Whanganui is in the middle of a summer event season that is full to bursting over the next three months. A wide range of festivals, concerts and events guarantee something of interest for people of all ages, and if we can maintain vigilance and remain at alert level 1, the next three months may be Whanganui's biggest event season ever.
Mike Tweed reports.
Whanganui Mayor Hamish McDouall said the city had always had "festival after festival after festival".
But summer seemed even more packed than usual this year, particularly with the Downer New Zealand Masters Games taking place this year.
"It'll be a busy few months from now on, and pretty much every weekend is taken up with something," McDouall said.
"It makes Whanganui a really inviting place to live, and even though there's an influx of domestic travellers here, it's good for all of us. It makes us glad to be from Whanganui.
"I'd encourage everyone to get out there and experience the opera, or Vintage Weekend and the Caboodle, and particularly the Master Games. Myself, I'm not an opera lover, but I think Opera Week is an amazing event. You go along and hear the singing and it's just extraordinary," he said.
"Something like Sound Valley is really exciting as well. My nieces from Wellington were saying 'wow, this is the best line-up of New Zealand artists we've seen'. I love Tiki Taane, so it'll be fantastic."
McDouall said in order to keep the upcoming events happening, the Whanganui community needed to remain "switched on" when it came to Covid-19.
"We're able to do these things because of a successful containment of a pretty nasty virus. We have to keep aware, wash our hands and keep our hygiene up.
"We can't afford to be complacent."
2021 Downer's New Zealand Masters Games manager Rachel O'Connor said it was fantastic that Whanganui had "so much on" and the Games had just received its 4000th entrant.
"The vibe around the city is really positive, which is cool to see," O'Connor said.
"Our accommodation is pretty much booked out as well, so that's a good sign that people are staying and having a good look around while they're here.
"It's just been exceptional, especially considering the circumstances and the tough year that we've just been through.
"Everyone has been on the same page in the sense that we have to make this happen, for Whanganui and for the wider country. We have to give people events to participate in safely."
Christina Emery of Pride Whanganui said she was expecting a lot of people from out of town to travel to Whanganui for the city's Pride Week at the end of February.
"Right from day one, three years ago, we had people travelling here for the week," Emery said.
"Every year since then it's grown, and now we're getting people not just from the immediate areas like Rangitīkei, Manawatu and Taranaki, but from all over the country. I've already had messages about accommodation and what other things there are to do in Whanganui.
"It's what we want, and our main aim is to make Whanganui the provincial rainbow capital of New Zealand.
"If we can show people that we're inclusive and we have great stuff then we're going to entice them to move here and travel here, which in turn will really help the economy and build on what we've already got here."
Collaboration between events would help them continue to grow, Emery said.
"On our busiest day, March 6, there's also the Hops and Vines festival happening, and I was talking to [Hop and Vines organiser] Gioia Damosso about it. I said it worked perfectly because we have our walk in the morning, then her event starts at midday, and then our party is in the evening.
"It's not about thinking 'uh oh, there's another event on my day', it's more 'right, how can these events work in combo with each other?'. Collaboration is key, it's huge, and you might as well figure out how people can enjoy all the events that are on offer."
Emery said everyone she talked to was going to upcoming local events.
"Summer season is just the best time for people to get outdoors, connect with the community, and give back to that community by supporting those local events.
"The buzz I feel at the moment is amazing, and we have so much stuff jampacked from now until March and April that it's almost to the point where it's like 'there's so much stuff happening, am I going to make it to all of them?'.
Whanganui & Partners strategic lead for brands and events Jonathan Sykes said Whanganui's event schedule had "never been so busy".
"We've got the well-established events like Cemetery Circuit, Opera Week, Vintage Weekend and of course Masters Games, but add in new events like Sound Valley at Cooks Gardens and emerging ones like Pride Week and it makes for a packed schedule.
"The momentum keeps going through summer as our arts events, Artists Open Studios and Whanganui Walls, come to the fore in March.
"Then there's the return of HoopNation over the Easter Weekend with their Junior Showcase event, La Fiesta, the Jetsprints, Cooks Classic, Welcome to Nowhere Festival, I could go on and on."
Sykes said he was "absolutely" expecting an influx of out-of town visitors for the remainder of summer, and that Whanganui already had double the number of New Zealand-based visitors in December compared to 2019.
"There was a 169 per cent increase from Auckland and 104 per cent from Wellington. We know a big reason for domestic travel is events, so we're optimistic about what the rest of summer looks like.
"Looking back to 2020, we were very clear with event organisers – we need to use events as an activity to support local businesses and help drive the progression of our economic performance in 2020/21.
"Organisers have had their heads down and are collectively delivering a great events proposition with our help and guidance, and the advertising of many events has stepped up in the past year. This presents Whanganui in a great light.
"For those still feeling a lag effect from last year's lockdown, I want to be really clear - Whanganui & Partners is putting concerted efforts into driving more visitors here through our biggest marketing campaign ever and significant support to the events sector.
"I don't see the schedule growing considerably in summer in terms of the number of events, but I do see the potential for the scale and prominence of the ones already here to increase."
Artist Open Studios and Whanganui Walls were cancelled in 2020 because of Covid-19, but both will be returning this year.
Whanganui Walls organisers Si Ormerod and Shanti Sibbing said they were not only excited about the new edition of their event (which will feature an all-Kiwi based line-up), but for all the others that were coming up as well.
"It would have been a shame if no one was willing to take that risk [of organising events], because then nothing would be happening over summer and we've got all these people travelling around New Zealand," Sibbing said.
"We knew that we'd still be able to put on something great, that was never in question, it was just a matter of knowing that Covid-19 wasn't going to come in and disrupt our plans again."
Ormerod said being a festival organiser meant that the summer was usually taken up with work, but having so many different things happening in Whanganui over the next few months meant he would be able to experience "a bit of summer at least".
"We were so amped for last year, and the line-up was incredible, but we feel it's going to be just as strong with this new Kiwi line-up for sure."