My pillow party at Kiwiburn 2020

Kiwiburn is New Zealand’s regional version of Burning Man. It gathers a mere 2,000 people on a farm just 2 hours north of Wellington. While 2000 people hardly compares to the 70K that Black Rock City gathers nor would it compare to the technological grandeur, I can confirm that Kiwiburn can claim an abundance of two key factors that Black Rock lacks — community and water.

Our theme camp was one of the better organised ones in town. It was a years worth of anticipation and 4 months worth of planning before we ever set foot on the paddock. Our little group of 17-ish people broke ice and built friendships over all the little touch point planning sessions. There were structure practice weekends, meal plans, cooking and cleanup rosters, equipment rosters, finance sheets, transport and power logistics, workshop planning, pillow bricking, decor and costume point people, and even safety contracts to foment our self reliant unit. For the community we offered a smattering of workshops each day, an all hours snug space and unlimited supply of tea, coffee and chocolate milk.

And when it all came together we had a stellar home base and my trusty little community of theme camp mates welcomed me home for the first time. This is the only photo I got because we all shut off our phones, swapped out our daily garb for a fully stacked costume closet and left our societal norms at the gate.

My Pillowtopia Theme Camp Crew

Upon entry we are equipped with an event guide and a map. For as much as we heaved over this information on day one I would compare the interest versus use of that book to the world’s response to climate change. I went through it fully at least twice, checked it every day and used it almost never. If you could keep track of time, which I couldn’t, there was a hosted event at all hours of the day.

It was pleasant to see the community aspect extend beyond just our camp. Down Bogan Alley, past Camp No Fun to Tropical Pariadiso, around to Purfferfish village, I discovered that I had friends in all corners of this burn party. On top of that, consent culture and a welcoming attitude blanketed the entire eco-sphere so it was easy to get comfortable with people that you would have never been otherwise exposed to.

I was warned of this thing called paddock time but had no idea the gravitas of the vortex. It was particularly strong by the river. Despite learnings each day I would naively claim early on, “I’m just going down for a swim” like its a quick thing. But then I wouldn’t surface until hours later because on the way to the river it was too easy to get absorbed by one or two of the adhoc popup picnics, then take a walk on the slackline, or a dip in the spa, or a crawl into the handcrafted sauna hut, or just park up on the bank and stare at the constant flow of naked people. Oh and don’t forget the most memorable asado (bbq) and paella served daily by a group of local Argentines.

When we weren’t at the river though, we hosted pillow fights, birthday parties, high tea dates, story time, to lessons in shibari, massage and crochet. Dinner was always a communal experience. But for as unaccountable as we were during the day, it was always easy to find a friend close by if you wanted to take a walk to talk out some personal roadblocks or have a hang in the hammock tower, or practice a shibari tie-up.

It was a comradeship that we would tap into many times. For example, on one unassuming morning we woke up to find that some of us (myself in particular) had slept through a coordinated heist by our Incoherent neighbors. I slept through a stealth abduction of our entire pillow population! Our pillow nation was forced into building a giant wall that we were invoiced for!

Quick! Band together! Scramble through the costume closet and find the military coats! We went for a brute force take down. Then a search and rescue mission was organised to retrieve our unicorn that had been taken hostage and held captive behind the wall with resident taxidermied pets and monster family named, Tingle, Dingle and Mo... True story of how reality changes inside those pearly gates.

Fire dancers before the burn

On burn night we stuck together like a herd. We danced together, we dosed together, we burned together, we even hugged it out and made peace with the neighbors. The anticipation leading up to the burn was significant in its own right but it was fanned by 100+ fire dancers who took the stage to grace the audience with an honorary toast to the effigy, its builders and all the intentions that were about to go up in flames. There were many legends of running naked around the effigy and while I can’t confess to have made it this year I can provide insight to the experience. Pretend that you are a drifting jelly fish caught in the middle of one of those massive schools of fish you see swirling in circles at the aquarium. Then convert all the fish into naked bodies —It’s totally alien but not at all unnatural. That’s about the best translation I can offer.

Second effigy and faces in the fire (photos by Andy Flint)

Its hard to know what you’re getting yourself into but its easy to see how the yearly ritual can color an entire year of a person’s life. A burn is a chance to step out of your comfort zone, ask questions, challenge your boundaries, whether it be by connecting with strangers, drugs, body positivitey, or some form radical self-expression. It’s fun, its challenging, and I’ll be looking back on and forward to this coming home experience for the year to come.

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Open Letters

Open Letters

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Slow Traveler, Tree Hugger, Flawed, Productivity Enthusiast, telling my story