Splore 2023 – Tapapakanga Park: Feb 23-26, 2023

Splore happened last weekend despite the weather. Our intrepid reporter Gab McDonnell was there to catch the vibe. 

After a two year absence taking us back to the biennial years of one of Aotearoa’s most loved festivals, Splore finally returned to the ataahua shores of Tapapakanga Regional Park last weekend.

And what a weekend it was! I think anyone can agree that this summer hasn’t been anything quite like what comes to mind when one thinks of summer. With multiple disastrous weather events including cyclones and floods, our time at Tapapakanga was no different. Thursday arrival bought the showers which had turned to heavy rain by Friday night and a mudfest by Saturday. You may be thinking to yourself “Ugh, not another writer harping on about the weather again!” but trust me when I say, it’s all relevant.

About a week ago, The Splore crew promised us the festival would go ahead rain or shine, no matter what. For most of us it’s what we needed.

Some punters arrived on site after a week from hell attempting to rebuild their lives after the impacts of Cyclone Gabrielle. Many conversations were overheard of people saying they needed this festival to take their mind off the disastrous events of the last month.

Festival director John Minty couldn’t have summed it up better in his closing speech on the Sunday afternoon; “Some Splorers lost homes in the recent floods and said Splore was just what they needed to lift their spirits. We salute all the attendees this year for facing the elements and showing the passion that inspires. Aroha mai, aroha atu.”

The weather was an obvious inconvenience to most people, some literally getting stuck in the mud and others losing their footing- and beautiful costumes – entirely. But it also reminded some of the more experienced Splorers of the glorious mudfest that occurred 5 years ago during the Fat Freddy’s Drop performance at the 2017 chapter of the festival. There were many moments of deja vu as punters embraced the mud in all its glory, diving headfirst into the unspoken ethos of the festival which is pretty much to not give a shit.

Now enough about the weather, it’s about time I touched on some of the bigger (and smaller) details which made Splore as wonderful as ever this year as previous renditions. I want to first start with the art.

What I personally think sets Splore apart from many other NZ festivals is the way it is decorated exquisitely with visual art from head to toe. Many event organisers seem to think that if you find a paddock, pop a stage or two up in it, add some portaloos and a bar that they’ve made themselves a festival. I think not.

What makes an event stand out, what makes it memorable and a calibre above others is how it presents itself. Not just audibly, not by how many bars it has but how visually stunning it is. Splore doesn’t just do this, Splore IS this. From the hand painted signs with funny messages  staked into the dirt the moment you drive through the gates to the gorgeous lighting weaved throughout the trees heading down the goat track, every little detail draws you in that much more.

Oh and DARLING, don’t get me started on the performance art- another visually beguiling aspect of this wonderland that puts it on another playing field all together. As an emerging performance artist myself, this is a must for any event that wants to call itself a festival. Splore is so much more than the names on its musical lineup –  not that they ever disappoint anyway…

Highlights for performance art at Splore 2023 include the sensual spectacle that is Hannah Tasker Poland, the way this delicacy moves is a feast for the eyes and not something to miss. Another dreamy mention has got to be Miss Hellblazer, this woman really knows how to work herself around a pole, she has honed her craft to absolute perfection. I also can’t forget to touch on the incredibly talented artists of The Dust Palace, from aerialists to acrobats, hand balancers to hoopers, these guys never disappoint when showcasing their perfectly polished talents. Their diluted version of their original spectacular Haus of Yolo on Friday evening was all round entertainment that fed the souls of the audience. I could not fault it.

To wrap the ribbon around the gift that was Splore ‘23, I’d like to give some honourable mentions to some of the musical acts that featured across the various stages this year.

Before bringing up any specific acts, I’d first like to say that another great thing about Splore is the unexpected talents that are not necessarily household names but are always undoubtedly incredible. My hat goes off again to John Minty, who personally goes around the world with a fine tooth comb, hand picking acts that dazzle & mesmerise. In his closing speech he mentioned one of these incredible artists who for the second time stopped people in their tracks.

Returning to the Splore mainstage after their debut in 2020, “Kae Tempest transfixed Splorers with a spoken word performance that epitomised the catharsis everybody has craved recently.” You couldn’t ignore the words weaved by this musical genius. They spoke of their struggles whilst also managing to include everyone else’s combined stories of pain, love and passion at the same time.

Another lesser known but incredibly sensational act was kiwi born reggae queen & band Rubi Du. Additional acts that wowed and wooed the audience were the always energetic Dub Pistols, the smooth sounds and moves of Ladi6, the delicious harmonies of Troy Kingi & his talented backup band and finally kiwi legend Don McGlashan who bought NZ music royal Hollie Smith on for a part te reo maori part english duet that literally made me melt.

Splore is not just about the music, although that part is always fantastic. Splore is everything anyone who wants a break from the real world needs. It’s an escape, a dreamland, a place of hope & beautiful ethics.The word Splore is actually defined as “Merry making festivities, carousing and frolicking, a good going session” and i think anyone who has attended the festival can agree – no matter what the weather, rain, shine, mud or wind – that really is the perfect definition.

Gab McDonnell

Creative producer, writer & performance artist @gab__mac (instagram)

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