Opononi Music Camp 2018 – The Experience

Ka arohatia e tātou ngā waiata, ka arohatia e tātou te kotahitanga

We love the music, we love the togetherness

Those who have been to Opononi Music Camp are drawn back year after year. It’s an experience truly like no other. Organised by the capable hands of Whangarei Youth Music, who brought us the spectacular 2017 NZCBA Festival, the music school takes place from a Monday afternoon to a Friday evening in early January.

What’s so special about it?  First of all, let me share some photos with you. They speak for themselves.

Along with this scenery, Opononi Music Camp offers an incredibly intense musical experience, with eight hours of playing a day.  How on earth do you fit eight hours of playing into a day?  Well, you meet at the school for your first rehearsal at 6 a.m., when the world looks like this:



And it’s clear who is and who is not a morning person:

Kathleen Mulligan, Jacob Fraser, and Sarah Lam Sam

Then you play basically two-hours-on / two-hours-off for eight hours a day. Intense, yes. Exhausting, yes. Incredible, absolutely! In between rehearsals, attendees enjoy the beach, walking, biking, and the delicious meals prepared by volunteers.

The music school is very affordable, providing food, music, and marae accommodation for around $150. If communal sleeping doesn’t suit your sleeping habits, or vice versa, there’s other options, from camping outside the marae, to staying at a backpackers, to hiring a bach. As a bonus, attendees receive a gentle exposure to Tikanga Māori, with a pōwhiri to welcome us onto the marae.

Attendees range in age from 12 to seniors, and in 2018 they came from Kerikeri to Tauranga.  For newer musicians, it’s an opportunity to sightread a vast array of music, try things they’ve never done before, and learn from more advanced musicians. For those of us with more experience, it provides a kick-start for the new year, and I can thoroughly recommend it as a way to build confidence when picking up a new instrument.

2018’s batch of Opononi musicians

The final concert brings together friends and parents of attendees, as well as the local community who come to hear quality concert band music.

A Day In The Life At Opononi

5:30 a.m., and my alarm blares. Seven of us are staying in a bach, so we crawl out of bed, do the absolute bare minimum to be considered “presentable”, and stumble to the school ready for the 6 a.m. start. I take evil delight in inflicting early morning selfies on people.


Once inside, the music begins. We’re down a percussionist, so I end up playing timpani. In pajama pants.

Then it’s back to tuba, to suffer through the brief period when the rising sun sneaks through the hall windows to fiercely attack our eyes (but make our tubas look awesome).

The conductors know better than to concentrate on subtleties during this time, but it doesn’t last long.  Two hours either speeds or drags past, depending on how tired and hungry you are. Then it’s 8 a.m., and off for breakfast!  Most people head back to the marae, but our group heads back to the bach to breakfast, swim, shower, and make use of the wifi (mobile data and cellphone coverage are very restricted in the area, depending on who your provider is).

At 9:45 a.m. it’s time to head back to the school for rehearsal #2. We have four different conductors working with us, and they take turns, dividing each session into three or four. We sightread quite a few pieces, and focus on a few (14 end up in the final concert). Some people who have never conducted before give it a try.

Newbie conductor Callum learns from Rangimakehu Hall

Lunchtime! We all head back to the marae. Usually we stay at Kokohuia Marae, within walking distance, but this year we stayed at Pakanae Marae, further away. We still get to walk along the beach before we get into cars, although some intrepid souls (including my mum) travel by bike. After devouring lunch, card games are a popular way to fill the time.

At 2 p.m., we’re back at the school for our third rehearsal of the day.

Our fantastic trombone section

Two more hours of music brings us to 4 p.m.  This “rest” period is longer than the others, as the next rehearsal begins at 6:30 p.m. The tide is perfect for a swim, and we make the most of it!

All this swimming and walking makes us ravenous, so it’s soon back to the marae for some delicious kai, and some kōrero with friends old and new. Each musical section takes a turn to do the dishes.

The sun is misleading; surely it’s too bright to be 6:30 p.m.? But it is, so we’re off for the final rehearsal.

Kerikeri conductor, Kathryn Thomson, leads the band

At 8:30 p.m., we’re free! Each night brings a different sunset to admire.

The majority go back to the marae for supper and their nightly dose of Winnie the Pooh (a long-standing Opononi tradition). My bach-mates and I enjoy wifi and wine. We soon fall into bed, exhausted but ready for the next day’s adventures.



What a fab time! Wonderful people and music. Mark is a saint and a trouper. So grateful for his work and dedication.

I have to say, this year like every year, it’s so hard to leave. But it’s only until next year!

I can’t begin to tell you what a good time we had and are still having. All of you guys are awesome and so accepting of us oldies. We loved it!

This was so much fun, honestly, you have to come next year!