I think we need to start with the recognition that New Zealand (Aotearoa) is fabulous. Gorgeous gorgeous country (seriously, the drive to the burn, alone, is a treat), and with really lovely people. It’s worth coming here just to experience that. Just saying.
Going all the way back to 2004, Kiwiburn was the very first Regional Burning Man Event outside North America. In 1994 Mark ‘Yonderman’ Stirling and Jane Thomsen stumbled on Burning Man by chance while camping in the Black Rock Desert. When they returned to New Zealand, Mark became the country’s first Regional Contact; a few years later he started organizing New Zealand’s Regional Burn.
It’s important that we acknowledge and honor the local iwi named Ngāti Hauiti in whose rohe (territory) Kiwiburn is located. I’m pleased to tell you that Kiwiburners actively respect and support the local Indigenous tribes here, and this is something they do regularly when they meet in different forums. The lands are now a farm owned by Mark and Andrea Grace, who have welcomed the Kiwiburners since 2014.
That said, my next Kiwi phrase for Kiwiburn is “PFM” — Pure Fucking Magic! There were 2,300 participants this year. That’s a really nice size for a burn, by the way — still lots of people, and yet more intimate than Black Rock City.
Because the burn is on a farm, Kiwiburners speak about “the paddock” rather than “the playa.” Camping is all around with plenty of room wherever you find a place that calls out to you. There are three paddocks, upper (great bars and dancing), middle (quieter, saw a great cabaret there at camp Swing Fling with lots of aerialists) and lower paddock, the quietest (where families usually go).
Kiwiburn produces a great booklet, filled with useful information beyond what’s available on their website. It’s worth perusing beforehand to get ideas of what to contribute. Volunteerism is very much in the culture there, so there are many opportunities. With so much going on you’ll want to see where you best fit in.
Below the lower paddock (are you ready for this?) there is a river. Gang, if there is one thing we need at every burn, it is more water. The river in question is the Rangitīkei River. Rangitīkei translates as “the day of striding out.” The Maori ancestor Hau named the Rangitikei River while pursuing his wife and her lover southward from Taranaki. With long strides (tīkei) he moved one day (rangi) to the river he then called Rangitikei. You might notice that Kiwiburn participants knew the story and thought it worthwhile to tell me, and that they clearly cared. This is one way in which they are honoring and respecting the Indigenous people here.
Speaking of weather, I don’t know if you’re aware of it, but New Zealand is right beneath that hole in the ozone layer we keep hearing about. So the sun is intense. They say to reapply your sunscreen every 20 minutes.
Let’s talk about art. This was my first Regional Event and the art was impressive and really fun. My favorite was a surprising installation called “Solitary Refinement,” which offers participants a room for a period of time… and the room is amazing. That’s all I can tell you, as seeing it without introduction is the best way to experience it.
Another piece, “Taking Flight (Aroha mai, Aroha atu)” is a wooden Haast’s Eagle or Pouākai, an extinct New Zealand bird. It was created by Sparking Andromeda, a team of builders and designers from Black Rock City’s Department of Public Works.
I had an interesting experience with the Pouākai; I saw the crew disassembling it. I was reminded of the amazing process that goes into making a sculpture like this. It starts with a musing of “what if…” and then develops through planning (and many people), choosing the ideal materials, shaping them just so, adding additional designs (or not) placing them into exactly the right place, adjusting as needed, and eventually the heart stops in its place, and you’re done.
Every time we see art, we’re only seeing the end result and unfortunately missing the rest of the story. But if you stare at it, and really feel into it, then you can perceive the magic. No two pieces are the same… ever. Having people take that kind of time for a piece they bring to a burn reflects just how amazing the burns are. (Rumor says “Taking Flight” may land on the Black Rock City playa next.)
The effigy (a wooden head, Kiwiburn’s version of the Man) and the Temple felt very inviting to me. Both had ramps. I was impressed that Kiwiburn organizers were thinking about accessibility, having discussions around it and actively working to improve on it.
So let’s talk about Radical Inclusion, specifically BIPOC and LGBTQIA. I’m pleased to share that there were many camps for both, with lots of workshops and welcoming discussions. Kiwiburn’s Rainbow Team created the amazing Hosting Queer Inclusive Events Guide as a resource for camps and community members (YAY!). I also met a wonderful Indigenous woman named Sarah who brought me up to date with how the Maori, the Indigenous people of Aotearoa New Zealand, are doing. I like the interest, awareness and open conversations everyone had here.
Kiwiburn was the first Regional Event to prototype Burner Leadership Achieving Sustainable Theme-camps (BLAST), a Green Theme Camp certification program that emerged from the Green Theme Camp Community. I LOVE their focus here. Kiwiburn had composting toilets this year for the first time. They are helping lead the way toward greater environmental stewardship in our global community.
Burners received a major gift from the farm owners who had a water supply line near the Paddock and generously offered that water to the burn! Kiwiburn installed $20,000 of infrastructure, including bulk storage tanks, piping, faucets and a water treatment plant to take it to potable standard. The result was that we were gifted easy access to drinking water. Imagine the plastic saved with everyone not having to bring that in! Another Fab thing? This was Kiwiburn’s first year with composting toilets.
We had a lot of rain (you might have heard how Auckland flooded the week of the burn), and oh baby, it was quite the muddy scene! I felt lucky that only a bit of my stuff was wet, as there were people with a couple of inches of water throughout their camp. Everything in parts of the paddock was flooded. The roads around the burn were super muddy, so no one could leave the burn… it was quite something.
Huge credit to the burn organizers who had massive machinery to pull out trucks, and put wood chips all over the place to create a road and facilitate more people leaving. Not that rain and mud stopped the burn (of course), but it did slow things down a bit. Interesting camping note: the tents in New Zealand are really nice and super rugged. I’ve never seen ones like them in the US. A Kiwiburner told me that they’re made for harsher conditions (lots of rain).
I firmly believe Burners model how the world should be. We have strong connections and openness with each other, we treat our environment with the highest regard, and we seek to improve what we are creating for humankind and the Earth. We live a life that needs to be noticed and duplicated. All Burners worldwide connecting closer is something we should strive for, and Regional Events offer that opportunity. Kiwiburn is a great place to start! The 2024 Kiwiburn marks their 20th anniversary, so mark your calendars now. You will be very glad you came. Just bring a load of sunscreen.
Cover image the Kiwiburn effigy (Photo by Chromatest J. Pantsmaker)