With four speaker sessions, a workshop and a dinner sold out, Escape! festival organisers are thrilled with the response to the Queen's Birthday weekend event.
"It shows there is a hunger locally for this type of thoughtful conversation and Escape! is going from strength to strength," festival director Jo Bond said.
"We were especially pleased to have ticket holders from Rotorua, Hamilton, Whakatane, Auckland, Christchurch and Nelson. We take pride in putting on events that draw people to Tauranga."
Attendance to ticketed shows was up 10 per cent from 2016 and 37 per cent from the inaugural Escape! in 2014, despite torrential rain on Sunday.
The rain played havoc with chef Monique Fiso's efforts to light and keep a hangi fire going so Somerset Cottage co-owner Anne Butcher organised a gazebo for over the pit as the hangi food was an essential part of the Hiakai seven-course dinner for 50 that night.
Fiso said she has never worked in such heavy rain.
The Taylor Bros Schools Festival, held in the week leading up to Escape!, involved 500 primary, intermediate and home-schooled students enjoying visits from professional storyteller Tanya Batt and author Angie Belcher.
The free Red Matters sessions with photographer Bianca Duimel of Matamata attracted red-heads from as far afield as Auckland. Although she planned to work to 2pm on Saturday, Duimel stayed until 4pm to cater for demand – some 50 families and about 70 people photographed for her third book.
"We believe creativity breeds creativity," Bond says, "and the spin-off for Tauranga will come as local people touched by Escape! bring their ideas to fruition."
The Tauranga Arts Festival will be held from October 24-November 2 next year, with the next Escape! festival at Queen's Birthday weekend, 2020.