A woman dances in the shade of an umbrella held by her partner. It’s a blazing hot afternoon; on stage is a high-energy band from Niger, their rhythms bewitching and positivity infectious. There’s a hint of a breeze but not enough to cool us, though the pond between us and the stage holds the suggestion of sweet relief.

In front of the arena, pockets of people have set up day-camps, a scattering of lawn chairs and picnic rugs, chilly bins and cooler bags spilling out over the grass. Some have erected bright flags to signal friends or to mark their temporary territory. Everyone has their own systems; children wander off for hours at a time, they need to be able to find their way back to base when hunger demands or the light fades.

WOMAD is a festival for families – it’s easy and friendly and informal and not too wild for even very young children, many of whom have phone numbers written on their limbs. At the other end of the scale, there are elevated seating areas at the three main stages reserved for people aged 65-plus. Wheelchair access is considered too, with platforms providing good sight-lines.

Lots of people roam on their own. Grey-haired women in twos or threes, small gangs of friends, younger couples in groups, families with grandparents – it’s an inclusive affair. The music is the draw card; the setting creates a relaxed, positive mood.

We meet people we’ve not seen in years and others we collide with back home on a regular basis. We hear music we already have recordings of; other stuff we’ve never heard of. Sometimes it is tantalising, refreshing, energising. Sometimes we’d dance in the heat of the early afternoon or find some shade and let the music waft our way without straining to see the action on stage. Other times, we’d wander off. Not for us. We’d find some other stimulation for our senses; other music, other sights – art, craft, food, discussion. Maybe buy a cool drink and take it to a spot on the slope above the Bowl Stage and just watch people go by.

Late afternoon, we’d wander back up the bush track, across the tracks, past other campers to our campsite. If the others had beaten us, they’d have made a start on dinner. Making a meal was much easier in the campervan kitchen than if we’d been depending on the tent set-up and having a fridge, albeit a very small one, was a real asset. After eating, we’d change to warmer clothes and head back to the festival.

Past the other campers, across the tracks, through the bush.

We had joined the throngs of campers on the racecourse the day before. Apparently there were 5000 of us but it didn’t feel crowded; we’d found a grassy spot on a slight rise with extra space for our friends’ tent, and a view of the mountain.

Camping right by the festival was super convenient and good fun; having a campervan to do it in was brilliant. We had borrowed it from Auckland’s RV Super Centre, who let people considering buying a campervan try them out before committing. Ours was small, compared to other options on the lot, but perfect for this excursion. By the time we’d arrived in New Plymouth, we were hooked.

Would we buy this one? There were several brands at the RV Super Centre; they sell new and reconditioned ones and also build campervans on site. Plus they have all the gadgets and accessories known to the camping kind. There was much to consider simply because of the many options available, but there was a lot to like about this two-berth. We started to toss names around and imagine how we might customise the interior…

Past the other campers, across the tracks, through the bush and into the thick of it – maybe ten minutes’ walk. As we neared the stage-right side of the Bowl, excitement built. The evening throng was heavy and charged; the top acts tend to be on later in the day and the buzz grew as the day lengthened. This was it: the highlight of the weekend!

Reported by Kathryn Webster for our AA Directions Autumn 2019 issue

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