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Huge year for ‘iconic’ Chinese lantern festival

Lighting Osmanthus

This year’s Lighting of the Osmanthus Gardens has been a roaring success, with an estimated 15,000 taking in the spectacular lantern festival over seven evenings.

Festival director, Hastings District councillor Kevin Watkins, said the festival, in its thirteenth year, had attracted the most visitors ever, “by far”.

The biggest nights were Friday and Saturday, when Auckland-based Chinese musician Annie Gong was playing, however Sunday was also “incredibly busy”, he said. “Everyone’s reactions were just wonderful. They were blown away. We had so many of our own Hastings families going through the gardens, but also people from all over New Zealand: Tauranga, Auckland, Wellington. Some of them having come to Hastings just to visit the festival.”

Gong, an internationally acclaimed piano accordionist who had played with the likes of the Beijing and New York symphony orchestras, had not visited Hastings previously.

“She had no idea what to expect and couldn’t believe the gardens were so beautiful – she told me the gardens ‘touched her heart’ and she couldn’t believe the number of people,” Mr Watkins said.

The doubling of the land area of the festival had been the “saving grace”, given the size of the crowd, he said. “And there is so much potential for development of the new area – for next year my imagination is already going wild.”

The man behind the lights, Te Rangi Huata, said the festival was like no other in New Zealand. His non-profit organisation, Public Dreams, lit festivals across the North Island, including in Auckland and Wairarapa.

“It is unique. Nowhere else in Aotearoa do we have a lantern festival in a Chinese garden and that makes it iconic.”

He said Mr Watkins had him hooked “from day one with his vision: the lighting of the pagodas, the reflections of the gardens in the water. What he has achieved is quite spectacular.”

The festival, which ran from April 12 to 18, was officially opened by Hastings mayor Sandra Hazlehurst, who reflected on the 40-year Sister City relationship between Hastings and Guilin, China. The Osmanthus Gardens were built 25 years ago on the 15th anniversary of the relationship, a combined effort by Guilin, the Hawke’s Bay China Association and Hastings District Council.

The 40th anniversary will be further celebrated in September, with a free live show and expo, and a special Hastings-Guilin float in the Hastings Blossom Parade, Mr Watkins said.

12 July 2021

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