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Extravaganza of entertainment on Whitianga waterfront

By Tony Stickley

The Extravaganza Fair has left Whitianga for its next venue at Waihi Beach but is promising to be back again next year. “This is our third time in Whitianga and the response has been nothing but positive,” said organiser, Mels Berg. “It’s a really cool community here and we just love it.”

Mels was speaking on behalf of the 30-odd stall holders, who do everything from candy floss to tattoos, with many other delightfully unexpected activities in between. And then there are the vehicles…easily some of the most fascinating homes on wheels to be found anywhere.

Mels’ truck is a “crazy” 1964 J4 Bedford that she has shared with her German partner, Jonas Karsten, for 20 years along with their two children. It used to be the Mt Cook School bus and Mel thinks it may well be the last J4 still running on New Zealand roads. Then there is her food caravan, a 1959 Starliner, while next door is a 1962 Jackson Cub caravan, one of only five ever constructed. Curiously, the New Zealand-made Jackson Cub was designed to be towed by the venerable old Mini, and this one still has the original plaque which says just that.

Mels’ father Ivan, a singer and guitarist who plays alongside his Troubadour partner Karlos for one of the live shows, lives in a miniscule, but charming, little cabin he built with love and skill onto the chassis of a Toyota ute, with barely enough room for him inside, never mind his two miniature dogs, both French chihuahua papillons. His diminutive toilet and shower are towed along behind in an equally quaint vehicular construction. “Everyone made their own homes, which I think reflects their style and character,” said Mels. “They are self-contained with their own solar panels, wood burner, showers, toilets and kitchens.” One vehicle, a former fire engine, is fitted out with solar panels which power the whole fair. “That is a really important point,” said Mels proudly. “There are no generators.”

All up, there are some 60 members of the travelling fair, including 22 under-16s, who are home schooled, as well as 30 dogs and four cats. Mels said the Extravaganza Fair was an idea that came to fruition eight years ago for the performers and stall holders after many years on the road. “We had done lots and lots of markets and music festivals and fairs, so we wanted to put together a festival type atmosphere which was family friendly and provided a way for families to make a living on the road - an alternative lifestyle but where you could still have an income and families could home school their children,” she said. “Basically, we just wanted to combine all our knowledge from all the different skills into one event, and this is what has some out of it…the Extravaganza.”

Stall holders have to commit to travelling to 32 venues around the country from September to April. “Everyone does their own thing in the winter; lots have land or houses or visit family,” Mels said. The off-season was also a time to maintain and repair vehicles and equipment. “There are quite a lot of props that get fixed and painted for the following season. The trucks need attention and over the winter is when we work on the bookings for the following year.”

Mels was particularly thankful to the co-operation they had received from Thames-Coromandel District Council. Typically, while on the road, the travellers would arrive and set up at a venue on a Friday, open for visitors on the Saturday and Sunday, leaving the Monday to Thursday free to do whatever they wanted…tramping, going to the beach or families just hanging out together. For visitors, the Fair represents an opportunity to wander around and wonder at some of the out-of-the ordinary activities or purchases on offer: Tarot card readers, hand readers and past life readers; real tattoos; henna tattoos; hair beading; dreadlocks; various arts and crafts; crystals; jewellery; clothing; kids’ rides (including a curious pedal-driven children’s roundabout, one of only four manufactured in New Zealand using a car differential, which is powered by the stall-holder herself); free shows by the Troubadour singers and an amazing performance by the Ashton Family Circus, including Jeremy Penguin, who Mels believes is arguably the best juggler in the country. Mels, like other members of the travelling fair, dislike the label “hippy”.

“We are quite normal, really,” she said. “We just have a different way of bringing up our children and a different way of life. I think ‘alternative’ sums us up best,” she said.

Extravaganza Fair organiser Mels Berg with her father Ivan Berg, standing beside Ivan’s home on wheels at Buffalo Beach with his graceful shower/lavatory in the background and his decorated Troubadour performance trailer to the left.

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