Shall we gather by the river?
It will be a loss to Nelson if the organiser of the increasingly successful Gathering, Murray Kingi, holds to his threat of moving it to the North Island. As is the case with all trend-setting events, some of the first wave of "gatherers" have grown disenchanted with it. It has become too mainstream for them and they are searching for something new.
But as the trailblazers drift away they are replaced by much bigger numbers who have discovered the Gathering's reputation and are prepared to travel long distances to attend. This year it was expected that around 10,000 people would pay the $160 ticket fee. In fact the Gathering drew 13,000 and Mr Kingi says he is thinking of trebling its size, and taking it north.
The organiser has expressed frustration at the difficulties of staging his event in the Tasman district and claims he has had little support from the Nelson and Tasman councils. So far his complaint is a vague one. "I just wish the business community and councils would give us a helping hand, give us a break," he says. Yet these comments tend to cut across what has been a remarkably trouble-free run for the Gathering in its five-year history.
While it remained at the spectacular but impractical Canaan Downs venue atop Takaka Hill, great patience was shown towards the giant traffic snarl-ups caused by the inadequate access road from the turnoff to the site. The region's officials and residents - and the thousands of non-Gathering holidaymakers - showed a remarkable willingness to let the Gathering take over for a few days.
Last year, when hundreds of revellers were involved in an emergency evacuation following a sustained, cold rainstorm, emergency services and volunteers couldn't have been more helpful. Some of those brought out from Canaan Downs were suffering hypothermia; others would have developed the same life-threatening condition if help hadn't been so forthcoming.
Then there is the extremely important role played - or downplayed - by the police. The Gathering has done a terrific job of running its own security and emergency services. While it is no secret that considerable quantities of illegal substances are consumed at this dance party, there has been virtually no trouble and, when isolated incidents have occurred, they have been quickly and professionally dealt with.
To their credit, the police have remained at arm's length, showing a maturity of attitude which seems to recognise that while the drug laws are being broken, those breaking them are consenting adults who only want to dance and be happy for a few days. The dancers' behaviour is in stark contrast to the alcohol- fuelled stupidity demonstrated on New Year's Eve at Tahunanui Beach Holiday Park, and shows the wisdom of the Gathering's "no alcohol" policy.
In an achievement reminiscent of the New Zealand Wearable Art Awards, Mr Kingi and his army of helpers have built something so special in Nelson that it has quickly become known around New Zealand and the world. Now that a riverside venue has shown its suitability, it is to be hoped that the organiser gets the co-operation he is seeking. The Gathering's benefit to the region is huge, both in the annual boost to visitor spending and the way it spreads the word about Nelson. It will be a great shame if it is lost to another part of New Zealand.