We spent Friday and Saturday nights last week at the Okarito campground. As it happened, Saturday was Okarito’s 150th anniversary celebration. Okarito used to be a town of about 4000 people, back in the late 1800s when the West Coast gold fields were booming. The town sported a 25 hotels, 3 theatres, two banks, several general stores, and a public swimming pool, Today it has a year-round population of about 30. Most of what was once bustling streets has been reclaimed by the rainforest. There are no hotels (though many of the baches are rented as holiday homes), no banks, no pool, and the only remaining general store serves as a tiny museum and event venue seating 40. You can buy a coffee and insect repellent at the local kayak rental company.
Okarito is 30 minutes drive from the township of Franz Josef Glacier, and 3 hours from Hokitika. In the middle of nowhere, I was curious to see how many people would actually show up to the town’s 150th celebration.
It started off slow…
The festivities were scheduled to start at 9 am and run through to 10 pm on Saturday. At 9.00, there were a few people setting up in the marquis…
About 10.30, the bouncy castle was inflated, and half a dozen kids tumbled around on it. We bought a coffee from a food truck that had parked on the edge of the commons and some baked goods from some girls who had set up a table on the lawn. There was a woodworker, the local scout troupe, a few Department of Conservation staff, some locals selling second-hand goods, a knitter selling baby sweaters, a woman selling jam and goat cheese…And very few customers.
By the time the auction started, there might have been 50 visitors, most locals. A good proportion of the items up for auction were purchased by the auctioneer.
A couple of dozen people enjoyed the barbecue dinner.
When the band started playing at 7pm, there were maybe 30 people in attendance. But the music brought out a surprising number, and within half an hour, there was an audience of 125.
Most of that 125 knew one another. They were local farmers, residents, bach owners, regular visitors, and young people working the local tourism industry. Everyone knew each others’ dogs by name, and the dogs chased each other around the crowd like young cousins at the annual Labour Day get-together. It was a lovely atmosphere—more like a family reunion than a public event.
I don’t know whether the Community Association had hoped for a larger crowd, or if it exceeded their expectations. I don’t know if they made back the cost of the marquis rental. But I do know that those who were there smiled, laughed, and enjoyed the day.