What to expect when visiting a hippy commune in New Zealand

What to expect when visiting a hippy commune in New Zealand

Experience

When I first departed, I was a little worried. My kiwi friends in Auckland would remark, “Isn’t that a cult?” It isn’t – however, the region is known for being home to one of the most famous cults in the country. The bus journey from Nelson to Takaka was already well worth the visit – beautiful cliffs, lush New Zealand bush and gorgeous ocean views. The bus itself is a little beaten up and the view is often a bit worrying when you cannot see the edge of the cliff, but that is part of the thrill.

I arrived in Takaka in the evening and was immediately greeted by Robyn, one of the residents who takes care of the administration. She took me to the community by car and discussed their history with me on the way. The community was set up in the 1970s as a collaborative effort among some Kiwis and Americans, who wanted to distance themselves from mainstream society. They are known colloquially as hippies but prefer not to use the term themselves. Every resident has an equal stake in the community, though some residents have left and new ones have joined over the decades. Through arguments with the council and internal disputes about allowing ‘free love’ (which resulted in one couple returning to America in the 80s), the community still survives – although most residents are now retired. There are some younger members and the kids that were raised here often visit during the summer.

It was dark by the time we arrived at the community, so I was immediately taken to the main lodging house. This is where backpackers usually stay, however, I was lucky to have the building to myself. All the houses in the area were built by the residents, which gives them a very unique feel. I was shown how to set up the fire and use the kitchen facilities and then left to my own devices. I opted for a bed on the mezzanine, which meant a slightly scary walk up the shakiest stairs I’ve ever encountered. There are loads of books and photo albums in the house which you are free to look through; these give an interesting insight into the community. There’s also a guitar and a didgeridoo to play with.

As I was there to film a documentary for uni work, I spent the first day interviewing the residents. Most visitors are encouraged to get along with and participate in the local community, so there are plenty of opportunities to hear their stories. My first discussion was with one of the older residents, who keeps an extensive collection of Lego models and grows a lot of the food for the community. He took me to see the animals in the farm area, as well as a tree dedicated to his son. I was told that Maori mythology says you should plant the placenta with a tree to ground your kids in the location of their whanau, though none of the residents are Maori so I am still unsure how true this is. I also spoke to a younger resident, who was a little bit more suspicious of the community and was hoping to change how it was run. My third interview was with a man who lived in an old bus; however, he is an alcoholic and often disappears. I would later encounter him in the main house as I was cooking my pasta – don’t worry, he’s a kind drunk.

The second day was spent on their hiking trail. Winding up the hills, you get a good view of the community and the neighboring region. There is a slightly aggressive goat at the start of the trail, however, he is kept on a chain so cannot harm you. I saw a bird which resembled a kiwi and was very excited about this – only to be told it was actually a weka. These look very similar, but have different tails and are much more common. The view over the mountains was incredible and well worth the walk, but be sure to wear good boots. I went up in jandals and left with numerous cuts on my feet.

The following morning, I was offered a lift all the way to Nelson from the guy I’d interviewed earlier. He took me in his truck through the community before stopping at a lemon tree. “Since I am giving you a lift,” he said, “can you do me a favor and help me pick lemons from this tree?” That seemed like a pretty good deal and I happily obliged. After leaving, he told me that it wasn’t his lemon tree, but the neighbor was never in and never used the lemons so he didn’t see the problem with taking them. Without the pressure of the camera and microphone, he opened up even more about his past life as a horse and carriage driver, and the accident that caused him to give it up. The residents are very open and their interesting backstories make the trip truly memorable.

This is a great trip to experience a unique, rural community and learn all about one of the biggest social movements of the 70s. The peaceful setting and collaborative effort make it a delightful experience for getting away from the towns and tourists traps elsewhere in the South Island of New Zealand.

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SEE – Photos & Videos

WSE Travel - Hippy commune in New Zealand - The Goat at the Beginning of the Trail

The Goat at the Beginning of the Trail

WSE Travel - Hippy commune in New Zealand - The Main Road Through the Community

The Main Road Through the Community

WSE Travel - Hippy commune - The Old Bus

The Old Bus

WSE Travel - Hippy commune - The Original Community Members

The Original Community Members

WSE Travel - Hippy commune - The Table in the Middle of the Main Lodging

The Table in the Middle of the Main Lodging

WSE Travel - Hippy commune - A View Over the Community from the Top of the Trail

A View Over the Community from the Top of the Trail

WSE- Hippy commune - Community Cows

Community Cows

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GO – Getting There

The easiest method by far is to drive. There are plenty of spots to leave your car in the community, and the residents will happily give you directions before your visit.

If you cannot drive, you will have to get to Nelson. There are buses from Christchurch, where the main airport is, and Picton, where the ferry from the North Island arrives. From Nelson, you will have to book a Golden Bay Coachlines bus to Takaka – the nearest town. Here, one of the residents will happily pick you up. If you are keen to hike, the community is a two-hour walk from Takaka and directions are easy to find on Google Maps.
WSE Travel - Hippy commune in New Zealand - Map

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Do – Activities & Attractions

The best activity is getting to know the residents. Most of them are happy to sit down and chat with you over tea – even more so if you bring a small gift or offer to help them.

The hiking trail also gives you a great viewpoint over the community, which is located within a valley. Within the community itself, there are plenty of farm animals and quirky landmarks to check out; you can read up about the history of the area in the main house.

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Stay – Accommodation

There is a single backpackers lodge in the center of the community, which you can stay at for $25 per person, as well as some private cabins for a little extra. Be sure to bring cash to pay for this. If you are traveling in New Zealand by campervan, ensure you camp near public toilets and take extra care to clear your site of rubbish and other waste before leaving.

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Eat – Restaurants

You will need to bring your own food to prepare in the kitchen there. Most equipment is provided, as is a fridge, oven, and stove. Budget travelers should visit the Pak ‘n Save in Nelson before leaving for the community, although there are some better quality supermarkets in the town as well.

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Time – Seasonality & Schedules

If you are keen to meet other backpackers, you should go during the peak summer months from January to March. If you don’t mind building your own fire in the winter, this is the best time to visit for a more secluded experience.

The community also accepts WOOFers throughout the year; you can contact them directly to inquire about this. WOOFers are provided with lodging and food free of charge.

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Safety – Possible risks

New Zealand is one of the safest countries in the world and this secluded community is incredibly safe. Be sure to wear good boots if hiking and try not to bother the animals. Otherwise, the residents are incredibly friendly.

Please Note: Travel inherently comes with an element of risk (just like crossing the road does). You are putting yourself in elements that are unfamiliar and foreign to your usual lifestyle and with that, become more susceptible to fall victim those who try to play off those unfamiliar to their local scams. There are also potential dangers in the environments to which you may not be accustomed to.

Please take extra care in travelling, ensure that you have adequate medical insurance (accidents seem to happen when you least expect them), and have let a trusted colleague, family member or friend know your whereabouts and activities.

Where Sidewalks End travel advises you to travel at your own risk, and to be extra aware of your surroundings (without letting it spoiling your time).

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Pay – How much does it cost?

New Zealand as a whole is quite an expensive country. If you are planning on staying for two days, shopping from Pak ‘n Save will cost you $35. Lodging prices range from $25-60, and Golden Bay Coachlines charge $38 each way between Nelson and Takaka. Otherwise, there should be no additional cost – you might even get some free food if you help out whilst there.

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Responsible Travel – Best Practices

Keep an open mind during your visit, and be aware that it is a collaborative community. You will gain a lot more respect from residents if you participate in helping them out around the area, tidy up after yourself, and try not to express any opinions against their way of life.

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Reality Check – Be Aware

This is a very simple way of living, and though it can be rewarding, you should not expect the same comforts you would find in the cities and towns around the country. The buildings were constructed entirely by residents, so are a little creaky; you will have to set up your own fire and use a cold shower. For the time you are here, you will experience their way of life, but this will certainly be a memorable experience.

Additional resources

Rainbow Valley Community Website

Golden Bay Coachlines

New Zealand Department of Conservation – Safety in the Outdoors

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JOIN US! WSE Travel Packages

This sounds like quite the adventure, right? We thought so too! Though we realize it can be pretty intimidating to get out there into the world on your own, especially when travelling to some of these off the beaten path locations. We love it when our readers give it a shot and try it for themselves! In fact, please leave us feedback if you do!! If trying something ‘this’ adventurous on your own is just a bit outside of your comfort zone, WSE Travel is here to help!

Follow this link for our ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ Tours – packages that are highly personalized and tailored at your request.

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Have you ever been to a city that had a really unique historical or cultural feature? Where was it and what made it so unique?

Please feel free to share your stories and thoughts in the comment section below!

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