Boasting lush forests, a love-and-peace vibe and flowers – lots of flowers -, Takaka is an one-street long town situated at the northern end of New Zealand’s South Island. Small as it may be, this charismatic, cosmopolitan haven is home to people from all walks of life and from all around the world. What’s most distinctive about Takaka, however, is not just its Maori name – which will make you giggle if you speak Spanish – but its hardcore hippie vibe. We are not talking about forever-stoned amateurs that buy their clothes at Forever 21 and consume organic products, but the real deal, Flower Power babies, children of the Beat Generation, will-harvest-my-own-ale type of hippie, descendants of a generation suffering from arthritic inflammation of the thumb thanks to the Beatnik Applause.
Walking barefoot in their tie-dyed garments – fortunately, since bell-bottom trousers would be more than I could take – these hippies emanate from the Rainbow Valley Community. Dating back to the 70s, this “hippie” village was founded by three couples, mostly US citizens who believed NZ to be a more suitable place to raise a family than Nixon’s USA. There’s more to it but let’s get back to our story.
I came across Takaka after exploring Abel Tasman for three days. Those were days of kayaking and hiking in vast tracts of virgin wilderness, and by that I mean a one-way ticket back to the Iron Age with no electricity – let alone access to Wi-Fi -, a yoga mat to sleep on, and a particular campsite that was probably inspired by The Blair Witch Project. Christopher McCandles would have been so proud.
After the re-enactment of Into the Wild, arriving at Takaka logically felt like finding an Oasis in the middle of the Sahara Desert and using a toilet that actually flushes can only be compared to seeing the first men walk on the Moon. I wasn’t alive back then but I can relate.
After leaving our stuff at the hostel, we went out to explore the town, or that one street. They are all happy, peaceful and welcoming people, except for that dogs aren’t allowed in Takaka’s main street.
Happy people can be somewhat disturbing, but not remotely as scary as Pokemon Go players and more original than guys wearing the man bun. You are hip, we get it.
It was dinner time and after having nothing but canned food for three days, we decided to treat ourselves to a nice meal. We were lucky to find a place – The Curry Leaf – with exquisite burgers and excellent music. Don’t let the name fool you, they serve great Western food here. A path of blue fishes painted on the walkway leads to the entrance while fairy lights gave the place a festive atmosphere.
To finalise a successful outing, we stopped for desert at a place called Dangerous Kitchen. The ice cream was sinfully divine, but they had a strange effect on me – not sure if it was the sugar rush or if there was a magic ingredient – it’s a hippie town after all, and the bistro’s name might have been a warning. Whatever the reason, it prompted me to frighten a trio of German girls sitting in a corner. I claimed we had met, and although they said we hadn’t, I ended up re-enacting said encounter, but my performance was cut short by my travel buddies Janneke and Julian, who grabbed both my arms and took me out of the bistro before somebody called the police.
The hostel where we stayed at had a homey feeling to it. Provided with cosy sofas, the porch was decorated with enchanting lanterns and fairy lights from the roof, creating an A-Midsummer-Night’s-Dream’s atmosphere.
The living room was supplied with comfortable couches and music instruments to please any bohemian musician. There wasn’t much else to do apart from joining the backpackers on the porch who seemed to be smoking weed, so we decided to acommodate ourselves in the living room and watch The Hobbit instead. I know it’s a cliché to watch this movie as a Kiwi backpacker, but hey at least we weren’t watching The Lord of the Rings… this time.
All of our attention was focused on Bilbo almost getting caught… again… when suddenly one of the potheads from the porch comes in and scared us out of our wits when he sneaked up on us and said loudly:
“WHAT is going on here?”
We thought he was probably high, thus we ignored him. To our dismay, he entered the room where we were going to sleep. Great! Now nothing is stopping him from pulling a Charles Manson on us.
The clock struck 10pm and the owner of the hostel told us to stop the film to keep it from disturbing the other guests. Apparently we were going to keep everyone awake with our weak laptop speakers, yet she didn’t say anything to The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers out on the porch. She probably needs to sort out her priorities.
We made it through the night in one piece and woke up to the most heart-warming aroma of homemade muesli. After eating multiple protein bars in Abel Tasman, this muesli looked like it had just made its way in from Olympus. I was wondering if there also a “special ingredient” in this muesli – the whole hippie thing was getting to my head – but after trying that muesli, The Beatles’ Tomorrow Never Knows made so much more sense to me.
Enjoyment continued until the aforementioned pothead sat at our table and decided to be social. We agreed to give him a chance because we’ve been under the influence of something before – me scaring people while on a sugar rush and Janneke being carried back home on a supermarket trolley after too many shots. Next to us there was also another girl, who was American as well as the pothead. She seemed cool and normal, unlike our pothead friend, who happened to be from San Francisco.
“This is the end, guys,” he said out of nowhere.
I could picture the girl getting embarrassed and seeing how he was trampling all over the American flag. There was no stopping him since he wouldn’t start eating, but kept holding a whole block of cheddar cheese on one hand and chorizo on the other. We were trying to be nice and civil until he said:
“Here I am, at 9 in the morning, holding my sausage”.
Us girls were shocked and open-mouthed, while Julian chuckled and whispered to me: “Did you get that?”
“Shush!” I whispered back. “Don’t encourage him”. Suddenly my muesli didn’t seem appealing to me anymore.
It was past 10am – checkout time. We had already left the room and had placed our stuff in the car, but we were preparing some sandwiches for the trip. Then one girl who worked at the hostel told us that the owner didn’t like it when guests hung out after 10am. Aren’t hippies supposed to be laid back? It does not compute. It does not compute. And that is how our stay in Takaka ended – the name still makes me giggle.
After a close examination of the hippie culture, I realise one thing. Hippies are into psychedelic music like Bob Dylan and The Beatles, they drive flowers-painted trucks, travel light, hitchhike, and have influenced us nowadays with great principles like tolerance and freedom. It just hit me. Would the backpacker lifestyle even be possible without the influence of the hippie culture?
I think I need to sit down. No, wait, I’m already sitting down.
Excuse me, I’m going to lose Internet connection; it’s time to go to a commune.
Peace, love, and for goodness’ sake, Takaka, let the poor puppies walk on the main street.
Written by Claudia Cano-Manuel