Pasifika's Joyous Return
Third time’s a charm for the long-awaited Pasifika Festival; the heavens opened up to baptise the move to Mt Smart Stadium on Saturday, but luckily it was a sun-drenched afternoon when I took my family along on Day Two.
We’d missed the pomp from Day One; that’s always something, seeing the excitement of everyone getting up close to the Prime Minister, I recall the choruses of ‘Hi Jacinda’ as she and her entourage made their way around Western Springs Park when the festival was last held in 2018.
Every year we set off determined to visit every single village, checking out the stalls, the products being sold, the food on offer (you can spot them easily from far away with the long queues) and the organisations keen to chat talanoa-style about their mahi.
Only we never quite make it around the entire festival. So this time we began with the villages we’d missed out, but as usual, the teenagers were eager to check out the food stalls first.
Taking in the vast and impressive layout of the stadium was like trying on new clothes, wondering if you look every bit as sparkly as the reflection in the mirror, or if it's all in your head.
After a few hours, the consensus among us was that in this new venue, Pasifika in all its glory shone beautifully. The various fields - despite a good soaking the day before - were practically bone dry, festival-goers spread out taking in the music, sampling the delicious eats and positive vibe of the festival.
Enjoying the sun and main stage at Fale Pasifika. Photo: Kim Meredith.
We managed to see the wonderful Mahaani Maiava, and were captivated by Allana Goldsmith at the Aotearoa stage before wandering down to the Tongan stage to catch the Maamaloa Gospel Voices. Where else can you experience such a range of artists and be transported into the heart of each community by merely strolling around a stadium?
Allana Goldsmith with Nathan James. Photo: Kim Meredith.
As Richard Clarke, Auckland Unlimited’s Head of Major Events reminded me, the venue is not just a main field; the organisers made good use of the different spaces with the villages of Aotearoa, Cook Islands, Fiji, Hawai’i, Kiribati, Niue, Samoa, Tonga and Tuvalu comfortably spread out.
I was one of the event organisers with the Pasifika Festival in the mid-1990s, and I remember being in awe of the sheer scale of Pasifika, both its size and magnitude. It quickly dawned on me the importance of Pasifika people creating a space to fully immerse and occupy, if only for a weekend.
Rain on day one couldn't dampen the passion on display at Mt Smart Stadium. Photo: Ministry for Pacific Peoples.
Now 28 years later, Pasifika has become one of the most highly anticipated annual events in Tāmaki Makaurau, and there’s a strong commitment and vision from Pacific communities, its leaders, and Auckland Unlimited, to keep growing and developing the festival.
The festival underwent a two-year hiatus with the tragedy of the Christchurch mosque attack in 2019 and the COVID-19 Lockdown in 2020. Then a community outbreak last month postponed its March date, as well as having to relocate to Mt Smart stadium venue.
How would the Pasifika communities and the general public respond to the changes in this new era?
Cultural pride was around every corner at Pasifika. Photo: Ministry for Pacific Peoples.
While the numbers in attendance didn’t seem to match earlier years, our family were enjoying the expansion and facilities of Mt Smart, the teenagers thought it a major improvement and certainly, the feel-good vibe was on full display.
Festivalgoers seemed excited to be in attendance after the long pause, greeting one another with smiles, asking my sons where they got the Spin Spuds (the curly fried potato on a stick which were really good and great for the vegetarian son).
Pasifika doesn't just have amazing performances and artists on display - there are always great eats. Photo: Kim Meredith.
There was a focus on wellbeing with the number of stalls promoting positive messaging around social issues as well as the healthy food on offer, that’s definitely a big thumbs up for the organisers.
I asked Clarke whether the new venue would be a mainstay? There are a number of positives: close to a transport hub, ample parking (there was a free park-and-ride from Waikaraka to the stadium), it has a lot of infrastructure that Western Springs doesn’t have (I didn’t miss the chorus of the generators!) and being readily accessible for Pasifika communities from both west and south Auckland. I did miss the shade from the trees of Western Springs Park, especially with the heat but as Clarke states, this is another evolution of Pasifika.
Cyrus (left) and Pele Meredith Melhuish soaking in Pasifika. Photo: Kim Meredith.
Wherever the Pasifika Festival eventually makes its home, the main thing is that it actually happens; that in the largest Polynesian city in the world, the decision-makers give our communities space (and there’s definitely loads of this at Mt Smart) to shine and celebrate.
I’d missed that over the last few years, and all the beaming faces of our Pasifika people, the general public and tourists that I saw as we made our way around the festival, brought that message home loud and clear.