Tauranga has pulled out the stops for the long weekend with insanely beautiful weather - a bit of a wintry nip in the air but warmed by gorgeous sunshine.

It has been the perfect setting for the Escape! Festival, only the second of its kind in Tauranga, which opened at Baycourt on Friday and ends today.

Baycourt was a hive of activity with the foyer transformed into an Italian-like cafe/wine bar, and outside people spilled on to the lawn space for coffee, smoothies and Hungarian flat bread pizzas.

There were free events including storytelling on Baycourt's front lawn and the Human Library Project, a social project where people could "check out" other people as you would books, and learn about them through conversation.

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The programme included discussion to whet all appetites including debate about current affairs, food, travel, and an insight into New Zealand writers. Speakers included Kiwi chef Peter Gordon, award-winning scientist Siouxsie Wiles and anthropologist Dame Anne Salmond.

A few of us from the Bay of Plenty Times attended some of the sessions on Saturday and Sunday, and everyone was fizzing with excitement about the debates. I could have sat there all day, both days, and listened to every single one. The community seemed to have come out en masse to support the festival - sessions we attended were packed.

At 10am yesterday people were queuing for the discussion on crime between Judge Paul Mabey QC and author and journalist Steve Braunias. One man joked he had forgone a family brunch to attend, with his mate jesting that he wanted tips on how to kill the mother-in-law.

Hats off to festival director Claire Mabey and her team for putting on such an excellent programme and bringing the community together - inspiring us to talk, think and create.