben and Mish the Miracle, breathing meditatively at sunset over the MacDonnell ranges.

It didn’t take much convincing to get my two new best friends to come along. Ben – who runs an artisan warehouse space – Mish the Miracle, and yours truly had been working like beasts for weeks on end, and the sudden prospect of a festival holiday was beyond temptation. This was going to be epic!

Two weeks later, we were all on a desert-bound plane. None of us knew it then, but most of the passengers on that carrier were heading to that same little beautiful spot in the MacDonnell Ranges, some 80 km out of Alice Springs. On board was a motley crew of artists, volunteers, punters and organizers. Most were strangers to each other, yet only days away from becoming friends and future colleagues. No doubt Sydney’s warehouse scene got a network upgrade on that jet full of shakers and makers.

And although this was just another disgustingly early low-budget national flight, this trip into the sky was the first leg on a journey around the world for some, for others the last leg into the mystical heart of Australia for the first time.

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The incredibly talented and highly innovative Ginger & the Ghost had the honor of playing up an 800-year-old tree while a unicorn pole dancer performed on the ground. The ghost said the view was unbelievable…

DESERT IN THE PARTY

Outdoor raves around here are called doofs. Doof doof doof, you get it…. In Australia, throwing an outdoor party means negotiating merciless forces of nature, majestic logistics and kilometres of red tape, not to mention a corporate government’s corrupt law enforcement. But Aussies like a party and bloody oath if anything will stand between them and a good time.

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New Zealand Snapshot Stories

Sometimes it is so much more descriptive to explain a story from a picture, and sometimes there are too many stories too tell in one blog post. So, I have put together this little gallery, showing you some of the memorable people and places I met and visited in New Zealand. There are scores more apart from these (I have had a very busy half a year in terms of meeting people) but I only had a camera for half of the time…

Anyway, hope you enjoy, click on a picture to begin!

A Burner Is Born!

A first-time Burning Man participant shares the magic of New Zealand’s regional Kiwiburn. Meet the Festival Community at the frontiers of culture and see why burners never look back… A 15-minute engaging read, written to the soundtrack of Black Napkins, Happy & Solsbury Hill.

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This guy is what it’s all about. Photo: Randy Brophy

A Passionate Preface

I have lost my virginity to a burning sensation. My mind, body and soul has been cleansed by a week of thorough debauchery so spiritually charged that my life feels many times enhanced. Henceforth I shall identify as a “burner” with the explicit aim of setting large men on fire all around the world. Have I joined a cult? I really couldn’t care less, I just want to burn!

They say that burners leave a burn with instant withdrawal symptoms. I couldn’t agree more. I am literally dancing down the street looking by-passers in the eyes with a big smile for a gift and a heart so open you could pass a galaxy through it. Is this an addiction? I really couldn’t care less, I just want to burn!

Burn those old patterns away, burn away the barriers in my brain and burn up my life in a singularly meaningful, intentional and inspirational blaze of creativity and love. In other words; if you ever doubted that I had gone stark raving mad in the elusive eyes of society; doubt no more, because; I just want to burn!

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Okay, here’s your “naked” shot, now go perv somewhere else 😉

I honestly thought I knew what it would be like to go to a burn. Silly me. I have lived in communities for the past decade, steadily putting on festivals and parties and however many crazy concerts and ceremonies. In my life I have travelled and lived on 5 continents and randomly connected with thousands of beautiful strangers. But I have never seen anything burn so pure as the burning man at Kiwiburn.

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Beauty & The Beast Records Album In Quaint Queenstown!

I met Javi in the neatly utopian community of Tui in Golden Bay, where we were both WWOOF’ing (Willing Workers On Organic Farms). It turned out that, not only did we have a mutual friend back in Australia, we were also both on the lookout for a fellow musician to travel with. After a month of jamming around the campfire, we decided to go on a tour of the South Island – it was to be the most epic hitchhike I have ever done…

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Beauty & The Beast at the “Half Way Around The World” point of their “Friend of a Friend of a Friend Tour”

The tour could well have been called The Friend Of A Friend Of A Friend Tour, because so many times we got picked up by amazing Kiwi’s who not only transported us but also fed and sheltered us and finally passed on the contacts of their friends who in turn did the same. And so it was that a sister of a friend in Tui, offered us to stay in their family’s beautiful old town house right in the center of the quaint little tourist trap of Queenstown.

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The Hitchhiker’s Promised Land – A True Story

You are standing in the prettiest place in the world. Sun is up, and filters pleasantly through an elusive variation of clouds. The camp-fire smell in your clothes reminds you of the glorious conversations and last night’s one-pot stew. This morning’s cowboy-coffee takes the edge of the relentless sand-flies’ bites, but you don’t really care:

In front of you is Mount Cook and his range of snow-capped alpine cousins. Towering so near – pouring clean, crisp water down their arms, and into the hands of the forest and the bush. Silent lakes and strong-headed rivers. Drowsy pastures and the odd farm-house. Over litter-less beaches and into the patiently pulsating Pacific Ocean. This is the last place we got to – the freshest land on the planet.

Back down again, Javi and I are setting out on an epic hitchhike down the most beautiful part of New Zealand; the West Coast of the South Island. Unfortunately without a camera...

Javi and I are setting out on an epic hitchhike down the most beautiful part of New Zealand; the West Coast of the South Island. Unfortunately without a camera…

Time is not an issue. Your thumb is the agenda, and your camp is on your back. Cars passing by allow for another tea and another story – another belly laugh. Nature talks back with subtle critters in the grass, whooshing leaves and the distant crash of tidal waves. The road is warm and life is happy. Someone always picks you up.

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A Tramp In The Park

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Lovely as it may look, this landscape takes its tourist toll every year with unprepared trampers getting caught out in bad weather or simply disappearing.

I have gotten hooked on tramping. That statement does not mean that I am now addicted to brothels. No, tramping in New Zealand means something in between trekking and hiking.

Everyone who has ever told me about their experience in the land of Kiwi, has always stressed the importance of tramping around the rugged alpine landscape. New Zealanders are absolutely mad about it. Every single Kiwi I have spoken to has a passion for tramping around the pristine national parks whenever they get a chance, and one can’t help wonder if this might be one of the reasons for the many earthquakes around here. (I know. That was a dad-joke.)

The lovely Inna about to cross one of the countless "creeks" en route.

The lovely Inna about to cross one of the countless “creeks” en route. She also thinks that was a dad-joke.

So it was with considerable excitement that I recently was invited on a tramp with my lovely guide Inna from Tui community. She is a veritable encyclopedia of tramping on the South Island and upon learning of my inadequate equipment she promptly arranged for me to borrow a proper sleeping bag, thermal underwear, woolen socks etc. Great Mystery knows it all came in handy when the weather turned.

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Even deep in the national parks where no vehicles have any chance of getting to, the Department Of Conservation has somehow managed to build great bridges and establish good pathways to get the trampers safely through the parks.

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The Way To Golden Bay

One time, while hitching in Australia, I was told about a small – but thriving – intentional community in a lovely sounding place in New Zealand. The driver who told me about this place made it sound so inviting that I decided to go there as soon as I arrived in Kiwi-land. And so it is that a short hitch in Oz led me to the peaceful new-age hub of Golden Bay.

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To get to Golden Bay there is only one way; over the 800m Takaka Hill. On top of the hill there is an emergency airstrip and this is the gorgeous view form there.

In 1642, the Dutch were the first Europeans to arrive in this micro-climatic, lush bay, protected from the rest of the South Island by a range of hills bordering to mountains. They had barely put their clog-clad feet on the white sand, however, before the local Maori decided to make minced meat of them. The Maori habit of devouring their enemies led the Dutch to first name this place “Murderers Bay”.

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This is one of New Zealand’s iconic house trucks. And yes, of course I have ended up living in one myself!

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